MFA Press Release: Speech By Minister For Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan During The Committee Of Supply Debate, 1 March 2018

01 March 2018

Thank you Mr Chairman, now to discuss my day job at MFA. I want to thank all the Members for your very insightful contributions, comments. I want to commend Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim, and Mr Pritam Singh for your also very constructive comments. In fact I listened to you very carefully and couldn’t find anything to disagree with you, and I am sure our foreign partners will notice that there is bi-partisan support for our approach to foreign policy, and indeed as a small open state we need the bipartisan support. So I am grateful for your constructive contributions, and for the bipartisan support we enjoy.

2. Now there are at least three key political issues if I could summarise: First, how do we manage our relations with the major powers given the rapidly evolving geo-political balance of power? The second set of issues is, as ASEAN Chairman, how do we strengthen ASEAN’s unity, Centrality and value proposition? And value proposition not just for outsiders but including our own people. The third political issue, is that Singapore is an open multi-racial, multi-religious city-state, a sovereign country in the heart of Southeast Asia. And how do we protect our unique identity, our domestic unity and our sovereignty from the inevitable foreign influence, and especially, I speak very frankly now, and especially, the primordial pull of ancestry, race, language and religion? And yet, as Mr Low mentioned yesterday, this cultural arbitrage is also our competitive advantage. So, we need to be aware of both opportunities and as well as the challenges that confront us because of our unique position.

3. In his Budget statement, Minister for Finance identified three major transformations, you have all heard about it: (i) the shift in the global centre of gravity towards Asia, and that basically as Mr Low says, is China, India, and ASEAN itself; (ii) second, the emergence of new technologies and the impact that will have on jobs, economy, and even attitudes to free trade; and (iii) third, an ageing population. The ageing population is especially an issue that confronts Singapore, confronts China, and the fact that in contrast, ASEAN as a whole 60% of ASEAN is below the age of 35.

4. Now these three trends present us with both opportunities and threats. And what we are actually trying to do is that as Asia grows, to make use of our unique identity, our unique position, and even our unique cultural arbitrage in order to ride on our nation’s growth and dynamism. But even as we do this, we must be mindful that there are multiple trans-boundary pitfalls. For instance, protectionist nationalism is on the rise. Terrorism is a clear and present threat. And in the midst of the digital revolution, cybersecurity breaches and “fake news” have eroded trust in institutions and divided societies. In fact, sometimes it has even become a tool of foreign policy.

5. Now, Singapore’s foreign policy given our unique position has always been guided by five key principles:

6. First, Singapore has to be successful, has to be vibrant; if we are not successful, we are not relevant. As Minister Mentor Lee said a long time ago, the world will not miss us if we disappear as a small state. There is no irreplaceable function that this small state provides the rest of the world.

7. Second, we must preserve our ability to make independent sovereign decisions based on our own national interests, and we must not become a vassal state. We are not for sale, and we are not going to be easily intimidated;

8. Third, Singapore aims to be a friend to all. What this means is that we do not wish to be forced to choose sides or to be caught in proxy battles;

9. Fourth, we promote, and we believe in a global, rules based order with international laws and international norms. And if you think about it, this is essential precisely because we are a small state; and

10. Fifth, Singapore must be a reliable, credible and consistent partner. For us, we don’t have the luxury of changing, flip-flopping, changing our views quickly overtime. Or saying a different thing to a different partner. We need to be reliable, credible and consistent.


11. I will start by addressing our relationships with the major powers. Mr Amrin Amin asked about our relationship with China. Many of you have also asked about US-China relations and the dynamics and how that affects us. I think Ms Jessica Tan asked that point.

12. With China, our relations, our track record of cooperation is deep, longstanding, and substantive. Last September, Prime Minister Lee visited Beijing at China’s invitation. The timing was significant; it was just a couple of weeks before China’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. We didn’t expect that they would have the bandwidth; nonetheless they invited the Prime Minister.

13. When Prime Minister met President Xi, President Xi emphasised that Singapore and China have no fundamental disagreements, no conflicting interests, and no differences on basic principles. I’m quoting him. We will convey the exact words in Chinese to the media later on. In fact, this is our own longstanding belief. We have always believed that a successful, stable China is good for our region. In fact, the rise of China and the elevation of hundreds of millions of people from abject poverty to the middle class is the biggest story of our lifetime.  And as Mr Low said yesterday, I think, as people with Chinese ancestry, at the cultural level and the emotional level, we must take pride and joy in that achievement. But we are also aware that we are not Chinese citizens, and Singapore is the only political entity, the only state in the world where Chinese are the majority, but we are not under the Communist Party of China.

14. We have always consistently supported China’s strategic economic development, and this is clearly evident from our unique Government-to-Government projects – Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-city, and more recently the Chongqing Demonstration Initiative. In fact, surprisingly, Singapore has been the largest foreign investor in China since 2013. Of course our role will have to evolve because unlike the past two and a half decades where we were investing and we were moving concepts and ideas into China, today China has become a net exporter of capital and technology. So our role inevitably must evolve to keep up with the times.

15. The other point that we must anticipate, and must expect from time to time, is that there will be issues of difference between China and Singapore. After all, we are two sovereign states with very different national circumstances. So we must expect differences in perspective, and we must not get flustered even when pressured. This is to be expected.  This is almost par for the course in international relations. Because you cannot expect two countries’ interests to be completely identical. In fact, I mean it’s no secret, I mean we’ve had some bumps along the way. But I would say that these episodes over the last two, two and a half years, have helped both sides to understand each other’s position better. I think it has made for a more mature relationship.

16. Currently, we are now negotiating an upgrade to the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. This will further enhance market access for our companies, create more jobs for Singaporeans.  Of course we also want to see more Chinese companies accessing opportunities in Southeast Asia through Singapore.

17. Our multi-faceted cooperation is constantly evolving. Both sides have identified new areas for cooperation. We have the JCBC, co-led by DPM Teo. We have now identified finance, legal, and judicial sectors. One example was the inaugural Singapore-China Legal and Judicial Roundtable held last year. And these initiatives will complement the existing high-level fora on economic cooperation, social governance and leadership. All again are incidentally chaired by DPM Teo. These extensive and high-level engagements between China and Singapore epitomise that long track record that builds trust and confidence. 

18. The Belt & Road (B&R) Initiative is another major opportunity for cooperation. When I visited China in June last year, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and I agreed to establish three platforms to deepen Belt & Road cooperation.  First, on infrastructural connectivity; second, on financial connectivity and support; and third, to look for opportunities for third-party collaboration, including joint training for officials from other Belt & Road countries to work and exploit opportunities that the Belt & Road Initiative provides.

19. The potential is huge. Singapore accounted for 85% of total inbound investments to China from Belt & Road countries, and nearly one-third of China’s outbound investments to B&R countries actually flow through Singapore. I didn’t quite believe these figures. I double checked with my staff, they said yes, these figures are from China.

20. We are working together to connect the overland Silk Road Economic Belt with the Maritime Silk Road through a new “Southern Transport Corridor”, which links Chongqing in Western China to the Beibu Gulf in Guangxi. Our businesses can expand into Western China through Chongqing, just as Chinese companies can use Singapore as a gateway into Southeast Asia. This creates a “mutual hub effect”, it benefits businesses and benefits people. And as I said, by interconnecting the overland Silk Road with the Maritime Silk Road, it still maintains Singapore as a hub.

The US

21. The US is a longstanding, close strategic partner and we have had mutually-beneficial relations over the last 52 years.

22. Defence ties form the backbone of the bilateral relationship. Let me give a recent example. When Hurricane Harvey struck last year, we quickly deployed four RSAF CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 34 of our own servicemen from our training detachment in Grand Prairie, Texas to help with the relief effort. The RSAF worked seamlessly with their American counterparts because of the regular training between both sides. In fact we have 1,000 SAF personnel training in various detachments in Arizona, Idaho and Texas every year in F15s, F16s, Chinooks and Apaches. No other foreign state has more troops on US soil.  

23. Our strong trade, investment, and business ties with the US are underpinned by the 2004 US-Singapore FTA. In 2016, the US was the top foreign direct investor in Singapore, with investment stock worth S$281 billion. The US is Singapore’s largest trading partner in services, and third largest trading partner in goods. Our total trade with the US stood at almost S$140 billion.

