Speech By Mr Raymond Lim, Minister For Transport And Second Minister For Foreign Affairs - "Staying Relevant In The Midst Of Globalisation"

26 July 2006

26/07/2006 - Speech By Mr Raymond Lim, Minister For Transport And Second Minister For Foreign Affairs - "Staying Relevant In The Midst Of Globalisation"

Speech By Mr Raymond Lim, Minister For Transport And Second Minister For Foreign Affairs, Temasek Seminar, 26 July 2006, 9.25 am, SAFTI MI OCS Main Auditorium

Staying Relevant In The Midst Of Globalisation

1 I am happy to be here today, to speak to you on Singapore's foreign policy. Singapore does not have the luxury of pursuing a foreign policy of abstract ideals. Like that of other countries, ours is a servant to the national goals of survival and prosperity. The guiding principle is national interest. Of course, this does not mean that we have to define our interests narrowly.

2 Much has been written on post-Cold War geopolitics and globalisation. What is not well understood are the unique constraints small states face in dealing with these challenges. This is particularly so for one set in Southeast Asia, at the crossroads of ascendant Asian nations, who are all key players of the imminent dramatic adjustments in the global balance of power.

3 For Singapore, by survival, we mean to be successful - to be exceptionally so. By safeguarding our independence, we mean to have an overwhelmingly strong defence capability that deters others from dreaming of impinging upon us. Our success and independence are, in turn, the sum of our strategic relevance for the key regional and global powers, and the international economic and political system. The daily business of diplomacy is about making friends with whom we share common interests, particularly that of Singapore's continued independence.

4 In 1957, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew observed during a Legislative Assembly debate that the idea of an independent Singapore was "a political, economic and geographical absurdity." By 1972, then Foreign Minister S Rajaratnam had declared that Singapore was a "Global City" that drew sustenance not only from the region but also from the international economic system, which would be the final arbiter of whether we declined or prospered.

5 Today, we are a key node in the global supply chain, as one of the busiest sea ports in the world. Changi International Airport has flights weekly to more than 180 cities. We are the third most wired nation in the world. Because trade is our lifeline, Singapore has placed the highest priority on the multilateral trading system, as embodied in the WTO, and supported by other regional fora such as APEC and ASEAN. We have also deepened our commitment to free trade through Free Trade Agreements. When we first launched our FTA with top trading partners from the key regions, we were affectionately accused of promiscuity; we were called other names by the time we proposed four-way FTAs. More seriously, we were accused by some of opening a backdoor to ASEAN for our FTA partners. Now, all our naysayers are preoccupied with negotiating their own FTAs.

6 In September, we will host the IMF/WB Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors, where about 16,000 leaders, global financial representatives and civil society organisations will gather here to discuss the course of global economic development. More fascinatingly, for me personally, is that George Lucas has chosen Singapore for his first digital animation studio outside of the US, to produce digital animated content.

7 They don't have to come but they continue to because of their confidence in Singapore. These are the fruits of an activist and innovative economic and foreign policy. But there is no permanent advantage in whatever we do: it could well disappear in a twinkling of an eye. Perhaps because of my new transport portfolio, my worries on Singapore's international position often involve transportation networks these days. Let me share some with you.

8 Kobe, like Singapore, had been a major transhipment hub port. It ranked the world's No. 6 container port in 1994. Following the 1995 Kobe earthquake, it took a mere two years to fully restore its port facilities. Unfortunately, in that time, many shipping lines had made alternative arrangements to call at Busan in South Korea and other Taiwanese ports, and never returned. In 2004, Kobe port languished at No. 35. More than 80% of Singapore's port business is transhipment, this is cargo destined for other parts of the world, which need not come through us but for our connectivity and efficiencies. Should something untoward happen here, there are ports in the region with excess capacity to snap up this business.

