ASEAN Chair and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte to meet Donald Trump


May 1, 2017

Today's WorldView

by Ishaan Tharoor

ASEAN Chair and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte to meet Donald Trump in Washington DC

Over the weekend, the White House announced that President Trump had invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for a visit to Washington, following what was deemed a “very friendly conversation” over the phone between Trump and his counterpart in Manila.

Despite the close ties between the United States and the Philippines, the move surprised Trump’s critics and allies. In his 10 months in power, Duterte has become one of Asia’s most controversial leaders. He has presided over a vicious drug war that has seen thousands killed by extrajudicial hit squads — encouraged, say critics, by Duterte’s explicit orders. Last week, a Filipino lawyer filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court, accusing Duterte and 11 other Filipino officials of mass murder and crimes against humanity. (Duterte has shrugged off the filing and said it will not deter his campaign.)

The complaint takes into account the killings of 9,400 people stretching back to 1988, when Duterte became the Mayor of the southern city of Davao and began making his reputation as a tough guy willing to do anything to crack down on crime. “The situation in the Philippines reveals a terrifying, gruesome and disastrous continuing commission of extrajudicial executions or mass murder,” read the complaint. An estimated 8,000 people have been killed since Duterte became President last summer (2016).

None of this seemed to faze the White House. In the readout of the phone call, the only mention of Duterte’s astonishing record of violence seemed to be a positive one. It said that the two leaders “discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries around the world.”

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did his best to evade the thrust of the question when asked on ABC’s “This Week” if human rights were no longer a concern for the Trump Administration.

“Absolutely not,” responded Priebus. “It doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter, but what it does mean is that the issues facing us, developing out of North Korea, are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get.”

Mourners carry the coffin of a person shot dead by unidentified gunmen north of Manila on April 8. (Francis R. Malasig/European Pressphoto Agency)

Mourners carry the coffin of a person shot dead by unidentified gunmen north of Manila on April 8. (Francis R. Malasig/European Pressphoto Agency)

The importance of securing strong Filipino support in dealing with North Korea is highly debatable. But administration officials indicated that the overture to Duterte may be part of a broader and much-needed mending of fences.

“The White House statement could be seen as implicit support, but perhaps is better understood as offering common ground for engaging with Duterte,” said Natalie Sambhi, a Research Fellow at the Perth USAsia Center in Australia, to The Post.

U.S.-Filipino relations took a turn for the worse last year, Duterte’s first in office and the final one for Barack Obama.

“The relationship between the United States and the Philippines soured under President Barack Obama, who criticized Duterte’s bloody war on drugs,” reported my colleagues. “Not one to take criticism lightly, Duterte snapped at Obama on a few occasions, telling him to ‘go to hell’ and, at one point, using the Tagalog phrase for ‘son of a bitch’ or ‘son of a whore’ when addressing the then-U. S. president. In September, Obama canceled a meeting with Duterte, whom he called a ‘colorful guy.‘ ”

(Obama is hardly the sole target of Duterte’s notoriously salty language: He used similar words for Pope Francis, too, and has sparked global headlines with rape jokes, admiring references to Adolf Hitler, boasts about mass killing and an insistence at one point that he would eat the livers of suspected terrorists. Even Trump was on the receiving end: “Donald Trump is a bigot, I am not,” Duterte told the Associated Press last year.)

The tensions saw Duterte publicly drift toward China. In a speech in Beijing last year, he told his Chinese audience that “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow.” He has inked billions of dollars of deals with China, Japan and other countries in the region. As my colleague Emily Rauhala wrote earlier this year, Duterte is playing an opportunistic game, wooing all whom he can as part of a new “independent” foreign policy. But, as Rauhala noted, his efforts fly in the face of public opinion and the country’s political establishment, which largely backs the United States and is wary of Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

Duterte is shown the way by Chinese President Xi Jinping before a signing ceremony in Beijing in 2016. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Duterte is shown the way by Chinese President Xi Jinping before a signing ceremony in Beijing in 2016. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

The other lens through which to view Trump’s invitation to Duterte is that of the American President’s apparent penchant for strongmen. While the European Union called for an investigation into the referendum last month that conferred vast new powers upon Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump was the first Western leader to congratulate Erdogan on his victory. He also hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, a coup-plotting former army man whose regime carried out a ruthless crackdown on Islamists and dissidents. No matter the geopolitical scenario, Trump seems to have a genuine affinity for men of action who brook little dissent.

“If Duterte were not immune as Head of State, he would be barred from admission into the United States,” noted John Sifton, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, in an emailed statement. “Existing U.S. laws and policy prohibit visas and entry to persons against whom credible allegations of gross human rights abuses have been made.”

Sifton goes on: “The invitation is an abomination, just as Trump’s invitation to Sissi was an abomination, and although his personality traits would seem to make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself. By effectively endorsing Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs,’ Trump has made himself morally complicit in future killings.”

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia


March 14, 2017

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia–Political Islamism out of UMNO’s desperation

by Rashaad Ali

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/08/gauging-support-for-islamic-law-in-malaysia/

Image result for The Hudud Thing in UMNO's Malaysia

The Desperate Godfathers of Hududism in Malaysia–UMNO’s Najib Razak and PAS’Hadi Awang

The 18 February 2017 rallies both for and against the bill to amend the 1965 Criminal Jurisdiction Act, known as RUU 355, have opened yet another political and social schism in Malaysian society. RUU 355 began as a private member’s bill by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) President Hadi Awang and seeks to raise the penalties for certain crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of sharia courts in Malaysia.

Public opinion appears divided on the issue, as the continued politicisation of religion takes precedence over authentic religious debate on the matter. Some see the bill as a facade for the eventual entry of hudud — Islamic — laws into the country. PAS held the rally in support of the bill, which drew a reported 20,000 people, while the counter rally was organised by the non-governmental organisation Bebas and drew a much more modest crowd of around 200.

