Transcript of Remarks by Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman at "Beyond the Handshake: The Singapore Foreign Service" Book Launch

29 March 2023


Distinguished Guests


Ladies and Gentlemen,


  • A very good afternoon. I am pleased to welcome you to the launch of ‘Beyond the Handshake: The Singapore Foreign Service’. Three years in the making, this book records the voices of 21 MFA colleagues who served with distinction to safeguard and advance Singapore’s national interests since we gained independence in 1965.


    The role of the Singapore Foreign Service since independence


  • Singapore achieved our independence in a different manner as compared to other new countries; It was “thrust upon us”, so to speak, following our separation from Malaysia. We were required to immediately look into our security, defence, and economic development needs, with neither natural resources nor hinterland, only our wit and our people.


  • At the same time, we had to focus on ensuring our security, as well as building up the country, and catering to the needs of our people at home. We had to gain international recognition of Singapore as an independent sovereign state, and rely on our ability to attract foreign investments, trade, management and technical skills to help create jobs for Singaporeans.


  • The credit for our successful transition from those early days to what we are now – a vibrant and world-class city-state – is often attributed to the leadership of our founding fathers and leaders who followed later. Less well-known is the part played by the men and women of our foreign service.


  • So, ‘Beyond the Handshake’, the book that we are launching today, tries to close that gap by sharing what some of them did to protect and advance Singapore’s interests. The names of the contributors might not be familiar to most Singaporeans, but I have met and worked with many of them, and have full respect for them, during my tenure here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, first as Senior Minister of State and now as Second Minister. They are extraordinary people, dedicated Singaporeans, and I am happy to see several of them in the audience today.


  • I want to commend RSIS for coming up with the idea of publishing this book, and bringing it to fruition. All the contributors have spent many years working overseas and in Singapore to fulfil their respective missions, and it was illuminating to read their stories and reflections. I am sure you will find it as illuminating too.


    Overview of the book


  • This book is timely because it traces how foreign policy has evolved alongside Singapore’s transformation through the years. Singapore and ASEAN came of age through the Cambodian crisis of the late 1970s up to the early-1990s. By the end of the Cold War in the early-1990s, our foreign policy priorities became more economic-centric. We forged closer links to friendly states and all the major powers, as well as reached out to the emerging markets of the former Soviet bloc and its allies in developing countries. We did this by concluding close to 30 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), as well as a host of other economic arrangements.


  • Together with our ASEAN partners, Singapore achieved the vision of ASEAN’s founding fathers of integrating Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam into the regional body and milestones such as the ASEAN FTA, ASEAN Community and ASEAN Charter. Singapore played a proactive role in creating the strategic regional architecture revolving around the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN+3 process with China, Japan and South Korea, the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).


  • Given the heightened global and regional competition and geopolitical contestation, it is crucial that Singapore continues to uphold international law and a rules-based multilateral order.


  • Despite our small physical size and limited resources, we demonstrated firm resolve to be a strong supporter of the United Nations (UN) and other multilateral organisations. In New York, Singapore established the Forum of Small States (FOSS) in 1992, which now has 108 members and chapters in the other UN Offices in Geneva and Vienna. We play an active role in the G20 Summit process, having been invited to almost all of its meetings since its inception, even though Singapore is not a member of the G20.


  • With globalisation, the various financial crises, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to deal with critical transboundary issues – promoting connectivity, sustaining regional and global supply chains, strengthening resilience of the healthcare services, developing eco-friendly green and smart cities, implementing judicious use of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), and securing data agglomeration and the cyber domain through concerted rules-based governance – lots and lots more things to do.


    Challenges to implementing our Foreign Policy today


  • At the same time, growing tension and mistrust arising from sharpening strategic competition between the United States and China, and the implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have brought foreign policy to the fore. In the face of this changing and challenging external environment, MFA’s work continues to be vital to navigate Singapore internationally, to seize opportunities and ensure that Singaporeans can continue to live in a country that is sovereign, safe, harmonious, and economically vibrant.


  • I am very proud to work with a capable team in MFA who have demonstrated that they possess the dedication, competencies and resolve of those who had served previously in the Ministry. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, MFA officers both in HQ and at our Overseas Missions have worked tirelessly at the frontline and under challenging circumstances and conditions to ensure that we ‘leave no Singaporean behind’. There are many instances of our officers going the extra mile, from helping stranded Singaporeans to supporting our overseas communities during strict lockdowns in their host countries.


  • Some of you may recall that four of our officers volunteered to fly to Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, in the early days of the crisis to assist in the repatriation of Singaporeans and their families. I want to recognise some of them. In early 2020, Mr Loh Tuck Wai, Ms Hsu Jing Yi, Mr Philip Ong, and Ms Amelia Wong went beyond the call of duty and went to Wuhan to bring 266 of our people home in the two evacuation trips we mounted. They accepted the personal risk of contracting the virus at a time when we knew very little about the virus.They had to don their protective suits throughout the journey to and from Wuhan, and had to be quarantined for 14 days upon their return to Singapore.


  • We all know, a career in MFA is very challenging, to say the least: long hours, urgent demands, frequent travel, extended time away from home, and heading into or staying put even when the situation or environment in foreign lands worsen. All these take a toll on personal lives, way beyond the demands of most jobs. We are grateful for the unwavering dedication and personal sacrifices of generations of MFA officers.


  • So, what remains for me today is to say that it is with great pleasure that I now formally launch “Beyond the Handshake: The Singapore Foreign Service”.


  • I wish all of you a very pleasant evening, and invite you to join us in the tea reception later on. Congratulations to the authors.



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