Singapore’s credibility ‘key to its international standing’

Singapore’s credibility ‘key to its international standing’
Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaking at a Ministry of Foreign Affairs town hall on July 17, 2017. He says Singapore has ‘to stay nimble, be alert to dangers but seize opportunities’. Photo: Jason Quah

Singapore’s credibility ‘key to its international standing’

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s views are taken seriously by other countries because they know that it always looks at issues from a constructive and long-term perspective, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, as he spelt out why the Republic must remain a credible and consistent partner on the international stage.

“The bigger countries engage Singapore because we do not just tell them what they want to hear,” he said at a town hall meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday.

“In fact, they try harder to make Singapore take their side precisely because they know that our words mean something.”

In his 20-minute speech, Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore is an honest broker which deals “fairly and openly” with all parties. “And there is a sense of strategic predictability, which has enabled Singapore to build up trust and goodwill with our partners over the decades.”

With this credibility, Singapore has been able to play a constructive role in international affairs, including at the United Nations and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean). For instance, Singapore has helped to create platforms for countries with similar interests, said Dr Balakrishnan, citing how in 1992, Singapore helped establish the Forum of Small States (Foss). This has now grown to 107 countries, more than half the membership of the UN.

“Our credibility has won us a seat at the table, even when our relevance is not immediately obvious. We are not the 20th-largest economy in the world, but we have just come back from the G-20 (summit in Germany), where we were invited,” he said.

He cautioned however, that Singapore’s diplomacy will remain credible only if it is able to maintain a domestic consensus on the country’s core interests and foreign policy priorities, and if its politics does not become fractious.

“We have safeguarded our international position by building a successful economy and a cohesive society; making clear that we always act in Singapore’s interests, and not at the behest of other states,” he said.

He said that when dealing with superpowers, Singapore’s aim is to expand ties so that it be relevant to them and they will find the Republic’s success in their own interests.

“This delicate balancing act is easier in good and peaceful times, but obviously more difficult when superpowers and regional powers contend with one another,” he said.

“Nevertheless, our basic reflex must be, should be, to aim for balance and to promote an inclusive architecture. And we must avoid taking sides, siding one side against the other,” he added, noting that with geopolitics becoming more uncertain and unpredictable, Singapore will need to ensure that its foreign policy positions reflect the changing strategic realities.

“So, we have to stay nimble, be alert to dangers but seize opportunities. But we need to also remember that some aspects remain consistent. We need to advance and protect our own interests. We must be prepared to make difficult decisions, weather the storms if they come,” he said.

“We must be prepared to speak up, and if necessary, disagree with others, without being gratuitously disagreeable. We may always be a small state, but all the more reason we need the courage of our convictions and the resolution to secure the long term interests of all our citizens.”