[An Old Link Revitalised ]
1. I am now on a short bilateral visit to Lisbon. In the historial series called 'The Rise of the Great Powers' produced by China recently, the first episode was on Portugal. Forced to a choice between Spain and the deep blue sea, the Portuguese people chose the ocean. Numbering less than a million people at the end of the 15th century, they sailed forth to conquer the world. Many ships never returned but that did not stop these courageous people from risking their lives for 'God, glory and gold'.
2. In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca. In Malacca and elsewhere, they married local women and fathered the Portuguese Eurasian community that is now spread all over Asia and Australia. Here in Singapore, the old links are still evident. A few years ago, two very determined Eurasian women compiled a dictory of Kristang, the local Portuguese dialect which is now spoken only by older members of the community. I have given copies of the dictionary to ministers and friends in East Timor, Brazil and Portuguese with pride. The Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim was fascinated by it. After I had given him a copy two years ago, he asked for a few more copies for his friends. Here in Lisbon, the reaction is similar. The Foreign Minister Dr Luis Amado mentioned the dictionary at our official meeting today.
3. Yesterday, I visited Fatima, the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children ninety years ago. In the 60's, my father was the treasurer of the Fatima rosary movement in Katong. As a teenager, I used to attend meetings on his behalf. It was because of the Fatima connection that I became close to the Eurasian community in Singapore.
4. The purpose of my visit is twofold. In November this year, Singapore will play host to a summit meeting between European and ASEAN leaders. This year is a special year - 50 years of the EU, 40 years of ASEAN and 30 years of EU-ASEAN partnership. As Portugal is holding the Presidency of the EU while Singapore is in the Chair of ASEAN, I wanted to discuss with Minister Amado the agenda of the meeting and how it should be arranged. The second purpose is to discuss ways to raise our bilateral relationship to a higher level, building on our historical relationship. We had an excellent meeting followed by dinner. I was delighted to be informed of the decision by the Portuguese government to open a Singapore trade office for Portuguese businesses operating in Southeast Asia.
5. It is my first visit to Lisbon which is a charming city. With its steep roads, tram-cars, suspension bridge and a wide river mouth looking like a bay, it bears a resemblance to San Francisco. But Lisbon's history goes much further back to the past, in fact, to the 12th century when that part of the Iberian peninsula was reconquered from the Moors and became one of Europe's oldest nation-states.
Do also read my posts on Beyond SG