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Hudud –The  Political Hypocrisy of  It All

Support for the bill is significant enough. Various surveys, including one conducted recently amongst university students, indicate Malay-Muslim support for the amendment and for the implementation of Islamic laws. The pro-RUU 355 rally emphasises this and the numbers indicate some level of moderate success for PAS — mobilising 20,000 odd people for a rally is no small feat.

But as the subject of this bill is central to the party’s aims, larger numbers could have been expected. This suggests a difficulty in appealing to urban folk and that mobilised supporters from other, more remote parts of the country account for the majority of the turnout.

Image result for zaid ibrahim dapThis Guy does not  know where he is coming or going in Malaysian Politics–UMNO to PKR to DAP and what next?

The counter rally, held at the same time but at a different location to the PAS gathering, better demonstrates the mood regarding the bill. While the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) was critical of the bill when it was first announced, it eventually distanced itself from the counter rally completely. The only DAP name who attended was Zaid Ibrahim, and that was in his individual capacity rather than as a party member.

The DAP’s absence is unsurprising as the issue puts it in a difficult position: the DAP may not support the bill, but attending the counter rally would cement the perception that they are an anti-Malay and anti-Muslim party. The discourse surrounding this issue has been very black and white; support for the bill is seen as a Muslim’s religious duty, while opposition to it is deemed vehemently anti-Islamic.

The general public’s low attendance at the counter rally suggests that the issue was not significant enough to take to the streets in numbers. For Malay-Muslims, the fear of reprisal for attending a rally seen as anti-Islamic is a significant factor in keeping people away. It appears easier for the pro-RU 355 rally to draw Malays, as the narrative is more populist, keeps with a conservative Islamic position and is supported by major Malay parties like the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and PAS.

As for non-Muslim participation, it appears this issue is neither relevant nor attractive enough to drag would-be participants out of bed in the morning. They can hardly be blamed as many voices from the pro-RU 355 camp constantly state that the amendment will not affect non-Muslims.

Although this amendment does not mean that non-Muslims are suddenly going to be tried under sharia law, having two legal systems for two different groups of people brings the notion of equality before the law into question. For a multicultural country that should seek to be inclusive instead of exclusive, these amendments are not helpful, especially when considering the knock-on effect it will have on the country as a whole.

Past cases of overlapping jurisdiction between sharia and civil courts, such as conversion cases or burial rights of non-Muslims indicate that the separation of the courts is not clearly defined. While the bill aims to raise the penalties for certain crimes under sharia law such as murder and theft, some constitutional experts argue that these crimes fall strictly under the purview of federal, not sharia, law. This bill exacerbates an already highly polarised society divided along racial and religious lines.

It is also another episode in the overall Islamisation trend happening in Malaysia that directly and indirectly affects all groups in society. Various incidents in the past few years point to how religious relations in the country can easily sour. A church was forced to take down its cross display in 2015, there have been recent issues with the usage and distribution of paint brushes containing pig bristles and there is now moral policing of dress code at government buildings.

The issue is complicated further because it is primarily for political rather than religious purposes. Putting aside PAS’ ambition to see this through, the bill is an obvious affirmation of the party’s own religious credentials. In the current climate, this helps to regain the trust of its core supporters, which also explains why the UMNO has jumped on the bill’s bandwagon. It helps the UMNO bolster its image at a time when the administration has suffered a dip in popularity. The timing of this issue is also convenient, as elections are due to be held by 2018.

As it stands, it would not be surprising if the bill passes next month when it comes to parliament. Opposition members who oppose the bill are likely to be absent from the vote for fear of being branded anti-Islamic. If the amendment passes, the biggest concern is whether it will worsen existing racial and religious polarisation in the country. Given the political dimension of the bill and the looming general election, a more inclusive Malaysia is not yet on the horizon.

Rashaad Ali is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article was first published here on RSIS.

 

 

APSIA Conference 2017 Keynote Address by Singapore’s DPM


March 5, 2017

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APSIA Conference 2017 Keynote Address by Singapore’s DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at LKY School of Public Policy

COMMENT:

Geo-Politics, Disruptive Social Developments and Technological Change: Has the Game Changed? Yes, that is easy part of the answer.  How we wish that life is simple and outcomes are predictable. But it is not. I  have been grappling a few questions. I asked myself questions like What has changed? How it has changed?  What is driving the change?What this change means to us in Asia.

China, North Korea, Islamic and Christian evangelism, terrorism and so on are making the headlines.I  also see increasing polarisation and the need for understanding and rebuilding trust. I expect our politicians to reconnect with people they are mandated to serve and  want leaders to lead with integrity, honesty and hope. Listen to DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam for some insights.–Din Merican

 

 

Saudi King Salman’s Mission to Malaysia, China and Indonesia


March 4, 2017

What Saudi King Salman wants from his tour of China, Malaysia

Ignore the theatrics, the multibillion-dollar investment deals and even the uncertainty over US hegemony – when the leader of the House of Al Saud is in town, Iran, Islamic State and ultra-conservatism are never far from the surface.

By James M. Dorsey

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2075774/what-saudi-king-salman-wants-his-tour-china-malaysia

The spectacle of Saudi King Salman’s tour of Asia is matched by its significance. Attention has focused as much on his 1,500-strong entourage and their 459 tons of luggage – roughly the weight of two Boeing 787 Dreamliners – as it has on expectations of billions of dollars in investment.

To be sure, economics is high on the Saudi leader’s agenda. Salman is looking at both strategic investments in Asia as well as Asian investments in the kingdom that will help it diversify its economy and strengthen ties to China and major Muslim nations in an era of uncertainty about the United States’ place in the world.

Yet Salman’s geopolitical concerns go far beyond whether the US remains a reliable guarantor of regional security. Saudi Arabia is locked into a global battle with Iran for dominance in the Muslim world. For the Al Sauds, the kingdom’s ruling family, the struggle with the Islamic republic is existential in nature.

A policeman prepares his patrol car ahead of Saudi King Salman’s visit to Bali. Photo: AFP

Iran not only represents an alternative form of Islamic rule that recognises a degree of sovereign legitimacy and was established by a popular revolt. It also has assets the kingdom lacks that are key to sustaining regional hegemony: a large population, a huge domestic market, an industrial base, a battle-hardened military, geography, and a deep-seated identity grounded in a history of empire.

An epic battle

The epic battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran is being fought not only on the international and Middle Eastern stage but domestically in Muslim and non-Muslim nations that span the globe. Saudi Arabia’s soft power effort, possibly the single largest public diplomacy campaign in history, has aligned itself neatly with Muslim governments that opportunistically play politics with religion and Muslim communities that embrace Saudi-style Sunni ultra-conservatism in lieu of feasible alternatives.

Singapore’s bid to outshine Hong Kong with Saudi Aramco bid is a pipe dream

Saudi King Salman with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Riyadh in 2016. Photo: AFP

China may not have a seriously sizeable Muslim community, yet the lure of ultra-conservatism has made its mark among Hui Muslims and Uygurs alike. Chinese concern about the impact of ultra-conservatism coupled with Iran’s strategic advantage has shaped Chinese policy even if Saudi Arabia is a major oil supplier and commercial partner as well as a military ally.

President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) visit to the Middle East last year, the first by a Chinese leader in seven years, saw the signing of billions of dollars’ worth of agreements with Saudi Arabia and a ten-fold expansion of trade with Iran over the next 10 years. The significance may go far beyond commerce as Chinese interests align more with Iranian interests than those of Saudi Arabia.

From Riyadh, Xi went to Iran to become the first foreign leader to do so following the lifting of international sanctions against the Islamic republic. Saudi leaders could not have been pleased.

Back to the future: Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Middle East visit … and his Middle Kingdom dream

Xi’s determination to gain a first mover advantage in Iran at a time that Saudi Arabia was seeking to increase rather than reduce the Islamic republic’s international isolation suggested that more than commerce was at play.

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran. Photo: AFP

Xi’s visit to the kingdom was accompanied by talk of brotherly relations and strategic cooperation. The rhetoric, however, did little to mask serious differences on issues ranging from Syria – with Chinese support for President Bashar al-Assad – to Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism and a relative decline in Chinese reliance on Saudi oil.

“Our biggest worry in the Middle East isn’t oil – it’s Saudi Arabia,” a Chinese analyst told the Asia Times. Religious affinity is not something China has to worry about with Shiite-majority Iran, which has long projected itself as a revolutionary rather than a sectarian power.

Consequently, China remains reluctant to clearly articulate its strategic interests or intentions in the Middle East and North Africa beyond its drive to secure resources, investments and people, and expand its influence through economic ties and its “One Belt, One Road” initiative to link economies into a China-centred trading network. As a result, China’s strategic dialogue remains focused on free-trade agreements with the six-nation, Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) rather than the forging of broader strategic partnerships that go beyond economics.

China has also long sought to tread carefully in its for now limited military contacts.

China was, for example, slow to engage in its security cooperation with Saudi Arabia that started in secret in 1985, five years prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In a deal that was only disclosed three years later, Saudi Arabia in its first weapons deal with China bought in 1985 for US$3.5 billion 36 Chinese CSS-2 East Wind intermediate range ballistic missiles even though they were known to be highly inaccurate in conventional use.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is driven around in a golf cart by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo in the presidential palace in Jakarta. Photo: AFP

The deal said much about the attitude of Saudi Arabia towards China. Saudi Arabia saw the deal as a way to counter Iran’s missile strength that in a twist of irony was built on Chinese technology and design, and as leverage to persuade the US to be more forthcoming with weaponry that had offensive capabilities. In a further indication that China was making only limited inroads and that Saudi Arabian arms purchases remained focused on Western suppliers, Saudi Arabia – even while engaged in a massive weapons buying spree – waited 30 years to acquire a more up-to-date Chinese missile system, the DF-21 East Wind ballistic missile.

A frontal assault

Ultra-conservatism – which complicates communal relations, changes policies towards minorities, and alters local culture as well as Saudi efforts to forge an anti-Iranian military alliance – loomed even larger in Malaysia and during the current Indonesian leg of Salman’s tour. In Malaysia, a supposedly pluralistic nation that bans Shi’a Islam, ultra-conservative Islamic scholars legitimise the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the country’s ruling party, raising concerns about a more intolerant society despite its multi-ethnic composition.

Saudi King Salman and Indonesian Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto in Jakarta. Photo: EPA

The state of Johor’s straight-talking Sultan, Ibrahim Ismail Ibni Sultan Iskander, didn’t mince words last year when he decried what he described as creeping Arabisation of the Malay language. He insisted that Malaysians use Malay rather than Arabic words when referring to religious practices and Muslim holidays.

Mahathir versus the sultan: How Chinese investment could sway Malaysian election

In a frontal assault on Saudi-inspired ultra-conservatism, Ibrahim advised his people who “If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you. I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia. That is your right but I believe there are Malays who are proud of the Malay culture. At least I am real and not a hypocrite and the people of Johor know who their ruler is,” the Sultan said.

Saudi King Salman and Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Bogor, West Java. Photo: AFP

Both Malaysia and Indonesia have been reluctant to become too involved in a 41-nation, Saudi-led military alliance headquartered in Riyadh that officially was created to combat political violence and the Islamic State (IS). Many fear the alliance is also intended as a military bloc against Iran that would also bolster Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen – where it is fighting Houthi militia and loyalists of the former president, Ali Abdullah Salleh, allegedly supported by Iran.

Ultra-conservatism

Saudi influence was nonetheless evident when Malaysian Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein last year, to the consternation of his ministry’s civilians, agreed to let 300 Malaysian paratroopers participate in a 20-nation military exercise in the kingdom. Malaysia currently has up to 100 military personnel and C-130 Hercules transport planes in Saudi Arabia that provide the alliance with logistical support.

The Indonesian military, like its Malaysian counterpart, regularly trains with Saudi officers to counter IS. Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi policy analyst with close government ties, described last year’s exercise as a preparation for possible Saudi military intervention in Iraq and Syria.

