One year after Norway became independent in 1905, the Scandinavian country set up a consulate here – a sign of Singapore’s importance as a harbour for Norwegian vessels. Yesterday, 110 years later, Norway’s visiting Prime Minister Erna Solberg paid tribute to the enduring friendship between the two countries, calling Singapore “one of our closest friends in Asia”.Ms Solberg, who was hosted to lunch at the Istana by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said both share a history and a forward-looking economic relationship.
This includes digital services, renewable energy and start-ups with a global future, on top of longstanding ties in maritime and oil and gas.
Mr Lee reaffirmed the close and growing ties between the two countries, and said Norway will host a state visit by President Tony Tan Keng Yam in October.
Singapore, Mr Lee said, has long been “a home away from home” for Norwegian seafarers.
Norway is the sixth-largest contributor to Singapore’s Registry of Ships, while Singapore hosts the largest Norwegian business community in Asia, with nearly 400 companies here, including shipping banks and brokerage firms.
Mr Lee shared with Ms Solberg and her delegation how Dutch economist Albert Winsemius had once wondered aloud as to why he felt an affinity with Singapore and found success here.
Dr Winsemius, Singapore’s economic adviser from 1961 to 1984, concluded that it was because of the Calvinist tradition that emphasised self-reliance and hard work, traits he saw in the pioneer generation.
“A similar mindset applies in northern Europe, to be able to survive long winters, harsh climates, not necessarily fertile lands and to be able to endure, grow and develop a high civilisation,” said Mr Lee. “We need that kind of mindset, and we find kindred souls on the other side of the world and we make common cause together.”
Mr Lee also cited Norway’s foresight and discipline when it discovered large reserves of oil and gas in its continental shelf in the 1960s.
It set up the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, with prudent spending rules that are strictly adhered to.
This is worth learning from, he added: “That ethic of toughness, hard work and prudence is something we admire and hope to emulate in Singapore.”
Ms Solberg visited the Singapore lab of Norwegian firm DNV GL, which worked with Singapore start-up SwarmX to develop an autonomous drone docking station that was launched yesterday.
She also spoke at the Norway- Asia Business Summit, and gave the International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture.
Her three-day visit ends today.