UNESCO Director-General pays first official visit to Singapore

UNESCO Director-General pays first official visit to Singapore
  • Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with UNESCO Director-General

On 4 December 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, paid his first official visit to Singapore, following the country’s return to the Organization in October 2007 (see Flash Info N° 131-2007).

During his stay, Mr Matsuura met with senior government officials, notably Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Senior Minister, and former Prime Minister (1990-2004), Gho Chok Tong and Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Balaji Sadasivan, in order to discuss the prospects of UNESCO’s rapidly growing cooperation with its newest 193rd Member State. His visit, organized under the United Nations Distinguished Visitors Programme, was made at the joint invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr George Yeo, and the Minister of Education, Dr Ng Eng Hen.

In his meeting with the Prime Minister, the Director-General expressed his great pleasure at Singapore’s return to UNESCO after 22 years of absence, stating that assuring the universality of the Organization was one of the top priorities of his reform agenda. Welcoming the country’s already strong engagement in UNESCO’s activities and global networks, Mr Matsuura pointed out that through UNESCO Singapore could share its rich experience and expertise with other Member States, notably in support of neighbouring ASEAN countries.

The Director-General provided an overview of UNESCO’s global responsibilities, highlighting in particular the Organization’s role as global coordinator of international efforts to achieve basic Education for All (EFA). Mr Matsuura also noted the growing demand of Member States for assistance at other levels of education, notably higher education and research. Paying tribute to Singapore’s achievements in this area, he encouraged the country to ratify the Regional Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas, and Degrees in Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific, in order to promote greater cross-border mobility and cooperation.

Mr Matsuura also invited Singapore to ratify the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, in view of Singapore’s growing role as a cultural hub and major tourist destination in the region.

The Director-General further expressed his hope that UNESCO and Singapore could strengthen cooperation in other such areas of mutual concern, in particular freshwater management and the promotion of knowledge societies.

The Prime Minister paid tribute to the Director-General’s vigorous reform efforts, which he said had restored UNESCO’s credibility and enabled Singapore to rejoin the Organization. He affirmed that Singapore was eager to reinforce collaboration with UNESCO in those areas where the country could make an effective contribution. He also assured the Director-General that Singapore would study carefully UNESCO’s relevant legal instruments.

In his meeting with Senior Minister Gho Chok Tong, Mr Matsuura highlighted the importance of UNESCO’s mandate to again tackling current global challenges, arguing that no country could achieve sustainable development without adequately addressing social problems, notably in the sector field of education. The Director-General noted that the Organization’s strength in education rested on its technical expertise and unique global networks, as well as its role in monitoring and knowledge exchange. Pointing to Singapore’s impressive achievements in education, he said that the country could serve a good model and encouraged Singapore’s government to share its experience with other developing countries. The Senior Minister pledged Singapore’s cooperation in this regard, noting the particular support the country could provide in the areas of science education and the education of minority groups. He also congratulated the Director-General on his reform efforts, which like the Prime Minister he said had encouraged Singapore’s return to the Organization, end expressed his strong hope that Mr Matsuura’s successor would continue along the same path.

The Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, hosted a working lunch for the Director-General in the presence of other distinguished officials, including the Director of the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, Ambassador Kesavapany. This provided an opportunity for a wide-ranging discussion of avenues for further cooperation between UNESCO and Singapore, as well as an occasion for Mr Matsuura to outline the Organization’s priorities in the years ahead. The Director-General drew particular attention to education, especially Education for All (EFA), as vital to meeting international development goals. He also highlighted UNESCO’s proactive engagement in UN reform efforts, notably at the country level, and his continued determination to enhance the quality of the Organization’s action in the field.

The impact of the current financial crisis on poverty reduction and economic growth, in particular in Asia, was the main focus of talks between the Director-General and the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Kishore Mahbubani. Mr Matsuura underscored that the current economic turmoil must not be an excuse for governments to default on their development commitments, warning that the poorest, while least responsible for the present crisis, were most vulnerable to its effects.

While in Singapore, the Director-General also visited the Singapore Arts Museum, where he enjoyed a guided tour of several exhibitions, including the 2008 Japan Media Arts Festival, “Growing Together”, and the Daimler Art Collection, “Is it tomorrow yet”.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 175-2008
  • 11-12-2008
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