King Salman and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AFP

Critics in the ministry were taken aback when Hishammuddin obliged them weeks later to endorse Saudi funding for the King Salman Centre for Moderation (KSCM). Under the auspices of the ministry’s think tank, the Malaysian Institute of Defence and Security (MIDAS), would seek to counter jihadist messaging in Southeast Asia. An internal ministry memo said MIDAS had a “strategic interest to be collaborating with various institutions internationally particularly from Saudi Arabia”.

A joint communique at the end of Salman’s visit described political violence as the most important issue discussed between the king and Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib backed Saudi concerns about Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries and called on the Islamic republic to respect the sovereignty of regional states.

The two leaders also announced the establishment of the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP), a collaboration of Saudi and Malaysian defence institutions as well as the Muslim World League, a prime Saudi vehicle for the propagation of ultra-conservatism. It’ not clear if KSCM and KSCIP are separate institutions.

An Indonesian honour guard waits for the arrival of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman at the presidential palace in Bogor. Photo: AFP

In Indonesia, a country that prides itself on its tolerant interpretation of Islam, Saudi-style ultra-conservatism is similarly making itself felt. Major Islamic organisations with a history of opposition to Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative world view that governs the kingdom, see Shiites, who constitute 1.2 per cent of the population, and Iran as threats to national security. A former deputy head of Indonesian intelligence goes as far as describing Shiites as the foremost domestic threat to national security.

The plight of Chinese Indonesians: distrusted in Jakarta, forgotten in China

Saudi media reported that King Salman hoped during his visit to lay the ground for the opening of more Arabic-language Islamic schools in Indonesia. They said the king would also be increasing the number of scholarships available to Indonesians for study in Saudi Arabia. Many of those who return after completing their studies are imbued with Saudi-style ultra-conservatism.

All in all, Salman’s Asian official visit-cum-holiday is likely to reverberate far beyond the billions of dollars in economic and commercial agreements he signs. The visit also solidified cooperation between Asian nations and Saudi Arabia in the fight against IS. This, despite the fact that IS and the kingdom have the same ideological roots, even if the jihadists accuse Saudi Arabia of having deviated from the true path of Islam. At the same time, the tour could also well embed sectarian aspects of Saudi’s Arabia’s epic struggle with Iran ever deeper in the social and political life of the continent’s Muslims.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

Gearing-up for the Mardi Gras–March 4, 2017


March 4, 2017

Image result for March 4 2017 Mardi Gra

Gearing-up for the Mardi Gras

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Today, March 4, 12,000 people from Australia and around the world identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) will be proudly participating in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras street parade.

And like millions of Sydneysiders of other sexual persuasions I’ll be watching them with a mixture of particular pleasure and pride.

Pleasure in the fun the marchers will be having showing off the fabulous floats and costumes they traditionally create to dress – or undress – in for the occasion, and pride in being part of a community that doesn’t just tolerate individual difference, but outright celebrates it.

And then there’s the feeling of achievement that comes from seeing that society can change for the better, recalling as I so vividly do that the Australia in which I grew up was so disrespectful of difference that when the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras started in 1978 it was a march of protest against the homophobia that was rampant back then.

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Not, of course, that homo- or other phobias are entirely extinct in even this comparatively enlightened year of 2017, or in this comparatively enlightened country of Australia.

As recognised by the theme of this year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, ‘Creating Equality’, there is still a very long way to go before we achiever the organisers’ stated aim of ensuring that “everyone is treated fairly and equally – and no-one is discriminated against for their sexuality, sex, gender identity, race, beliefs, age or abilities.”

Many of my fellow Australians are as bigoted, racist, sexist and religionist as ever.

In fact the most extreme example of this deplorable reality is the subject of a story in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Image result for Neil Prakash, Australia’s most infamous Islamic State recruit

Neil Prakash, Australia’s most infamous Islamic State recruit

“Neil Prakash, Australia’s most infamous Islamic State recruit,” the story begins, “strode the streets of the Iraqi city of Mosul with four bodyguards and acted as supervisor for the terror group’s medieval punishments.”

Punishments overseen by Prakash, the Melbourne-born son of Fijian and Cambodian parents, reportedly included public beheadings, stoning and whippings conducted in Mosul’s main Bab al-Toub Square, and the throwing of people accused of homosexuality from the top of the 10-storey Orizdy building on one side of the square.

Anathema to the vast majority

Such atrocities are, of course, as anathema to the vast majority of Muslims as to the adherents of other religions or to agnostics like myself.

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Hudud –The Barbaric System of Justice

As also, I imagine, or at least hope, are such attitudes as that expressed by state executive councillor Mohamed Fadzli Hassan of Kelantan in his recent announcement of his government’s intention to stage a public-caning demonstration in support of the PAS – or, as I think of it, PUS – party’s push for hudud in Malaysia.

Lest I start to appear unfairly islamophobic here, however, let me make the point that I’m strongly if not violently opposed to all religions whose ‘believers’ consider that as long as they pray to some divinity or another they have a right to prey on other people.

As witnessed in the shocking numbers of Catholic and other Christian clergy that have been revealed as predators on the children in their congregations, and other self-styled ‘conservative’ Christians in right-wing racist, religionist political organisations like Australia’s One Nation and the Christian Democratic Party.

Founder and leader of the Christian Democratic Party, the Reverend Fred Nile, is as ferocious an opponent of homosexuality and thus of the Sydney Mardi Gras as almost any mufti or other berobed cleric of any religion could possibly be.

An observation that brings me to the point that it’s impossible to avoid noticing that clerics of all major religions and significant numbers of the participants in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have in common – cross-dressing.

But, paradoxically, priests, monks, muftis, mullahs, archbishops, popes and whatever try and dignify the fact that they’re decked-out in dresses by trying to pass them off as robes, habits, cassocks, vestments or other such euphemisms, most seem opposed, if not outright frocking hostile, to good, honest trannies and others who cross-dress for fun.

Just one more reason why, if I had the choice between watching or joining some religious procession in support or praise of some alleged divinity, or grooving along with the gang at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, I’d go for the latter, any day.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

Singapore Foreign Policy Update


March 3, 2017

Singapore Foreign Policy Update

by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan

https://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/media_centre/press_room/pr/2017/201703/press_201703021.html

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2016 was a tumultuous year for the world and a very busy year for (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) MFA staff. The previous global consensus on the benefits of free trade and, on economic integration is broken. And unfortunately, political discourse in many countries, unlike in this House, has become increasingly nationalistic, anti-incumbent and even sometimes xenophobic. The threat from terrorism, radicalism and extremism has increased, and new media has also amplified this threat far and wide.

Quite frankly, we have to anticipate even more of such external challenges and challenges that will test our resolve, our unity and our agility. As a small city state, Singapore has no option. Isolation and protectionism is not an option for us. In fact, the world is even more interconnected than ever before. So we have actually to double down on globalisation. The economic headwinds and the global protectionist sentiments are not going to go away soon, and they will have serious implications on our trade-dependent economy. We are probably the only country where our trade volume is three and a half times our GDP.  So for us, free trade is not a debating point – it is our lifeblood.  So if you think about it, the larger context of this budget debate, of the COS, and of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is that we have to enhance the competitive position of Singapore and Singaporeans.  That is the only way we can survive and thrive in this uncertain world. Add to that, the fact that major power interactions and rivalry will impact the region, and will impact us and we have seen evidence of that.

So the question, therefore, that all of you have posed is: How will we navigate these challenges? Our fundamental realities remain.  We are still a tiny island in an uncertain neighbourhood, we still have to try our best to build a wide network of friends.  We have to be a relevant, valuable, reliable partner, and at the same time, be realistic about our place in the world.  As former British PM and Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston once pointed out, nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.

Tenets of Singapore’s Foreign Policy

Our key foreign policy principles therefore have not changed.  First, we conduct an independent sovereign foreign policy in order to safeguard our independence and the interests of all Singaporeans.  Second, we promote ASEAN unity and centrality.  And third, we have to remain committed to a rules-based international system.

Finally, foreign policy begins at home.  And the effectiveness of our foreign policy depends on us being a successful nation-state and on the continued support of a united citizenry. And one point which I want to commend today – I’ve listened to the very thoughtful speeches from Mr Low Thia Khiang, Mr Pritam Singh, and I am grateful for the bipartisan support that we have in this House.  This unity of purpose is essential for us to pursue our foreign policy goals in this uncertain and volatile environment.

So all the Members of this House understand and appreciate these key tenets of our policy.

Long-Term Value Proposition and Relevance to Other Countries

Many of you have asked questions on Singapore’s long term value proposition and the relevance of Singapore to other countries.  Ms Sun Xueling asked about Singapore-China relations.  Mr Cedric Foo asked about US-Singapore relations under the new Trump Administration.  Mr Amrin Amin, Mr Chia Shi Lu have asked for updates on our relations with Malaysia and Indonesia.  All of these are key relationships.

Singapore and China

Image result for Xi and Lee of Singapore

Let me deal first with China.  Singapore has been a steadfast and longstanding friend of China.  Our bilateral relationship, right now, I will describe it as in “good working order”.  In November 2015, when President Xi Jinping came here, we signed an agreement which characterised our relationship as an ‘All Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times’.  Putting aside the words, the point is historically, our relationship has been built on the strong foundations laid by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping.

And over the decades, Singapore has supported and demonstrated in action and investment in China’s peaceful development and its progressive engagement of the region and the international community.  And we do so because we believe that China’s success is good first for the citizens of China.  It is also good for the region and it is good for us.

I am always amazed that tiny Singapore currently is China’s largest foreign investor, and we have been so since 2013.  China is Singapore’s largest trading partner, also since 2013.

Several Cabinet members including myself just accompanied DPM Teo to Beijing.  We came back just two days ago.  We attended the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC).  It was a very good meeting and it gave both sides opportunities to explore ways to deepen cooperation especially in this flagship project of President Xi Jinping’s, the “One Belt and One Road” initiative.  I also had a very good meeting with my counterpart, and I can say that this again is a reflection of the deep resilient nature of our relationship.

Our third and latest Government-to-Government project, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, has been designated a priority demonstration project for the “Belt and Road”, and will play a catalytic role in linking up Western China – both to Southeast Asia as well as across to Central Asia and beyond.

Besides the JCBC, we also have candid exchanges and sharing of experiences through established platforms such as the China-Singapore Forum on Leadership; and the Singapore-China Social Governance Forum.

The various projects, the business engagements, the people-to-people ties – you’ve heard 2.8 million Chinese tourists to Singapore and I think for us, it would be 800,000 or so Singaporeans who have travelled to China in a year.  The high frequency of interactions at senior leadership level have conferred a very high degree of resilience and I would add strategic trust in our relationship.

Therefore, even when we have differences over some issues, as I said in an earlier session, we should not overreact and we should, in a sense, anticipate that these incidents are not unusual even amongst close friends and neighbours, and we must recognise that our shared interests far exceed these differences.  So we must not be distracted from the larger strategic imperatives or allow incidents to derail the substantive, longstanding and mutually-beneficial cooperation.

Singapore-US Relations

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let me turn now to the US.  There is a new Administration.  It is settling in.  There’s always a period of uncertainty, a period of adjustment that goes on both domestically when a new Administration takes over, and also at the international level.  Basically because the US is such an important superpower.

As far as Singapore is concerned, we believe that our many decades of consistent policies and interactions with the US, have created trust and I believe they consider us a reliable partner.  I am confident that we will be creative and adaptable in developing win-win partnerships with the US even as President Trump pursues a new set of policies.

We have had a strong and enduring base of relations for the last 51 years.  These mutually-beneficial ties have spanned five Republican and four Democratic Administrations. On the economic front, the US is Singapore’s 4th largest trading partner in goods and our top trading partner in services.  The US is also Singapore’s largest foreign direct investor.  And Singapore is the US’ 4th largest Asian investor (after Japan, Australia and the ROK).

