Deputy Chief of Mission Rafik Mansour
Ambassador at Large Professor Tommy Koh
Ladies and gentlemen
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for being here today for the official launch of the book America: A Singapore Perspective, edited by Professor Tommy Koh and Mr Daljit Singh. This book features 29 essays that aim to help Singaporeans better understand the complexities of American society and politics.
The history of relations between Singapore and the United States goes back about two centuries. In 1836, Joseph Balestier was appointed the first American Consul to Singapore. Balestier had an enormous sugar plantation here, and Balestier Road runs along what used to be his estate.
While the name Joseph Balestier may not ring a bell with most Americans, the name of his wife most certainly will. Maria Revere Balestier was the daughter of Paul Revere, a hero of the American Revolution. In 1843, Maria Balestier donated a Revere Bell to St Andrew’s Church, now St Andrew’s Cathedral. This is said to be the only Revere Bell outside the United States and is now on permanent display at the National Museum of Singapore.
The Balestiers are just some of the many Americans who have arrived in Singapore over the last 200 years. Over time, relations have grown stronger, especially after the appointment of the first US Ambassador to Singapore in 1966. This was taken to a new level following the signing of the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement in 2003, where, incidentally, Ambassador at Large Professor Tommy Koh was the chief negotiator.
The ties between the National Library Board and American institutions are also strong. The US embassy has donated books and audio-visual materials to our public libraries and to the kidsREAD programme. Earlier this year, to mark 55 years of diplomatic ties, the NLB also worked with the US embassy on a virtual photography exhibition. We provided access to archival photographs and also curated a selection of e-books about the relationship.
In addition, NLB has strong ties with institutions such as the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Libraries. In August 2013, we hosted the Library of Congress’s International Summit of the Book in Singapore.
Then in 2014, NLB joined the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which is an initiative mooted by the Smithsonian Libraries. The Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of libraries that cooperate to digitise the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access.
Given the strong bonds between the NLB and various US institutions like the US embassy, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Libraries, it is fitting that this book about America from a Singapore perspective is being launched here in the National Library Building today. I hope that the book will be widely read in the months and years to come.