Singapore — In an interview with an English language daily, Singapore’s new High Commissioner to India, Mr Simon Wong Wie Kuen, spoke on the diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries, the specific challenges of this time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the strained relations between the United States and China, the India-China border standoff and foreign workers in Singapore.
The interview with the diplomat, who had presented his credentials the previous week, was published in hindustantimes.com on Thursday (Sept 17).
Mr Wong called going to India “refreshing in a way” as he had seen how India had dealt with these challenges as well as its border conflict with China.
The High Commissioner spoke positively about Singapore’s ties with India. “The Singapore-India relationship is very frictionless, we don’t have a lot of baggage, we are very close friends and partners although India is a much larger country than Singapore. Indian leadership, people and businesses have seen us a very trusted partner and we too are an all-weather partner with India.”
He cited the investments that have still come in, despite the pandemic, saying that Singapore has pledged about $2 billion for new investments into India.
The High Commissioner added: “I dare say the Singapore-India relationship is in a bright area. I feel that despite all the difficulties, I am going to have a fruitful tenure in India because there are so many things for us to do.”
On the topic of Singapore’s cooperation with India in the light of the pandemic, he said that since “the pharmaceuticals sector is a high-value add sector in which India commands a niche”, there is high interest from Singapore for collaboration not just for the Covid-19 vaccine but also the more generic coronavirus vaccines, for which talks are ongoing.
Concerning foreign workers in Singapore, he had this to say:
“We feel that — as an immigrant society ourselves — we are very small and need foreign workers to help boost our economy… We feel we are indebted to foreign workers because they helped grow our economy. It is incumbent on us to take care of them.”
He discussed the treatment of foreign workers living in dormitories — citing free medical treatment and testing, as well as salaries paid through Government grants, but expressed concern about companies that hire foreign workers have suffered financial losses due to the pandemic.
“Many of our food and beverage businesses and businesses related to hotels and travels, 40 per cent of them will go under. As a result of that, foreign workers may be sent home because they are out of a job. The next step is for us to make sure that they are fairly compensated and if they intend to stay on, we will have to look for jobs for them.”
However, he gave the assurance that the foreign workers would be cared for. He said “but at the end of the day, we see no difference between citizens and foreign workers”, acknowledging at the same time that “it has caused some unhappiness among the citizens, especially during these challenging times”. /TISG