9 It has been suggested that the post-911 terrorist attacks on London, Madrid and most recently, Mumbai, have only served to prove that cities will win the war on terrorism, that they would simply live with it. I cannot agree more with Minister Teo that should it happen here, we shall expect the same degree of grit and resolution from our people, to rebuild and continue living as we have. But this city is also the whole of our country, we have nowhere else to run to and find succour in; this is what makes it so much more challenging for us. The new pathways for goods and services, global talent and knowledge are the same ones travelled by terrorists and viruses. The world is coming at us at a greater speed and depth than ever before. Our lack of strategic depth has implications beyond the physical and military, it also has economic, political, sociocultural and psychological dimensions to it.

10 There is no question that we had rightly chosen globalisation as our survival strategy. However, each solution brings with it new risks and challenges. And it certainly cannot help us overcome fully the constraints of size and geography.

Small States
11 In 1651, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described life in the state of nature as "nasty, brutish and short". He also contended that the law of nations and the law of nature were the same thing. Thankfully, the conduct of international relations has since evolved, but countries have clearly not reached the happy state of peaceful coexistence where scores are all settled in the court of international law. The guiding principle remains survival and national interest; states that forget this will learn it to their own peril.

12 The world is still largely organised around the principle of power and therefore dominated by big powers. Much of the post-colonial literature on small states equated smallness with weakness and vulnerability, and viewed their survival as extraordinary. Singapore had often been on a short list that included others like Denmark and Ireland. Small states - that survive - were seen as better organised and flexible enough to meet challenges quickly.

13 Of course, not all small states were created equal. In the tougher neighbourhoods, it helps to have a strategic resource. For our times, this is not gold or diamond but oil, as in the case of Kuwait, for instance. As for Lebanon, few would remember that Beirut had been the most cosmopolitan city in the region. Lebanon was the Switzerland of the Middle East, a key financial centre. The tragedy of Lebanon lies in the question of whether it could possibly have averted its current problems with a different set of policies. Would it have been possible to throw off the military influence of its larger neighbours and prevent a militant group from declaring war on the behalf of the entire country, so that its towns and villages did not become the site of a proxy war?

14 Small states each face unique and complex combinations of geopolitical and economic circumstances. They are not entirely masters of their own destiny. Small states perform no irreplaceable functions in the international system: they do not have to exist. Big powers like China and Russia, on the other hand, could undergo cycles of stagnation and renewal over centuries and yet survive in one form or other. Small states have no margin for error. They need to be exceptionally successful, to hopefully eke out a relevant and useful role within the international system.

Singapore's regional context
15 Singapore has always sought friendly relationships with our neighbours, based on the principle of mutual respect and benefit. However, the fact that we uphold meritocracy and multi-racialism as the most just and efficient way of organising a society presents a number of questions for countries with different systems. We have no natural resources to absorb any structural inefficiency. In the minds of some politicians, our success accentuates the absurdity of our existence. This affront was well encapsulated in the outburst of an Indonesian leader who called us "a little red dot". There is nothing we can do about this sentiment but to embrace the identity of an upstart which would not be ignored.

16 Episodic disagreements notwithstanding, we have enjoyed long periods of cooperative accommodation with Malaysia and Indonesia. As neighbours, it is inevitable that disputes should arise from time to time. With Malaysia, we have been able to arrive at an amicable, fair and balanced settlement over our land reclamation case. We look forward to a similarly happy outcome on the Pedra Branca case.

17 With Indonesia, just recently, we agreed to work together to establish Special Economic Zones on Batam, Bintan and Karimun. This is aimed at invigorating investor interest and creating more jobs for Indonesians. If successful, we hope to replicate these Zones for other areas in Indonesia. Singapore would always work with our neighbours where we can because we share a mutual interest in regional stability and prosperity. Nevertheless, let us not be disheartened by the ups and downs. To a large extent, the key determinants of trends in our bilateral relations rest with the domestic circumstances of our respective neighbours, which are obviously beyond our control or influence.

18 We are also working with the other Southeast Asian countries to build a stronger ASEAN. However, the future of ASEAN would necessarily be a different proposition from that of the EU precisely because Southeast Asia and Europe have had different histories. Centuries of warfare has taught the Europeans that they must never go to war because their fates are so intricately tied to one another. Europe has taken a long windy path to arrive at where it is today, largely one common market and a monetary union.

19 Southeast Asia, on the other hand, is a recent strategic invention. Our peoples are not homogenous and our political systems span from monarchy to liberal democracy. The primordial forces of race, language and religion continue to be existential issues for several countries and the organisation of ASEAN as a whole. We exist as a collection of new states with tender sovereignties. This sets significant limits on what ASEAN can do. We are nevertheless moving in the right direction, towards ASEAN as a true security community where, hopefully like Europe, bloodshed and war in Southeast Asia will become unthinkable. But we are not there yet.

Developments in East Asia
20 Post-Cold War, the new Asian geopolitical map is still being re-drawn. While most agree that a prosperous and stable China is the best-case scenario for Asia, its inevitable challenge to the existing balance of power would be a source of uncertainty for some time. China, Japan and India are integrating their economic destinies while competing for strategic influence. Despite its preoccupation with the Middle East and the global war on terror, the US is in the process of consolidating its alliance with Japan and building a new one with India. However, a question mark hangs over the US' troubled alliance with South Korea and therefore the future of US military presence in Asia. Japan and India are finding fresh impetus in their relationship. China, too, has been successful at securing its borders with neighbouring countries, and renewing its ties with Southeast Asia and Russia.

21 These are the uncharted waters that the smaller states in the region, including Singapore, are navigating in. We are all seeking to balance the need to seize economic opportunities with our long term strategic goals.

Participative citizenry
22 A vigilant, informed and participative citizenry has a key role in the formulation and conduct of our foreign policy. A broad-based consensus on our national interests, common values and shared assumptions are critical to our ability to make policy and act. Because these interests evolve with our changing circumstances, the dialogue among the people and with the leadership must also be an on-going and robust one.

23 Ideally, we would like for informed interaction to take place on the basis of some shared premises of our national, regional and global contexts. By necessity, the Foreign Ministry cannot always elucidate the strategic considerations behind our public positions. Some have commented that our positions on global events are not always consistent. I would advise you to note carefully our leaders' remarks on the long term trajectory of geopolitical trends and our shifting interests. As someone once said, consistency is a virtue for trains. But what is consistent in our foreign policy is a dogged and clear-eyed protection of our core interests, nothing more, or less.

The role of the youth
24 You will grow up and join the larger pool of international talent. If there is one thing that worries me, it is that our youth, having been groomed by a first class educational system and equipped for the challenges of a competitive and global market would choose to leave us for greener pastures. For me, nothing is more urgent now than a dialogue with the sons and daughters of our country, to understand and work with you to build a home that you would call your own.

25 As for foreign policy, you are stakeholders of our common destiny, and have an important role to play. First, I would like you to strive to be well-informed. Read widely, and be analytical and alert to the ideological perspective of your sources, be it American, European or Asian; liberal, conservative or otherwise. Be discerning in what you accept as truth. Are the policies advocated relevant or available to small states such as Singapore? Because no one has a monopoly over knowledge and ideas, your views as a member of Singapore's civil society would be invaluable.

26 Second, I would like you to pay attention to the successes of other countries, consider and suggest how we could learn and adapt from them. And I would like you to have a certain sense of empathy, to consider the human tragedies behind the headlines on conflict, terrorism, natural disasters and poverty. What went wrong in these societies? How can we help? To date, we have done so by providing humanitarian assistance or technical training, within our means. What else can we do? To gain a true understanding of Singapore's place in the world, we need to know what makes this country, and we need to understand the world as it is, not as we want it to be.

27 Third, you are all at a critical, exciting juncture in your life. You will travel, study and work and meet people from other cultures. I should like you to be inquisitive and respectful of their systems and cultures, and also, to be ambassadors of Singapore. If you end up marrying them, that is alright but please settle down in Singapore to raise your children. But more seriously, I hope that in explaining who we are, you will be both quietly proud of our achievements, and yet humbled by the thought of all that is left to do. Just as wars are too important to be left only to generals, diplomacy is too important to be left only to diplomats.

28 You, our youths of today, will dream the dreams, and wake to build the world we shall live in tomorrow. Our national policies have to be bold and creative but most importantly, effective and cognisant of our unique realities. What we do now will determine our place, if any, in the new regional architecture and global community of the future. I look forward to hearing your ideas.

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