24. There are over 4,200 US companies here, which help create good jobs for Singaporeans and US exports to Singapore and Singapore investments in the US support over 250,000 American jobs. This is a statistic we share with President Trump to make the point that he has real skin in the game in Southeast Asia, especially in Singapore. Singapore is the second largest Asian investor in the US, second after Japan, and Asia’s number one buyer of US commercial property. I think these are investments.

25. Last month’s Singapore Airshow showcased our strong defence and economic cooperation. The US fielded the largest foreign delegation with 170 exhibitors. US aerospace exports to Singapore totalled almost US$5 billion in 2016.

26. The deep economic linkages have given Singapore access to US markets and US technology, and allow Singaporeans to learn with and from the best in the US including the academic and research institutes.

27. PM’s visit to Washington last October reinforced these fundamentals. President Trump described Singapore as one of the US’ “closest strategic partners in Asia”. President Trump has accepted PM’s invitation to visit Singapore later this year.  We look forward to receiving him.

28. There have been questions about the US commitment to the liberal world order and free trade as we know it. One statistic which I think that members of the house should be aware of is that in 1960, the US GDP was 40% of global GDP. In 2017, although the US GDP has grown, as a proportion it has shrunk to 25% of the global GDP. Now the reason for giving you this statistic is to make you all appreciate that it is a completely legitimate political exercise within the domestic US politics to ask why they should unilaterally underwrite the global world order as we have known it for the past 70 years when their share is shrinking. I say this because you need to look for deeper trends beyond the headlines and the personalities. But the point we make is that the US has had a headstart here, the US has enormous investments in Southeast Asia, the US has significant reservoirs of goodwill. It is theirs to lose even as they sort out their domestic political questions.


29. Now for us, because of our close relationship with both the US and China, we hope that there will be a stable US-China relationship because if they maintain the peace, there will be peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

30. We enjoy good relations with both. We want and are in fact well-suited to be part of the common circle of friends. Remember my earlier point about not being forced to choose sides.

31. So we must anticipate that there will be an element of competition between the US and China. But the big difference from, say, the Cold War is that the US and China are highly interdependent in a way which was never present in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the US.

32. So we hope that both sides will see that there is too much to lose by confrontation and by conflict. We of course view a trade war with great concern. We have seen some early salvos, for instance, the tariffs that the US is imposing on solar panels, even washing machines. The target was China and Korea, but because Singapore also makes solar panels, we also become collateral damage. This illustrates the danger of a full-blown trade war.

ASEAN Chairmanship

33. Let me turn to ASEAN.  It has always been a cornerstone for peace and prosperity in our region. ASEAN unity enlarges our strategic and economic space, amplifies our voices on the international stage, and promotes an open and rules-based inclusive regional architecture. The alternative, if we did not have ASEAN, is to become a bunch of vassal states operating on the principle of “might is right”, and being an arena for proxy wars.  I think Mr Low also mentioned that yesterday.  Therefore, ASEAN is a cornerstone of our foreign policy.  We will work to strengthen the ASEAN-led regional architecture by working with our ASEAN Member States and our dialogue partners.

34. Now, our dialogue partners have proposed various regional initiatives.  For instance, I mentioned the Belt and Road Initiative just now. More recently, you may have heard the US, Japan, and India talking about a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Without getting into the details, I would just like to share with you how I view all these proposals.  I basically ask three questions.


35. First question – whatever the proposal is, whatever the label is – what does your proposal mean for ASEAN Centrality and unity?  In other words, will these initiatives keep ASEAN at the core of the regional architecture of Southeast Asia or will they – wittingly or unwittingly – pull ASEAN apart and force us to choose sides? That’s my first question.

36. Second question – whatever the initiative is – does it facilitate trade, investment, infrastructure and connectivity? Clearly, an economic agenda because ASEAN has got such growth potential in the next two to three decades. Trade, investment, and connectivity is strategy.

37. Third question – whatever the initiative – does it support a world order based on international law? And for us in particular, because we are a port, an island, a city-state, 1982 UNCLOS is sacrosanct.

