Ms Sylvia Lim: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) whether remarks on the Russia-Ukraine war by the Minister for Home Affairs at a workshop on 8 March 2023 held at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute represent the views of the Government; and (b) whether there has been any revision to Singapore's position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
1 Mr Deputy Speaker, Singapore’s position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains unchanged. We have taken, indeed we must continue to take, a clear stand that is consistent with our principles and our national interests. In the Ministerial Statement of 28 February 2022 on the ‘Situation in Ukraine and its Implications’, Singapore strongly condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The invasion of a sovereign country is a gross violation of the principles of the UN Charter and of international law.
2 The sovereignty, the political independence, and the territorial integrity of all countries, big and small, must be respected.
Ms Sylvia Lim: Thank you Deputy Speaker. I have three supplementary questions for the Foreign Minister. The first is to ask whether the foreign ministry was aware beforehand that the speech on 8 March was going to be delivered by the Minister for Home Affairs. So, the first question is, did MFA know beforehand that the speech was being given and did MFA know the contents of the speech? The second question, earlier Minister Shanmugam mentioned that ‘indivisible security’ is perhaps a concept in international relations. So, I would like to ask the Foreign Minister what is the Government’s view of such a principle of ‘indivisible security’? And last of all, does the Foreign Minister agree that accepting a principle of ‘indivisible security’ is very risky for small countries like Singapore?
1 Mr Deputy Speaker, let me state categorically, the statements of the Minister for Law reflect the views of the Government of Singapore. Of course, we know generally when each Minister is going to speak, we are aware of that. I must tell you we do not personally check every single line and sentence of the speeches, and the speeches can evolve according to the circumstances of the event.
2 Needless to say, under the principle of collective responsibility, you can take (it) that as long as we are in charge, the statements of each Minister reflect the views of the Government.
3 Mr Deputy Speaker, on ‘indivisible security’, the Minister for Law has already explained it, and I do not have anything further to add.
Ms Sylvia Lim: Would the Foreign Minister agree that actually the Government’s statements on the Ukraine war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been consistent all this while, and there has never been this attempt to say that the US or NATO have been somewhat contributory to the current state of affairs, which was something that the Minister for Law did say? So, I would like you to confirm that up to now, the Government has not taken this position and this is actually something new in the public domain.
1 Mr Deputy Speaker, there is nothing new, our position has been and will continue to be clear and consistent. I have said that on numerous occasions, not just in this House, but various Ministers have also said this in various fora outside this House. I must add that foreign policy is something which we all have to take responsibility for, including the opposition. I am very glad that in fact, the opposition, of all parties, has ensured that politics stops at the border. I think I can quite safely say that on behalf of every single member in this house, our position remains that it was wrong of Russia, it was a breach of international law and of the principles of the UN (United Nations) Charter for them to launch the invasion of Ukraine.
2 Having said that, I think we must also be very clear in our minds that there is a diversity of views, and when we are explaining these matters to the general public, to our population or indeed even in this House, it is not unreasonable to reflect the diversity of views. But reflecting the diversity of views does not alter our national position, based on a defence of our national interests and the principles which a small, tiny city-state like us must subscribe to.
3 So, Mr Deputy Speaker, I detect unanimity in this House across the partisan divide. I think we should maintain that discipline, that cohesion and that unity.
Ms Sylvia Lim: Perhaps one final clarification, because earlier, Minister said that there is collective responsibility in the Cabinet and that the Minister for Law’s views reflect the views of the Government. In his speech, he said specifically that in his view, the West and NATO were not uninvolved bystanders who had no role to play in the current situation. So, do I take it that that is the Government’s view as well?
1 Mr Deputy Speaker, let me again take a step back and take a strategic look at this. Why have we taken such a categorical stand? We have taken it because of the vulnerabilities of Singapore as a tiny city-state. History is replete with tragedy and misfortune falling on small countries.
2 As the Minister for Law has explained, both in his speech and reiterated in this House, ultimately the victim is the smaller country. Ukraine and (the) Ukrainians are paying the ultimate price. So, our position is clear that it is wrong, a breach of international law, a flagrant violation of the principles of the UN Charter. The primary victim is the smaller country and its people who are paying the ultimate price.
3 If you want to get into a larger debate on foreign policy, then I would draw your attention to the fact that we are not in Europe - we are in Southeast Asia. As we collectively craft a foreign policy that is both consistent and protects our national interests, I would say on a larger strategic stage, we must always be aware. Let me recite what I said a year ago: The events in Ukraine go to the heart of the fundamental norms of international law and the UN Charter, that prohibit the use of force and acts of aggression against another sovereign State. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear and gross violation of the international norms and a completely unacceptable precedent. This is an existential issue for us. Ukraine is much smaller than Russia, but it is much bigger than Singapore. A world order based on “might is right”, or where “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”, such a world order is profoundly inimical to the security and survival of small states. We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification, arguing that its independence was the result of “historical errors” or “crazy decisions”. Such a rationale would go against the internationally recognised legitimacy and the territorial integrity of many countries, including Singapore.
4 I think these are matters on which we all agree. You can get into historical details of how a situation unfolded. Our objective in Southeast Asia is not to let a repeat of the European tragedy occur here, in this part of the world. In trying to avoid a parallel of that situation here, I think it is entirely legitimate for us to consider all views, diverse views, opposing views even, on how the situation in Europe came about.
5 So, I would urge the member to understand what is at stake, understand why we have taken a stand, understand why that stand has to be maintained, upheld, and I hope shared across the House by all the parties represented here, and also agree that we must not let a repeat of Europe, a continent which unfortunately has been the source of two world wars in the last century – we do not want a repeat of that here.
6 Finally, remember that a small nation is always vulnerable. Again, to repeat something I have said multiple times here, never let ourselves be a vassal state, a stalking horse, a cat’s paw for any other power. Understand that when we get entangled in such matters, the ultimate loser is always the smaller state.
7 I thank you for your interest and I am grateful for your support. And I mean that in all sincerity.
Ms Sylvia Lim: Based on the Minister (for Foreign Affairs)’s last answer, he did not say whether the Government agreed with the Minister for Law’s view that West and NATO were not uninvolved bystanders who had no role to play in the current situation. So, do I take it that he would rather not go into such historical matters?
Minister for Law Mr K Shanmugam: For member’s understanding, I cleared the speech with the highest levels of Cabinet.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: There are things that we discuss, when we are having fora in Parliament and with the general public, when there is a need to reflect the diversity of views. I think that it is entirely legitimate for the Minister for Law to do so. Having said that, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, my first job is to protect the sovereignty, the independence and the territorial integrity of Singapore. Therefore, what I say publicly is entirely aimed at achieving that. I do not wish to have words put into my mouth, or to make public pronouncements beyond what I have already said, beware that small countries do not get caught up in the manoeuvres, the to-ing and fro-ing, and the dangerous, sometimes escalatory rhetoric or actions that superpowers engage in. I say it my way, but I believe that my statements are entirely consistent with the rest of my Cabinet colleagues, and we stand and we take collective responsibility for that.
I think I have said enough, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am still absolutely certain that there is unanimity in this House on this matter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and I thank the member for her support. Can I assume I have your support?
Ms Sylvia Lim: Yes, sir. We have no reason to disagree with the Government’s consistent stand from February last year to now.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: And I am very grateful for that. Thank you.
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
8 MAY 2023