Friday, April 10, 2009

Reading trends, staying nimble

April 10, 2009


Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew delivered MFA Diplomatic Academy's S. Rajaratnam Lecture yesterday. We carry today an extract of the lecture.

INDEPENDENCE was thrust upon Singapore. The fundamentals of our foreign policy were forged during those vulnerable early years. They remain relevant because small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world. A small country must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation. Both parts of the equations are equally important and inter-related.

Friendship, in international relations, is not a function of goodwill or personal affection. We must make ourselves relevant so that other countries have an interest in our continued survival and prosperity. Singapore cannot take its relevance for granted. Small countries perform no vital or irreplaceable functions in the international system. Singapore has to continually reconstruct itself and keep its relevance to the world and to create political and economic space.

To achieve this, we have to be different from others in our neighbourhood and have a competitive edge. Because we have been able to do so, Singapore has risen over its geographical and resource constraints. We earn our living by attracting foreign investments and producing goods and services useful to the world. Had we disported ourselves like our better endowed neighbours, we would have failed.

At the same time, we must never delude ourselves that we are a part of the First World. Our region has its own special features. Singapore's destiny would be very different if it were sited in Europe or North America. We cannot transplant our island elsewhere. Therefore, a recurrent issue for Singapore is how to differentiate ourselves from our neighbours in order to survive, and also get along with them. This is a perennial challenge.

As the world changes, small countries have to swiftly adjust their policies and positions. We have to live with the world as it is, not as we wish it should be. Let me outline the major changes in the international and regional environment since we became independent.

In 1965, the Cold War was at its height. The world was bipolar, divided into communist and non-communist blocs. The Vietnam War had been raging for several years. That year, President Lyndon B. Johnson upped the ante by bombing North Vietnam. All the non-communist countries of South-east Asia faced serious internal threats from communist insurgencies supported by China.

All the non-communist countries of South-east Asia were embroiled in disputes of varying intensity with one another. Singapore had just 'separated' from Malaysia, and Indonesia was pursuing a policy of 'konfrontasi' against Malaysia and Singapore. The Philippines claimed Sabah. Brunei with British help had suppressed an internal rebellion backed by Indonesia. There were also strong irredentist pressures on the borders between West Malaysia and Thailand, and between the Philippines and Indonesia. In these unpropitious circumstances, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) was formed so that the non-communist states of South-east Asia could contain and manage their differences.

The world has completely transformed since. The Cold War is over. Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia have joined Asean. The threat of mutual nuclear annihilation has gone. But it is not the 'end of history'.

The Cold War divided the world into two blocs. Once this overarching strategic discipline of the bipolar Cold War was dissolved, long submerged conflicts broke out in many parts of the world, but fortunately not in South-east Asia.

With the collapse of communist ideology, all states joined the global wave of the free market. Singapore has since 1965 plugged into the international economic grid.

East Asian countries had been leading the pack in the globalisation wave. Japan was the earliest to plug itself into the global system. The newly industrialising economies of Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan followed suit; then came the South-east Asian 'tigers': Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Vietnam reformed its economy in the 1990s.

The most dramatic transformations were China and India. China's re-emergence in the world economy is the single most profound event of the 21st century. Two huge economies in China and India will reshape the world order before the end of the 21st century.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Singapore was berated in the Chinese media as a lackey of the American imperialists. The Malayan Communist Party backed by China refused to recognise Singapore's independence. This changed after Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore in November 1978.

Deng visited Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur before he arrived in Singapore. He saw that China had fallen behind these supposedly backward cities. He concluded that China had to stop supporting insurgencies in South-east Asia if it wanted Asean to support the resistance to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia.

In 1985, Dr Goh Keng Swee, after he retired as Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, was invited to be economic adviser to China's State Council on the development of China's coastal areas and tourism. China, a huge nation with an ancient history, was willing to learn from a tiny city-state.

Deng kept abreast of developments in Singapore and South-east Asia. During a tour of southern China in February 1992, he said: 'There is good social order in Singapore. They govern the place with discipline. We should draw from their experience, and do even better than them.'

Vice-Minister of Propaganda Xu Weicheng led a delegation to Singapore for 10 days that same year. Since then, exchanges between Singapore and China have grown. Hundreds of Chinese officials continue to be trained in Singapore. Since 1996, we have trained over 16,000 Chinese officials.

Rebalancing the world

THE post-Cold War world is in a state of flux. All countries are transiting to a different global order.

The present unprecedented global economic crisis resulted from a lack of checks. There was insufficient oversight in financial markets as layer upon layer of ever more complex financial instruments spun out of control.

A mood for more regulations and control prevails in many economies. This could slide into protectionism. Protectionist measures will prolong the economic crisis with unpredictable geopolitical complications.

This crisis will hasten China's growth vis-�-vis the US. It is growing at 8 per cent; the US may suffer negative or low growth.

The relationship between the US and China has already become the most important geopolitical issue. Both countries realise that they need to work with each other. Neither wants conflicts.

American resilience and creativity should never be underestimated. The US, as the dominant global power, would want to preserve the status quo. As a rising power, China will not acquiesce to a status quo status indefinitely. Competition is inevitable, but conflict is not.

The US and China will both come through the present economic crisis. China is closing in on America's lead. Their relations will remain stable, provided the world does not slide into protectionism.

The world, including East Asia, is not yet 'decoupled' from the US. Multi-polarity where different poles are approximately equal in strategic weight is unlikely to emerge because the 'poles' are not equal. A global economic recovery is not possible unless the US recovers.