38. Our Chairmanship of ASEAN is an important opportunity for us in our own small way to make a positive contribution to a substantive and forward-looking agenda. Ms Sylvia Lim mentioned her concern that according to a survey, only 13% of Singaporeans expressed interest in ASEAN.  I share your concerns but my own take is that I think we take it for granted. After 50 years, we have taken it for granted that that there is no war in Southeast Asia.  We transact with each other, have mutual interdependence, investments, trade.  When we have disputes, we go to the international courts and we resolve disputes according to international law.  That’s at the political level. 

39. Actually, if you look at the people level, you ask yourselves: tourism numbers – Singaporeans are great travellers and ASEAN is our immediate neighbourhood.  Huge numbers of Singaporeans travel to ASEAN.  You look at schools, and you ask your schools - lots of trips.  On service learning, the SIF – Singapore International Foundation – volunteers. Even when you look at both formal and informal groups, and what our students and our young people do in the more rural areas, even in Indochina.

40. If you ask our businesses what their investments are across Malaysia and Indonesia, actually if you do a proper catalogue, I think we are fully invested in ASEAN.  It is just that I think we take it for granted but I take your point that we need to raise the flag of ASEAN more. I’m always intrigued – if you go to any ASEAN Member State embassy, you will see them flying two flags - the national flag and the ASEAN flag.  But you don’t often see the ASEAN flag in Singapore, so I take your point that we do need to fly the ASEAN flag more, and to make our people appreciate how important ASEAN is to us.         

41. Our Chairmanship themes for this year are “resilience” and “innovation”. It expresses our hopes for ASEAN to meet future challenges, particularly to deal with emerging issues like digital disruption. After all, this is what we are also doing at the local level - how do we deal with the digital revolution – in fact, this is an opportunity for us to do more with our fellow ASEAN members.

42. One key initiative is the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN). We envisage this as a platform for ASEAN cities to share best practices, urban solutions, new technologies.  But I think the most important thing is that we are looking for interoperability, whether you are talking about e-payments systems, ASEAN single trade windows, facilitation of travel, and facilitation of even the ASEAN self-certification regime to make it easier to export goods and services.  We want to do all this because in fact there is tremendous potential for intra-ASEAN trade. 

43. Someone also asked about the Model ASEAN Extradition Treaty. Negotiations are not over yet but making good progress.

44. As ASEAN Chair, we will have to work hard to maximise our common ground and keep ASEAN united. Let me also tell you very honestly, that it will be difficult. So for instance, some members – I think it was Louis Ng and Christopher de Souza – asked about the situation in Rakhine State.

45. Now Members are familiar that one of the founding principles of ASEAN is non-interference in domestic affairs. We cannot directly intervene but I would say that this is a humanitarian disaster of the highest order.  Secondly, if this problem is not resolved properly, we will end up creating yet another flashpoint and yet another sanctuary for extremists and terrorists, and it will become another trans-boundary threat. So in our own quiet behind-the-scenes way, we have to try to make a positive difference.

46. ASEAN agreed to mobilise the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance to deliver assistance to the affected communities in Myanmar, and when we delivered it, we insisted that it should be delivered without discrimination. All communities who need help, should receive our help.

47. To date, the Centre has delivered at least two loads of relief supplies worth US$500,000 to the Myanmar government, and we also deployed an ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team to assist in humanitarian relief efforts.

48. We had an ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat last month. Myanmar gave us a briefing and we urged Myanmar to continue implementing the recommendations made by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. We encouraged the expeditious commencement of the voluntary return of the refugees but it has to be done in a safe, secure and dignified way without undue delay. Frankly, these are easier said than done when you consider what has already transpired on the ground.

49. We have also emphasised that the responsibility for resolving this complex problem ultimately rests with Myanmar and the stakeholders within Myanmar.

50. Singapore and ASEAN will continue to do our part by encouraging all parties to work towards a long-term and comprehensive political solution, and to create a conducive environment for the affected communities to rebuild their lives. So this is an example. There will always – from time to time – be an issue that tests our fundamental principles and our ability to make a positive contribution.

ASEAN-China and SCS Code of Conduct

51. Another area we are focused on right now is the ASEAN-China relationship.

52. We are reaching the end of our third year of our coordinatorship of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relationship. In these three years, we have been able to strengthen the relationship, despite the challenges, and it will culminate with 2018 designated as the “ASEAN-China Year of Innovation”. 

53. 2018 marks the 15th Anniversary of the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership, which we will commemorate with a statement on the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030. This sets a roadmap for the future of the strategic partnership.

54. ASEAN and China will also commence negotiations on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea this year. This is a significant milestone. It will serve, we hope, to reinforce the rules-based regional order. As ASEAN-China coordinator, we will continue to be an honest broker. We will work closely with all sides to narrow the differences. I cannot promise it will be delivered soon because of the complexities involved. 

Economic Integration

55. Ms Sun Xueling asked about economic integration and free trade. You know, actually, free trade all over the world is unfairly blamed for economic problems that, in fact, are the result of technological disruption. We believe, and we have been discussing this during the Budget debate, that the answer is not to build walls or to retreat from global competition. We believe we have to double down on re-structuring our economies, upgrading skills of our people, supporting innovation and pursuing business opportunities globally.

56. This is why the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is important and this was launched in 2015. I have been told that so far, that plan had 609 measures and 536 of them have been implemented. But without getting into the fine print, the point is that the AEC is an attempt to enable our companies to better access ASEAN’s dynamic market of more than 600 million people, where, as I said earlier, 60% are below the age of 35 and there is enormous investment opportunity. 

57. Fundamentally, I am glad that we do not argue about this in Singapore because, in Singapore, trade is our lifeline.  No other state has a trading volume that is three-and-a-half times its GDP. It is trade that allows our companies to expand beyond our small market, and to create jobs for Singaporeans. Although I have said that the global consensus is eroding, the outlook is actually not so bleak. For instance, the 11 remaining Parties of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have concluded talks, and on 8th of March in Chile, Minister Lim Hng Kiang will have to make a long journey to sign the CPTPP which stands for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Frankly, this has exceeded my expectations.  However, even with just 11 members, because the US had pulled out, it still represents about 500 million people and a $10 trillion economy collectively. We will continue to leave the door open for the US and we will wait and see.

58. In the meantime, we also hope to make substantive progress this year on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This RCEP comprises 10 ASEAN Members and the 6 Dialogue Partners whom we have existing free trade agreements with.  That means India, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.  Some people have asked us if the CPTPP and RCEP are rival blocks or rival agreements.  We say no.  As far as Singapore is concerned, these are complementary building blocks because what we envisage ultimately is a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

59. Members also know that we just signed a free trade agreement with Sri Lanka last month. There are some complexities involved with the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement that we are sorting out.  It has been signed and it just a question of ratification. 

60. Singapore is an associate member of the Pacific Alliance, which consists of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.  Mercosur is also looking at exploring a free trade agreement with Singapore, as a step, ultimately, perhaps, to a regional agreement between Mercosur and ASEAN.  I have been in this business long enough to know that when I used to go to South America 10-15 years ago, they were not interested in free trade agreements with us or with ASEAN. Yet, the mood has changed. The tide has changed. 


Regional Partners

61. Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim asked about our immediate neighbours. So let me report first on Malaysia and Indonesia. You know these are our closest neighbours, of utmost importance. And with the right spirit of cooperation, we embark on win-win initiatives, strengthen bilateral ties and allow our companies to tap on the dynamic Malaysian and Indonesian economies.

62. But, you know as well as I do, our relations will always be complex, and issues will surface from time to time. When they do, again, have a sense of perspective. Don’t let a single issue derail the overall relationship.

63. Malaysia. With Malaysia, we have continued to set new milestones recently. At the 8th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat in January, PM Lee and Prime Minister Najib Razak officiated the opening of the Marina One and DUO joint venture developments, which have a combined Gross Development Value of S$11 billion.

64. Members will remember that these projects came about as sequelae to the settlement of the Points of Agreement on the Malayan Railways (KTM) land.

