A career as an FSO is challenging, deeply rewarding, and always underpinned by teamwork. FSOs operate in fast-paced working environments where global, regional and bilateral issues are constantly evolving.
As First Secretary (Political) serving at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing, I have come to appreciate that one must be resourceful in gathering and triangulating information to be an effective diplomat posted overseas. This is particularly true when operating in country like China, whose politics and policies are keenly watched by countries around the world, including Singapore.
Another challenge in the Foreign Service is having to adapt to regular rotations to different assignments, both in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) headquarters in Singapore and postings abroad. At times, this will require stepping beyond one’s comfort zone and overcoming steep learning curves. That said, these challenges are not insurmountable especially with supportive teammates. At Beijing Mission and in my previous assignments, I have had the privilege of working with close-knit teams and learning from some of the brightest minds. Amongst the many unique and diverse experiences offered, FSOs have the opportunity to facilitate high-level exchanges between national leaders, often behind closed doors, with significant implications for Singapore’s foreign relations.
I previously served at the Singapore Embassy in Qatar. The core team comprised of five Singaporean diplomats, supported by a team of local staff. The key objectives of the Embassy are to manage our bilateral relations with Qatar, assist in the formulation of strategies to further Singapore's interests in the Middle East, and provide consular assistance to Singaporeans.
As a Political Secretary, I report on key developments pertaining to the host country and the region. There is a sea of information available and the challenge is to sift out the ones which are relevant and cross-check them against reliable sources. More often than not, there is a dearth of reliable information, which requires time and effort to obtain. It is thus critical to have a wide network of contacts. To maintain and expand my network, I get to meet with local officials, fellow diplomats, business people, academics, journalists, and professionals from various trades who may provide different perspectives to issues.
I also facilitate visits by leaders and officials between both countries. There is the challenge of putting together a substantive programme and logistical arrangements for the visiting delegations, and ensuring that the visits run like clock-work. As many of these visits are arranged at short notice, we often operated under very tight deadlines.
There are many visits between Qatar and Singapore. One particularly memorable one was the Qatari Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani's visit to Singapore in November 2013. He was accompanied by six Ministers and many dignitaries, and they met with our leaders. The visit involved several ministries and agencies from both countries, and would not be possible without cooperation among the different parties. I have also never encountered such a long motorcade of vehicles to transport the dignitaries from one location to another.
FSOs safeguard and advance Singapore’s interests in many ways. We analyse global developments in order to provide recommendations to Singapore’s leaders and shape Singapore’s foreign policy decisions; we advocate for Singapore when engaging directly with foreign officials, other diplomats, business professionals, academics, and journalists; and we champion Singapore’s positions at international fora.
Beyond foreign policy, another core element of an FSO’s duty is to assist overseas Singaporeans in distress. In times of crisis, every FSO’s effort is required to ensure that no overseas Singaporean is left behind. One example was when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020. FSOs in Beijing Mission and MFA HQ performed admirably to organise and execute repatriation flights for Singaporeans in China to return home.
Stay hungry for challenges. Stay curious for knowledge. Stay positive for growth.