Minister Balakrishnan arrived in Oslo on Sunday 20 February, where I had the great honour to receive him at the airport. He was accompanied by a delegation including H.E. Tan Wah Yeow, Ambassador of Singapore to Norway and Director-General Lee Chong Hock.
On the way into the city centre from the airport, the delegation said they hoped to see snow during the stay. Just a few hours later they got to experience an Oslo dressed in white, with plenty of people doing cross country and downhill skiing, also close to the Holmenkollen Ski Jump. The heavy snowfall did not stop the Minister and his delegation from exploring Oslo and its historical sights.
We learned that Minister Balakrishnan has a strong interest in history as he decided to visit Norway’s Resistance Museum. In the evening, the honorary Consul-General of Singapore, Mr. Otto Gregard Tidemand, invited the delegation to dinner at Ekeberg restaurant, which also offers a splendid view of the both the city itself and the Oslo fjord.
The next morning Minister Huitfeldt hosted Minister Balakrishnan for breakfast at the historic Norwegian Government Guest House, just behind the Royal Palace. There was a very cordial atmosphere from the start, and a mutual interest in learning from each other. Two countries with about the same size of population and strong maritime industries, with different geography and history. Two nations sharing a strong joint interest in a rules-based international order, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, free and fair trade. And with Singapore being the most important hub for Norwegian business in Asia, for a long time.
Both Ministers focused on the need for green and digital transformation. They were pleased with what the two countries are doing together in research, student exchanges and innovation.
Minister Huitfeldt strongly encouraged Singapore to open a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) from Norway. The present entry restrictions have a substantial negative impact for Norwegians and Norwegian companies in Singapore, as well as for Singaporean travellers to Norway. Minister Balakrishnan replied that depending on the Omicron situation, he was confident that our current travel challenges would be resolved as soon as possible.
Examining the different sectors, they concluded that there is an excellent bilateral relationship between Norway and Singapore, and a potential for much more to be achieved, not least in the business sector.
Demonstrating a keen interest in the political and economic developments in each other’s respective regions, the Ministers also discussed recent global and regional developments, including the present situation in Ukraine and Myanmar.
Singapore's and Norway's cooperation linked to ASEAN and the Arctic was reaffirmed, and Norway’s active role as a dialogue partner to ASEAN recognized. Minister Huitfeldt was congratulated on Norway's work in as Member of the United Nations Security Council, as well as for her country’s global efforts for peace and reconciliation.
Minister Balakrishnan also had a lunch meeting with representatives from the business community, including the Norwegian Shipowner's Association and the Singapore-Norway Chamber of Commerce. He was informed by Norwegian industry leaders about their companies’ contributions to economic growth and innovation in Singapore, as well as their challenges.
Minister Balakrishnan displayed a strong interest in making their business conditions in Singapore as good as possible. He stressed that Singapore wants to attract foreign talents and to function effectively as a regional hub and harbor. During their dialogue he encouraged the companies to further collaboration between Singapore and Norway, and offered the support of his Government in achieving this.
It has been quite some time since we had a Foreign Minister visit from Singapore to Norway. Digital platforms are very useful, but can only supplement meeting your counterpart in person. A personal relationship was established between our ministers, and Minister Balakrishnan has already invited minister Huitfeldt to visit Singapore. Now they are only a phone call away from each other. This is important for two countries with such extensive bilateral ties, living in a highly interconnected world, at a time where states sovereignty and territorial integrity are being challenged and violated, as we now observe in Ukraine.
With best regards,
Eivind S Homme
Ambassador of Norway