30 December 2016
Singapore has encountered more than its fair share of headwinds in the international arena this year, but it would have to stay the course with its own distinct brand of principled and pragmatic diplomacy, experts say.
The city state is facing challenges on several fronts, notably a rough patch in ties with China and uncertainties over America’s engagement of South-east Asia under a new President.
The recent move by Indonesia to cut and cancel some Singapore Airlines flights has also put the spotlight back on how Singapore manages relations with its larger immediate neighbours.
While this may raise the question of whether adjustments in foreign policy are needed, analysts maintain that the fundamentals of the Singapore’s dealings with external partners are sound.
“Singapore has a pragmatic foreign policy. It rests on solid principles. We must not see the efficacy of our foreign policy from the lens of another country beyond our own shores,” said veteran diplomat Ong Keng Yong, who is executive deputy chairman of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). He added that if Singapore does not deal with all parties using the same set of principles, its foreign policy will become knotted and inconsistent. This will ultimately affect the country’s credibility.
“Imagine this: One rule on freedom of navigation through the Straits of Malacca, another for the Sunda Straits and a different one for the South China Sea. Our foreign policy will be like a mosaic,” said Mr Ong, who is also Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large and a former secretary-general of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).
“No certainty or predictability means the rule of man applies and investors cannot trust such a government to bank their money on. Singaporeans are brought up to respect the law and a rules-based system. To be taken seriously by friends and foes, we need coherence in policy formulation and implementation.”
… “Our foreign policy has done the best it can. We have always been pragmatic, trying to be the bridge builder and interlocutor between many different parties … (But) we cannot adopt this position of being friends with everybody without cost,” noted Associate Professor Alan Chong of RSIS.
“As a small state, we need the great powers to be on good behaviour. We (Singapore) need them more than they need us. It is just the nature of international politics,” he added.
… Assistant Professor Daniel Chua, of RSIS’ Military Studies Programme, added that “adopting a rules-based international order gives Singapore the best chance of having a voice on issues that concern Singapore’s core interests”.
… “Having a nimble and pragmatic foreign policy also means that we stick to our principles but manoeuvre in such a way that others will see the logic of coming to our side,” said Assoc Prof Chong of RSIS.
CMS / IDSS / RSIS
Last updated on 30/12/2016