On the defence front, our Air Force has training detachments in Texas, Idaho and Arizona.  The US is a significant user of both Changi Naval Base and Paya Lebar Air Base.  And Singapore also supports the rotational deployment of US Littoral Combat Ships and P8 Poseidon aircraft. These fundamentals of our relationship remain unchanged and their value is recognised by both Republican and Democratic Administrations.

Similarly, the strategic and economic imperatives that have underpinned America’s longstanding engagement of our region actually remain unchanged. We have to constantly look for new areas of convergence for win-win cooperation with the US.  So for instance, one of the more recent things we are working on is cybersecurity, and we signed an MOU on Cybersecurity in 2016.

Mr Nair and Mr Low Thia Khiang also asked some searching questions about how the relationship between China and the US will impact Singapore.  And indeed, this is the key bilateral relationship that will affect peace, security and prosperity in our region and indeed in the world.

Whilst competition between the US and China is inevitable, but what is different in historical terms is that never before have two powers been so interdependent, so intertwined economically.  Even in the depths of the Cold War, remember, that the American and Russian economies were never intertwined to the same degree that the US and Chinese economy is.  So therefore, we hope that both sides, after they have measured these imperatives will come back to the same conclusion that a constructive engagement and win-win cooperation is the right formula.  If they can achieve this, this will provide space for countries in the region, including Singapore, to be part of a common circle of friends, and achieve win-win outcomes for all.

This is in fact a key reason why for the last 51 years, Southeast Asia, in particular the founding members of ASEAN, have enjoyed peace, security, prosperity over the last five decades.  So we hope that they would arrive at this conclusion.  But we should also bear in mind that we have no say.  We cannot determine the dynamics of that relationship.  Mr Low asked, “what do we do, if they don’t get along”.  And the answer, is that number one, we have no say.  Number two, we should avoid being forced to choose sides for as long as possible.

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“Relationship with Malaysia is actually as good as it ever has been.”

Now, closer to home, our relationship with Malaysia is actually as good as it ever has been.  More recently, we reached a milestone by signing the Agreement on the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) in December 2016. And this is a landmark agreement that will transform the way both countries interact and do business. It will bring our two peoples and economies even closer together. In addition to the HSR, we are also looking to sign a bilateral agreement on the Singapore-JB Rapid Transit System (RTS) this year. The RTS will improve the flow of people and business between Singapore and Johor, and bring both sides closer together. On the whole, our bilateral relations are excellent.  Other than these connectivity initiatives, the economic, the people-to-people ties remain strong.  We will continue to cooperate on security, defence and counter-terrorism.

Mr. Baey Yam Keng asked about the Pedra Branca case and how this impacts our bilateral relations. Part of what underpins our good relations with Malaysia is a commitment by both sides to resolve disagreements amicably in accordance with international law, while allowing mutually-beneficial cooperation to continue in the meantime.  So you will recall that in 2003, Singapore and Malaysia agreed to submit the case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks, and South Ledge to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In its judgment dated 23 May 2008, the ICJ found that sovereignty for Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore, sovereignty over Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia, and sovereignty over South Ledge belonged to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located. On 2 February 2017, Malaysia applied for a revision of the judgment under Article 61 of the ICJ’s Statute.

 Under Article 61, an application for a revision of judgment must satisfy several criteria.  These criteria include: first, it must be based upon the discovery of facts which were unknown to the court and to the party claiming revision when judgment was first given.  And these newly-discovered facts must be decisive, and of such a character as to lay the case open to revision.  An application for revision must also be made at latest within six months of the discovery of the new fact, and within ten years of when the judgment was given.

Our legal team has studied Malaysia’s application carefully, including the three documents relied on by Malaysia to support its application. Our legal team strongly believes that the documents relied on by Malaysia do not satisfy the criteria under Article 61. We will submit to the ICJ our comprehensive and compelling rebuttal to Malaysia’s application by 14 June, which is the time limit fixed by the ICJ.

We are confident of our legal team and our case. We are very fortunate to still have Professor Jayakumar, and we have Senior Judge Chan Sek Keong, and Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh who led our original Pedra Branca team. They are also working very hard now, very enthusiastically, I may add.  They are also working with a younger team of bright legal minds in AGC. This way, we are also using this episode as an opportunity to build up expertise and experience in the next generation. Succession again. This is important as I am sure there will be more international legal issues in future.  And equally, we must ensure that the same whole-of-government spirit of unity prevails. These are crucial ingredients in order for Singapore to punch above our weight at international fora. Singapore is committed to resolving this issue amicably and in accordance with international law.

Bilateral relations with Malaysia therefore are good, will remain good, and we will continue with all our mutually-beneficial bilateral programmes. Singaporeans should not be disconcerted by these developments, because even with the best of diplomatic and personal relationships, we must expect other states to act in their own self-interests.

Relations with Indonesia

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Our relations with Indonesia are also strong.  Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Jokowi (Joko Widodo) had a successful Leaders’ Retreat in Semarang last November.  They jointly witnessed the opening of the Kendal Industrial Park, and agreed to set up an Indonesia-Singapore Business Council and to explore cooperation in the energy and tourism sectors.

The positive and stable partnership that we have enjoyed in recent times has been mutually-beneficial.  Business ties and tourism continue to grow. Singapore remained Indonesia’s top foreign investor in 2016.

This year, we celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations with Indonesia.  The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Ibu Retno Marsudi, and I jointly announced the start of these celebrations last month during her official visit to Singapore.

We also marked a milestone in bilateral relations through the exchange of instruments of ratification for the Eastern Boundary Treaty on 10 February 2017. This was a demonstration of how both countries can work together to resolve bilateral issues in areas of mutual interest, in accordance with international law. This is an important principle that both sides share, because as neighbours, we must expect disagreements to arise from time to time, but what matters is how we resolve these disagreements.

Bilateral Relations with Brunei

Singapore and Brunei, of course, share a long-standing and a special relationship, anchored in deep mutual trust and respect, which has been built up over decades, over generations of leaders. This is epitomised by the Currency Interchangeability Agreement, which marks its 50th anniversary this year.  We will continue to build on this special relationship with the younger generation of Bruneian leaders though platforms like the Singapore-Brunei Young Leaders Programme.

Singapore in ASEAN

More broadly, Southeast Asia is our immediate hinterland.  And as many of you have said, ASEAN serves a crucial role as the main platform for regional cooperation.  ASEAN has kept our region peaceful and allowed our Member States to focus on growing our economies and improving the lives of our people.  Dr Teo Ho Pin, Mr Liang Eng Hwa, and Mr Low Thia Khiang asked very timely and important questions about ASEAN’s relevance, the pace of integration, the future of ASEAN unity and the key achievements as we celebrate its 50th anniversary.  Mr Cedric Foo and others also asked about our coordinatorship of ASEAN-China dialogue relations.

ASEAN enables us to more effectively shape our external environment and to have our views taken into account by bigger players.  In an often turbulent world, ASEAN is, as Mr Low puts it, Singapore’s anchor and a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

ASEAN has a strong value proposition. We are now already the seventh largest economy in the world and barring any mishaps, we are projected to become the fourth largest economy by 2050. Today we have 628 million people, our combined GDP US$ 2.5 trillion, and by sometime between 2030 to 2050 we hope that this will quadruple to US$10 trillion.  What’s important also is that we will have the third largest labour force in the world, and more important than that, more than half of the population of ASEAN is under the age of 30. So we have a demographic dividend that is not yet harvested.

To maintain our relevance, ASEAN must continue to be neutral, united, and committed to an open and inclusive regional architecture, and that means that we will continue to consolidate and to deepen our economic integration.  We adopted the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the three Community Blueprints in 2015.

We must do more to help Singaporeans better understand and to identify with ASEAN. We must also explore ways for ASEAN to ride the technological wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

We will continue to partner with organisations like the Singapore Business Federation and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises to help our businesses maximise the economic opportunities that ASEAN presents.

Working closely with Philippines as ASEAN Chair

We will also work closely with the Philippines to ensure the success of its Chairmanship this year, and to begin preparations for our own ASEAN Chairmanship in 2018.

It is important that we strive for an integrated, outward-looking and confident ASEAN. To that end, we also hope to build new links with other regional organisations, for instance the Pacific Alliance and the Eurasian Economic Union.

At the same time, the events unfolding in the EU are also a salutary reminder for us not to reprise their problems, and ASEAN must remain pragmatic and practical in managing the pace and the scale of the implementation of our economic integration. The sequence, the pace and the scale – the implementation of all of these are very important.

ASEAN’s cohesion and unity, to be frank with you, have been tested by difficult issues, not only just last year but many times before.  Nonetheless, we have endured and we have even thrived over the past 5 decades.

Looking ahead, I can tell you that ASEAN will become more, not less, critical to our foreign policy.   I totally support Dr Teo Ho Pin’s three suggestions on strengthening unity, promoting partnerships between businesses and encouraging more people to people ties.

Now let me turn to our role as the dialogue relations coordinator between ASEAN and China. Again I want to stress that we have to be honest brokers and we have to do our best to manage this strategic partnership based on mutual benefit and respect.  We upgraded the ASEAN-China FTA in 2015 and we facilitated a successful and substantive ASEAN-China 25th Anniversary Commemorative Summit last year.  We will continue advancing other initiatives such as enhancing connectivity and making progress on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea in the remaining one and a half years of our coordinatorship.

Relations with other countries – Japan, India, Australia and the EU – are also important, and I am glad to report that relations are also good and will deepen.

Singapore-Japan 50 year partnership

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We commemorated 50 years of diplomatic relations with Japan in 2016. We had a series of high-level exchanges including a State Visit by President Tony Tan.  We are working towards upgrading the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement and our Air Services Agreement, and we hope to strengthen bilateral cooperation in air, land and sea transport and infrastructure through the inaugural Vice-Ministerial Transport Forum this year.

India

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In India, steady progress has been made under the Strategic Partnership signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited us in November 2015.  The Strategic Partnership has allowed us to broaden and to deepen relations in diverse areas, both at the central level as well as in selected states in India.

And this was reaffirmed during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to India in October 2016, when he launched the Centre of Excellence for Tourism Training (CETT) in Udaipur. The master-planning of Andhra Pradesh’s new capital city, Amaravati, by Singapore experts has been completed, and a Singapore Consortium is now bidding to be a participant in the “seed development” of this brand new city.

Bilateral Relations with Australia

Singapore has a close and longstanding bilateral relationship with Australia. This was elevated in June 2015 with the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), and this is a substantive undertaking with over 40 bilateral initiatives that will be delivered through the period to 2025.

We have moved quickly to implement the CSP.  Key agreements were signed during PM’s visit to Australia in October 2016. The MOU on Military Training and Training Area Development gives the SAF significant enhanced access to training areas in Australia over the next 25 years.  Areas which, I may add, are multiples the size of Singapore.  This will add significantly towards addressing the SAF’s evolving training requirements.

The upgrade to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement is expected to come into force this year. It will create many more opportunities for Singapore businesses and professionals to access the Australian markets.

ASEAN-EU Relations

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Brexit notwithstanding, we continue to engage Europe and the EU, for example through the EU-Singapore FTA.  Yes, it has been delayed by certain legal hurdles that we have to go through, but so far all the countries that we have engaged within Europe have expressed support for this free trade agreement.  We are also working on the EU-ASEAN Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement.

Singapore will also continue to seek economic links and opportunities for our companies in emerging markets such as Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, and SMS Maliki will elaborate on this, after I finish my contribution. But let me just say the following short points on the Middle East.