65. We also signed the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link Bilateral Agreement. The RTS Link, when completed in 2024, will dramatically change the way hundreds of thousands of travellers shuttle between Johor Bahru and Singapore each day.

66. Then we also have the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail, which is also progressing well. The tender for the Assets Company was called last December; it will close in June. The results of the tender will be announced in about a year’s time, and will be conducted in a fair, open and transparent manner.

67. Such long-term strategic projects enhance our inter-dependence, give us all a greater stake in each other’s success, and demonstrate the tangible benefits of stable and positive ties.

68. There have been questions even about Pedra Branca at the International Court of Justice. Let me just put it very simply, we will not let this issue define or derail our relationship. In fact, the most important point is this – that when we have a difference, we seek peaceful resolution according to international law.

69. I should remind members that Malaysia will soon hold its General Election. Again, we know from past history that every time election rhetoric heats up, sometimes Singapore becomes part of the political fodder. Now, on our part, we must ensure that we do not get drawn into their domestic politics, nor will we allow the import of foreign countries’ politics into Singapore.

70. Indonesia. With Indonesia, our bilateral cooperation remains deep and multi-faceted. Last year, Singapore and Indonesia commemorated “RISING50” – the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. And we have been working to enhance economic linkages in digital economy, tourism and skills training.

71. Singapore remained Indonesia’s top foreign investor in 2017, with realised investments at US$8.4 billion. We are each other’s second biggest source of tourists.

72. The recently-launched joint venture in Central Java, the Kendal Industrial Park, is doing well. 36 companies have committed as tenants, investments valued at over S$600 million, and with the potential to create 5,000 jobs.

73. We are also working with Indonesia on a digital industry cluster in Batam and to participate in the tech start-up ecosystem in Jakarta, which by the way, has quite a thriving digital scene.

74. We also continue to work closely to strengthen counterterrorism efforts.

75. And since I used to be Environment Minister, I need to say that we appreciate the concerted efforts of President Joko Widodo and the provincial leaders to manage the haze situation. And this year, it is better. We are committed to working with Indonesia to tackle this transboundary issue.

76. I just visited Jakarta last month. Good series of meetings with my counterpart Ibu Retno Marsudi and other Indonesian leaders across the political spectrum.


77. There is consensus across the board that the Singapore-Indonesia partnership is valuable and brings mutual benefits, and so long as we can continue this positive tenor, we can manage the inevitable differences which still remain.

78. Overall, we believe in the “Prosper Thy Neighbour” policy. And we want Indonesia and Malaysia especially to succeed. Good for us, good for the region.

79. Brunei. Brunei is a close and special friend.

80. We celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Currency Interchangeability Agreement (CIA) in July 2017, during the fourth State Visit of His Majesty the Sultan. The CIA is a unique long-standing arrangement that has brought economic benefits for both Brunei and Singapore.  It has lowered business costs and allowed us to inter-operate.

81. PM Lee attended the Sultan’s Golden Jubilee celebration last October, which was another occasion to reaffirm our close relationship.

82. You may have heard that Brunei had a Cabinet reshuffle recently. We are familiar with many of the new Ministers because we have had regular exchanges over the years. We are looking forward to work with the new team to further take our special relationship to new heights.

83. We continue to foster close ties among the younger generation of Bruneian and Singapore leaders through the annual Young Leaders’ Programme, led by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Billah and DPM Teo Chee Hean.

84. There were some questions on our relationships with other key partners Japan, Australia, and India.

85. Japan. With Japan our relations are close and multi-faceted. Last month, we hosted Foreign Minister Taro Kono. DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam visited Japan in February, and PM will be there in June. We are elevating cooperation in traditional sectors like trade and connectivity, and also examining emerging areas like science and technology.  They have a Japan Society 5.0 vision which is very similar to our Smart Nation, and because of their lead with technology we are looking at this as another platform.  And of course both of us are ageing societies and that is another common challenge.  We will have to see how we can reorganise our societies and use technology to deal with this. 

86. Australia. Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull made an official visit in June 2017 for the 2nd Annual Leaders’ Summit; and in fact PM Lee will be going to Australia later this month. Our close friendship with Australia is underpinned by shared historical experiences and shared strategic perspectives. We elevated our ties with Australia to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2015, and implementation is well on track.  One point I would just highlight - no other country provides as much space for us to train in as Australia.  When we go there it is multiple times the size of Singapore.

