25 September 2019
Wednesday, 25 September 2019, 0915HRS
PARKROYAL on Beach Road Singapore
Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law,
Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health,
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Member of Parliament and Distinguished Fellow, RSIS
Eminent speakers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
– a very good morning and welcome to all of you.
It gives me great pleasure to be able to welcome all of you, and to thank you for your presence at today’s conference on foreign interference tactics and countermeasures. Foreign interference is an issue that many countries are grappling with, and today’s conference was organised with the intention to inform, in a meaningful and constructive manner, the national conversation about addressing foreign interference, as well as to contribute to the international conversation around recognising and countering foreign interference tactics.
Historically, foreign interference is not a new phenomenon, and its effects are well-known and have been documented. In truth, all states endeavour to promote their interests by persuading others to their point of view. This is understood and accepted as a fundamental and legitimate function of diplomacy. Foreign interference goes much further than this: it involves actors using covert or deceptive means to shape the actions of decision-makers, and public opinion in relation to political, governmental or even commercial processes. It has the malicious intent of causing harm to another state’s interests, and also a means of possibly gaining an illegitimate advantage over the target state.
Such attempts at foreign interference are part of a wider global trend. We have seen how hostile information campaigns have been utilised to weaken the resolve of countries during periods of conflict or tension between states. We have also seen how foreign actors have attempted to undermine democratic institutions and elections in a number of countries, potentially dividing a country along its existing fault lines, and weakening its social fabric. A prime example would be that of the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election: experts in this have pointed to not just social media manipulation, but also playing off different parts of the political spectrum against each other. The baseline concern within these reports is the undermining of the democratic process, and the ability of a state to influence the destiny of another.
In many recent instances, foreign interference – whether carried out by state or non-state actors – has been enabled by the technological advances of globalisation. The Internet, instant messaging, and the rise of social media platforms have effectively enabled the remote facilitation of interference. So even as we acknowledge the benefits that technological advancement has given us, there is the urgent need to be vigilant of, and address the detrimental uses to which technology can be put.
Where it concerns Singapore, it is necessary to bear in mind that the geographical size of a state does not render it immune to foreign interference. Singapore is a small state that is perceived to possess significant political and economic leverage internationally: a foreign state may form the notion that strategic advantages could be had by interfering in Singapore’s affairs.
At RSIS, we endeavour to inform the foreign interference conversation by providing insights and analysis that draw upon a range of perspectives that address governmental, social, political, legal, and commercial interests. In our deliberation of possible countermeasures, it is clear to us that these two aspects must be emphasised: maintaining the sovereignty of national institutions by protecting their foundational infrastructures and information flows, and undergirding national cohesion and societal resilience.
In devising the theme and topics of discussion at today’s conference, we anchored these in three progressive stages of response towards foreign interference, to form a narrative arc of recognition, remediation, and reinforcement.
Firstly, we will open the discussion with sharpening our RECOGNITION of foreign interference – clarifying what this means, increasing our understanding of the sources and forms this takes, and identifying its effects. This is the intention behind the first panel on State Actors and Foreign Interference Tactics.
We will then proceed to consider the range of digital interference tactics that have been deployed by actors, as well as what short- and medium-term practical REMEDIATION strategies can be used to counter such tactics, with the second panel on Defending the Online Space.
Finally, we will explore the possible countermeasures to address REINFORCEMENT of societal resilience for the long term, with the panel on Building Resilience Against Foreign Interference.
To this end, I am extremely encouraged that our distinguished speakers have made themselves available to share their expertise and insights. Our speakers are drawn from the worlds of academia and policy advisory; government, and the private sector. I am also heartened by the attendance of all our participants – there is in this room an excellent representation of people working on the issue of foreign interference, and I am certainly looking forward to the discussions following each panel.
As we proceed with today’s conference, I wish you all the very best with the presentations, the ensuing discussions, and distilling the lessons and takeaways most relevant to each of you. Thank you.
Last updated on 26/09/2019