The Mermaid and the Merlion – 50 years with Denmark and Singapore

As previously published by ScandAsia Singapore not only celebrates its 50th anniversary and independence this year but also celebrates the 50th anniversary for diplomatic relations with Denmark and the two countries’ collaborations across various business areas, the political scene, and, last but not least the long-lasting friendship. Mathilde Moyell Jull has written an interesting article about the milestone for Danish and Singaporean relations and how the two small nations have inspired each other, why Danes like Singapore and vice versa, where Denmark is represented in Singapore, and not at least an assessment of how the future looks like for the collaboration of our two nations.

The article will be published in July in book titled “Celebrating Singapore’s connections with Europe” with essays from different European countries/embassies.


The Mermaid and the Merlion – 50 years with Denmark and Singapore – By Mathilde Moyell Juul Petite, frail and easy to miss, yet the Little Mermaid is undoubtedly one of the most wellknown symbols of Denmark. 10.000 km. away, you’ll find a sculpture six times the size of the Mermaid, also with a fishtail but with a majestic roaring lion head – the Singapore Merlion.

As was the case with the Mermaid, the Merlion was placed at the mouth of the city’s canal as a symbol to welcome all visitors. And when the statue was revealed to the public in 1972, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, stated that it was in fact the shy looking Danish Mermaid that served as inspiration to Singapore’s new icon.

Singapore was and is inspired by Denmark for a reason. As with the two national symbols, the two countries are different, but share a lot of the same characteristics: Both are smaller nations with roughly the same population. Both are surrounded by large neighbours and dependent on external relations and trade. And both countries top international charts and often serve as each other’s role models. However, today it isn’t just the younger Singapore who looks to Denmark for inspiration, but two countries that benefit from one another’s experiences and skills by collaborating on a wide array of topics. An official partnership that goes back 50 years, but the connection was made a lot earlier.


The early years
During the 1980’s, the small community of Danes living in Singapore counted about 40 people. One of them, Heine Askjær-Jensen, arrived in 1981 as a representative for Jebsen & Jessen and he remembers what life in Singapore was like back then:

”I arrived with my big atlas and that was all I knew about Singapore! As was the case with myself, Danish expatriates would typically represent a Danish company in sales or trade as part of a 1-2 man band. A working day would consist of reading letters, having lunch, replying to letters, perhaps a social event and then home”, Heine Askjær-Jensen recalls. “Today the Danish expatriates either run the Danish offices or own their own companies out here, and being online 24 hours along with the rest of the world, the work day is a lot more stressful than when I first arrived”, he says.


The future Singapore’s openness to talent, ideas and people is one of the reasons why Danes came to Singapore and still do. Singapore is an attractive country for Danish individuals, families and companies, as the country is safe, efficient, low on corruption, based on diversity and internationally oriented.

According to Ambassador Berit Basse, the results that Singapore has achieved during the past 50 years are impressive: “One of Singapore’s strengths is the ability to constantly be outward and forward-looking and to execute the best ideas in their own way”, she says, while foreseeing a future of mutual learning on an even higher scale. “As Denmark and Singapore are both international frontrunners in many similar areas, I see great potential for an even closer partnership in order to benefit from each other’s strengths and experience”.

Ever since Denmark tied a formal knot with Singapore back in 1965 and the Prime Minister revealed the now iconic Merlion a couple of years later, the ties between the countries have only grown stronger. Along with Singapore’s impressive development, Denmark is now looking South East for inspiration and trade between the two is thriving. 50 years have passed; the Mermaid and the Merlion still stand to greet visitors to their small and strong nations, but are also reminders of how inspiration and ideas have developed into a solid lasting partnership between the wise and inventive nation up North and the fresh, fast paced island out East.

Link to Mermaid & Merlion article

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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