After the crisis, the US is most likely to remain at the top of every key index of national power for decades. It will remain the dominant global player. No major international issue can be resolved without US leadership; no country or grouping can yet replace America as the dominant global power.

The current economic problems require a global rebalancing of consumption and savings and a change in economic relationships between the US and China. The American consumer must spend within his means; and the Chinese consumer must increase his domestic spending. This will be a difficult transition.

Globalisation cannot be reversed because the technologies that made globalisation inevitable cannot be uninvented. Singapore has to embrace this reality and remain open to talent, capital, technology and immigrants.

In an era of rapid and convenient transportation and communications, political leaders meet one another frequently and phone one another through secure lines. Ambassadors do not influence foreign policy so significantly. Sound foreign policy requires a prime minister and a foreign minister who are able to discern future international trends. Able foreign ministry officers and diplomats can greatly assist the foreign minister and his Cabinet colleagues. But ultimately, it is the prime minister and other key ministers who decide on changes in policies. At face-to-face meetings over long hours they can sense each other's thinking and leanings before their officials are privy to them. Hence, our foreign policy from 1965 was settled by the prime minister and his key ministers.

A mediocre prime minister and Cabinet will reduce our standing with other countries and we will lose opportunities.

Let me return to the complexities of Singapore's relations with our neighbours. These complexities are not the result of historical baggage, but of basic differences in political and social systems. Baggage is something we can discard. Political and social systems we cannot change so easily.

Singapore is a multi-racial meritocracy. Our neighbours organise their societies on the supremacy of the indigenous peoples - bumiputeras in Malaysia and pribumis in Indonesia. Though our neighbours have accepted us as a sovereign and independent nation, they have a tendency to externalise towards us their internal anxieties and angst over their own minorities. This is unlikely to go away.

Time has worn down many of the sharper edges in our relations with our immediate neighbours. A habit of working together in Asean has also helped. Singapore is now more established, internationally and regionally. Forty years ago, many did not believe Singapore would survive. We have a strong economy, accumulated robust reserves, developed a civil service, a mature and capable foreign policy team, and institutionalised our systems. We have strategic relationships with the major powers. We have a credible defence capability. The SAF is an insurance.

Each generation of Singaporeans must build on these assets, seize new opportunities and avoid impending disasters. The perennial challenge is to remain competitive. To be competitive, we must remain a cohesive, multi-racial, multi-religious nation based on meritocracy. We have to strengthen our national consciousness at a time when the forces of globalisation are deconstructing the very notion of nationhood.

All countries face this challenge. But so long as succeeding generations of Singaporeans do not forget the fundamentals of our vulnerabilities, and do not delude themselves into believing they can behave as if our neighbours were Europeans or North Americans, and remain alert, cohesive and realistic, Singapore will survive and prosper.

April 10, 2009

Rhetoric from KL not official stance

By Zakir Hussain

THE heated rhetoric about Singapore that comes out from Malaysia, for example in some newspapers there, is not reflective of the official policy of Singapore's closest neighbour, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday.

There is a lot of close collaboration on the ground, he said, although fundamental differences on both sides remain.

He cited collaboration between the two governments in the areas of security and law enforcement as an example.

'On terrorism, on drug smuggling, there's very low-key but very close collaboration, because it is in both our national interests, and that goes on all the time,' he said.

He was replying to a question posed by Ms Foo Chi Hsia, a Foreign Ministry official, who asked for his view on the paths both countries will take and areas they could work on.

She noted that since Separation in 1965, both countries had embarked on very different social, cultural and political paths, resulting in divergent outlooks.

Said Mr Lee: 'There's a clear division between the public rhetoric and the quiet official national interest.

'The public rhetoric from Malaysia, especially for the Malay newspapers, is that Singapore is a troublemaker and everything we do is wrong.

'That view is not shared by the Chinese or Indian papers.'

Still, he felt that both sides 'will become very divergent societies' because they hold fundamentally different views on what a nation should be, with one believing in meritocracy and the other, a race-based political system.

Back in the early 1960s when Singapore was part of Malaysia, Singapore leaders had urged the establishment of a Malaysian Malaysia - as opposed to a Malay Malaysia - and was told to leave in 1965.

'When we parted after less than two years in Malaysia and at the raw end of the minority race, we decided to do the opposite,' Mr Lee said.

'For the last 44 years since 1965, we have assiduously insisted on 'regardless of race, language or religion' in everything we do: schools, housing, health, jobs, education, promotions. So we are becoming an integrated society.'

The emphasis on English as a common language created a slightly more cohesive society in Singapore, although Mr Lee was unsure it would stay so in a time of stress.

Malaysia, by contrast, had segregated vernacular schools, which meant communities grew up separately, and had differential yardsticks for jobs and contracts.

'It's openly a bumiputera country,' he said, referring to the preferential treatment of indigenous groups.

'I've often said this about Malaysia ... If you would educate your Chinese and your Indians like we do our Malays and others, you will equal if not surpass us.'

Can the countries simply acknowledge they are organised on different principles and yet seek to work together in areas where their interests converge?

Replied Mr Lee: 'You are assuming they can have two compartments in their minds.

'With the Malaysians, if you read the Malay papers, there's a certain regret that they allowed us to be independent.

'They didn't expect us to succeed. But we have, and our very existence is a challenge to their policies.

'And so they say, look, our Malays are dispossessed, are oppressed and so on. But they come down (to Singapore) and they know it's not true, that the Malays are completely part of our society,' he said.

'They share the same benefits in housing, health, education, everything. They have their mosques, they're not deprived of any freedoms as Malays. So the angst is there (in Malaysia).'

No comments: