New ambassador says remarks on freedom not an attempt to meddle
By Jeremy Au Yong
COMMENTS he made about Singapore's political freedom two months ago had annoyed many here.
So Mr David Adelman, on his first day on the job as United States Ambassador to Singapore, spent much of his first meeting with the Singapore media mending fences.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, he stressed repeatedly that his earlier remarks - on how he would use public diplomacy to promote political freedom in Singapore - were not an attempt to interfere in local politics.
He had earlier presented his credentials to President S R Nathan at the Istana.
The 45-year-old former state senator of Georgia said his statement was simply an expression of his pride in the American system. It was not a specific comment about Singapore.
He said: 'My comment is a comment that could be made by any ambassadorial nominee to virtually any post across the world, which is, we value the United States, our press freedoms, our freedoms of assembly and our multi-party democracy and we believe it's a great example of a working democracy that has been... a constructive force around the world.'
The contentious remarks were made in February at his nomination hearing. Asked if he intended to engage Singapore on the issues of democracy and press freedom, he had said: 'Make no mistake, currently Singapore is not a multi-party democracy, and I intend, if confirmed, to use public diplomacy to work towards greater press freedoms, greater freedom of assembly and ultimately more political space for opposition parties in Singapore to strengthen Singapore into a multi-party democracy.'
The statement riled many Singaporeans, with some writing in to The Straits Times Forum Page criticising what they saw as an attempt to interfere.
Responding, Mr Adelman said local politics would be for Singaporeans to decide.
Was he backtracking? Not at all, he said yesterday. 'I don't see the comments as being incongruent. We have no interest in interfering in the domestic politics of Singapore. That is for Singaporeans to decide for themselves.'
He also made it clear that his comments did not imply any long-held view of Singapore politics. He said he has had no contact with Singapore opposition members and was simply replying to a questioner who quoted surveys showing Singapore's low ranking when it came to political and press freedom.
[All he was doing was interviewing for a job. So you give the model answer in order to get the job.]
He stressed his top priority as ambassador would be trade, not politics. 'Trade and commerce will be the very top of my agenda. We will continue to promote fair trade policies as evidenced by the decision to actively engage in the TPP negotiations,' he said, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a four-nation free-trade agreement that the US is in talks to join.
Mr Adelman paid tribute to the friendship between the two countries and praised Singapore for its contributions worldwide. These include military contributions to troubled regions like Afghanistan, and humanitarian aid to Haiti.
He said: 'I want to be very clear here, Singapore has been a very constructive force throughout the world, and the US and Singapore are great friends.'
He added that US President Barack Obama had instructed him to get to know the 'high and humble' in Singapore.
The ambassador, who arrived three weeks ago, also said he, his wife and three children had been enjoying their time so far, getting to know Singaporeans and eating at hawker centres.
His favourite hawker food so far: nasi lemak at Adam Road.
[And so our media forgives him and provides us with a hook to get to like him and accept him - with a local food. I wonder if our foreign policy will be tagged this way: The US envoy - good friend. Likes Nasi Lemak. The British High Commissioner? The best! Likes durian. The Romanian diplomat? Bastard. Doesn't like local food. The mere aroma of durians make him retch. His favourite food is caviar and foie gras. Bastard.]