We are one of few countries that engages in a principled way with all of the protagonists in the Middle East.  In the short one and a half years I have been here, I have accompanied the PM to Jordan, to Israel and to Ramallah, under the Palestine National Authority (PNA).  We have gone to the Temple Mount, visited the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, been welcomed by all parties.  And it is amazing again if you think about it: us, tiny little Singapore is welcomed by all parties.  I believe we have this special position because we take a principled position.  And we also work in a win-win way to support all parties.  So for instance, with the Palestinians we have extended our technical assistance with the PNA.  But more importantly I think one of the key secret ingredients is the fact that Singapore itself, is a successful model of multi-racial multi-religious integration.  Because that gives us a special moral standing to be able to engage, and to speak, and to interact with all parties. Very few countries have this special role that we have.

And so, apart from all these engagements, bilateral and regional, we need to continue to support international groupings and arrangements.  These arrangements increase opportunities for Singapore companies and Singapore to do more in the face of a world which is sometimes at risk of insularism and protectionism.

RCEP

We will work towards the expeditious conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and will continue to further the development of the ASEAN Economic Community. We will explore ways to take the TPP forward, despite the US’ withdrawal.

Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) attended the G20 Summit in China last year at President Xi’s invitation, and he will attend the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July this year at German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s invitation.  This will be the seventh time that Singapore is invited to attend a G20 Summit.

An Independent Foreign Policy

The next aspect that I want to talk about is about how we pursue an independent foreign policy.  This means having a foreign policy that serves Singapore and Singaporeans’ interests first and foremost.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin spoke about the importance of a rules-based international system.  And this is critical for a small state like Singapore.  And you asked how we can strengthen the multilateral system. As a small country, the rule of law is crucial for our survival. The UN, and other international organisations and fora are key components of a rules-based international system.  They create a stable framework for cooperation, for managing tensions and addressing global trans-boundary problems. The multilateral system must become more inclusive, more transparent. Global solutions must have broad-based support from countries to be effective. On our part we play our role by initiating or by catalysing the work of organisations like the Forum of Small States (FOSS), that we actually initiated, and the Global Governance Group (3G), and we work closely with many other small states to have a greater collective voice on the international stage.

We also contribute to the multilateral system through technical assistance to developing countries.  I think we have trained over 112,000 officials from many other countries because they want to understand how Singapore works, and how these lessons can be brought back home. And humanitarian assistance is important and we do contribute when there are disasters and actually it is this training, this development that makes a longer term impact on many other countries.

Foreign Policy Begins at Home

Finally, I want to stress and repeat that foreign policy begins at home.  We need the support and understanding of a united citizenry.  Ms Joan Pereira’s question about how MFA can better engage the public on Singapore’s foreign policy is very timely.

While MFA takes the lead in foreign policy, the issues are becoming more complex and cross-cutting in nature.  Other Ministries and government agencies play an increasingly vital role in Singapore’s external front.  MFA must therefore act as a coordinator to work closely with other Ministries and agencies to pursue a ‘Whole of Government’ foreign policy and to strengthen our domestic resilience in the face of an uncertain and sometimes hostile external environment.

This also means convincing Singaporeans of the need for consistent and principled diplomacy for our long term interests instead of taking the path of least resistance in order to achieve short term gains.  The events of the last six months actually is a reminder of this.  And I am grateful for the support of Singaporeans and of members of this House.

So we will continue to work with all stakeholders to raise awareness amongst our fellow Singaporeans of the stakes for us, of the principles behind our policy, and of the sometimes difficult positions that we have to take, despite the pressures we will face from time to time.

Terrorism–A Real and Present Threat

Terrorism still remains a real and present threat.  This is evidenced by the high-profile attacks in parts of Europe and Southeast Asia, and we are actually at even higher risk, even as ISIS loses its strong hold in the Middle East.  So MFA and MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) will continue to monitor security and terrorist threats, and we stand ready to assist Singaporeans in distress overseas. We have had Singaporeans injured or otherwise involved in terrorist incidents overseas.  Singaporeans are one of the most widely travelled people in the world.  One of our top challenges is to strengthen our consular assistance. Dr Maliki will elaborate more on this later on.

A united citizenry allows us to pursue effective foreign policy.  We may be small, but the unity of our people is a source of strength.  Our stability, our consistency,our reliability are all the more valuable in an increasingly fractious world, and people respect Singapore for that. Such respect is hard-earned, but it allows our voice to be amplified and heard on the international stage.

I am grateful to Dr Teo Ho Pin and Mr Pritam Singh for your support for the staff of MFA and for adequate resources to be provided in the light of all these challenges. I totally agree with you that MFA staff must be well staffed and must be well resourced. Our MFA officers actually are the real key assets. Our budget may be, I think, the second smallest or the smallest budget of all the ministries but I think you will agree with me it is the staff of MFA.

We have a rigorous selection system. We continue to recruit high-quality people.  But we also provide continuous training to nurture our staff and to develop their leadership potential.  We also regularly review our manpower resources and our work functions to ensure that this precious manpower is deployed in an optimal way.

The work in MFA is very demanding and very labour-intensive and eats up all hours of the day and night.  Our officers work under very challenging conditions and at great cost to their personal and perhaps even more so to their family lives.  I would like to express my appreciation especially to the spouses, of MFA staff and to the children who probably have absentee parents because their parents are out there looking after the longer term interests of our nation and they sacrifice so much for Singaporeans.

But our officers have proven themselves to be dedicated and professional.  They are driven by their mission to advance the interests of Singapore.  They understand our vulnerabilities and what we need to do in order to remain relevant.  I think Members of this House who have ever travelled with MFA staff – I am very sure you can attest to their professionalism and their hard work and I want to thank Members of the House for your continued support of MFA.

Conclusion

Let me conclude. The events of the past year have been a stark reminder of the reality that Singapore faces.  But it has also provided lessons on how we can overcome these challenges. I think in a way, the pressure that we have come under has made us stronger and more united. So we will face another year of uncertainty ahead, MFA will continue to enhance Singapore’s long-term value proposition and relevance to other countries; we will maintain our commitment to an independent and principled foreign policy in a rules-based global order; we will continue to work with all Members of this House to build a deeper appreciation of the hard truths that underpin our foreign policy.