87. India. Mr Low mentioned the emerging importance of India.  India’s population will exceed that of China I think by 2024, and unlike China, India remains young.  India hosted the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi in January, which PM attended. We have made good progress on the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership, particularly in smart cities and defence. PM Narendra Modi is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June this year. We look forward to discussing ways to further expand our bilateral ties and SMS Maliki will give you more details.


Future Challenges

88. Let me conclude by saying that  our diplomatic relations actually are in good order, and you would have noticed actually I have been more relaxed last year than in the previous year; but we need to stay alert to known unknowns and unknown unknowns - “wild cards”. What are these known unknowns? The tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Singapore has been implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions fully and faithfully. We hope that the recent talks between the ROK and the DPRK will help arrive at a peaceful resolution and ultimately we hope that there will be a denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

89. How we in Singapore weather external shocks actually boils down to our domestic resilience and unity.


Domestic Support

90. I think it was Mr Sitoh Yih Pin who asked about domestic support for foreign policy, and so have the Members of Parliament from the Workers’ Party. Ms Joan Pereira asked about our public diplomacy efforts. Your questions are really centred on whether we can maintain domestic support and unity for our foreign policy. And that is why I said I’m grateful there is bipartisan support in this Chamber.

91. International issues will increasingly be dragged into the domestic discourse. Our open, multi-racial, multi-religious society gives many opportunities for foreign actors who are trying to test our resolve, or even undermine our unity.

92. Singaporeans must be well-informed, not only about the multitude and diversity of views, but also the corresponding trade-offs we have to weigh up. Singaporeans have to be discerning towards “fake news” and not allow ourselves to be distracted and divided.

93. I wanted to quote our former President Dr Tony Tan at the S Rajaratnam Lecture last year. He said when someone comes to you with a message, take some time, reflect on the message, and ask yourself what it means. Think carefully about who stands to benefit from the proposed message, and whether it is in Singapore’s own national interest.

94. On this front, MFA has been stepping up its outreach to Singaporeans at various levels. And we do need strong and informed support from the public because foreign policy begins at home. 



95. I also want to thank Mr Desmond Choo and Mr Cedric Foo for their questions on MFA officers and resources. I think you all have noticed that MFA is the Ministry with the smallest budget. It’s okay, I’m not asking for more. I’m actually very proud to have some of the most talented and dedicated officers. Over the years, MFA has worked on a rigorous selection system and an equally rigorous nurturing system. This includes bringing in mid-career entrants[1] with the relevant skillsets and experience. It’s up to us optimise to our limited resources to provide our officers with continuous training. But I think most of all, what really motivates our officers is that sense of meaning and significance – that they are advancing Singapore’s interest, protecting sovereignty, expanding opportunities for business, looking after Singaporeans who get into trouble, and that’s especially for our consular services, which for most Singaporeans, is the public, human face of MFA.

96. I would add, the MFA families pay a very heavy price. The trailing spouse, who has to compromise his or her career, the children of MFA diplomats who are deprived of a Singaporean childhood. We should bear in mind that this is a family enterprise. What I’ve tried to do in my time there is to give credit and to emphasise family, and tell my officers that they never need to be embarrassed about saying that they need to do something or need to take some time off because they need to address family needs. I’m sure you all agree.



97. So let me conclude by saying we must maintain a realistic view of the world as it is, not as we hope it to be. We have to seek the right balance, promote regional unity and pursue global economic opportunities wherever these arise. In terms of style, we will continue to adopt a quiet, friendly but firm style of diplomacy. We will be honest, competent, reliable and constructive partners.

98. Most of all, diplomacy begins at home. Our foreign policy rests on a domestic consensus on our national interests. I will continue to work with all Members in this House to reach out to Singaporeans, to build a deeper appreciation of the fundamental truths, the hard truths, that underpin our foreign policy, and to develop a shared national instinct against external attempts to pressure, influence, or divide us.


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1 MARCH 2018

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