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Full speech: Vivian Balakrishnan highlights ideas underpinning Singapore&#039s diplomacy


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SINGAPORE: It is not a coincidence that we are at peace with all our neighbours now and that we have excellent relations with all the main powers in the entire world. We owe a financial debt of gratitude to all our leaders and diplomats, equally current and earlier, for this pleased point out of affairs.

Recently, there have been lively debates on Singapore’s international coverage, particularly on the section of retired officers, lecturers and commentators.

But there is a key distinction for everyone in this space tonight. We are serving officers of the Ministry of International Affairs (MFA) – and we have line duty for the actual conduct of international coverage on a daily foundation. What this usually means is that our deliberations now are not a theoretical debate or academic phrase spinning physical exercise on a lecture circuit.

Some issues that have been raised consist of the following. To start with, has Singapore overreached and forgotten our everlasting status as a smaller point out in a big harmful entire world and difficult area? 2nd, must Singapore adjust our international coverage posture offered the evolving geopolitical scenario, or even simply because of leadership improvements in Singapore? Third, has our insistence on a constant and principled tactic constrained our means to adapt to new circumstances?

These are valid issues but I feel we want to go again to 1st ideas. The ultimate goals of our international coverage are to guard our independence and sovereignty, and expand chances for all Singaporeans to overcome our geographical limitations.

These are our ultimate goals – they are simple to point out but challenging to obtain. The existential problem is how we obtain this, offered our circumstances that we will always be a tiny city-point out in Southeast Asia with a multi-racial population.

We will have to not harbour any illusions about our location in the entire world. History is replete with illustrations of unsuccessful smaller states. Our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew always reminded us consistently that we have to get the entire world as it is, not as we would like it to be. But that does not suggest that the late Mr Lee advocated a “do nothing at all, say nothing” posture or that Singapore must simply just surrender to our fate.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has reminded us, on troubles exactly where our countrywide pursuits are at stake, we will have to be prepared to “stand up and be counted”.

Some persons have proposed that Singapore lay minimal and “suffer what we must” as a smaller point out. On the contrary, it is exactly simply because we are a smaller point out that we have to stand up and be counted, when we want to do so.

There is no contradiction involving having a realistic appreciation of realpolitik and carrying out whatever it normally takes to guard our have sovereignty, maintain and expand our relevance, and produce political and financial space for ourselves.

Five International Coverage Principles

The founding fathers of our international coverage – Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr S Rajaratnam, Dr Goh Keng Swee and their team – recognized this acutely and they formulated a handful of main international coverage ideas. These ideas have served Singapore well since our independence but are still truly worth examining again.

To start with, Singapore requirements to be a effective and vivid overall economy. We want to have secure politics and we want a united culture. If we ended up not effective, united or secure, we would be totally irrelevant. We have all witnessed how delegations of much less effective smaller states are ignored at international meetings. I am always aware that foreigners do not speak to us simply because of the eloquence of our displays or simply because we have the greatest EQ in the space.

We only benefit interest simply because everyone is aware of that we appear from Singapore and Singapore has designed a success of by itself despite our sizing, and that we are represented by intelligent, trustworthy, significant and constructive diplomats.

2nd, we will have to not develop into a vassal point out. It usually means we cannot be purchased nor can we be bullied. It usually means we will have to be prepared to protect our territory, property and way of lifestyle. That is why we just celebrated fifty decades of Nationwide Service, and we maintain at terrific energy a Singapore Armed Forces that most people normally takes seriously.

This does not just rely on the armed forces engineering that the SAF possesses, but on the bravery and resolve of our troopers, especially NSmen, to protect what we have and struggle for what we maintain expensive.

2017 marks fifty decades since Nationwide Service was 1st introduced in Singapore. (Photograph: Currently)

Third, we purpose to be a mate to all, but an enemy of none. This is particularly so for our speedy neighbourhood exactly where peace and steadiness in Southeast Asia are completely necessary. Consequently, Singapore was a founding member of ASEAN and we stay a robust advocate of ASEAN unity and centrality.

With tremendous-powers and other regional powers, our purpose is to expand our interactions, equally politically and economically, so that we will be related to them and they will uncover our success in their have desire.

This delicate balancing act is much easier in excellent and tranquil situations, but naturally more challenging when tremendous-powers and regional powers contend with a single another. Yet, our simple reflex will have to be, must be to purpose for balance and boost an inclusive architecture, and we will have to keep away from taking sides, siding with a single in opposition to the other.

While we spare no energy to develop a broad network of relations, these relations will have to be based on mutual respect for just about every other’s sovereignty, and the equality of country states, no matter of sizing.

Diplomacy is not just about having pleasant relations, at all expenditures. It is about endorsing pleasant relations as a way to guard and advance our significant pursuits. We never compromise our countrywide pursuits to have excellent relations. The purchase matters.

So when some others make unreasonable needs that harm or compromise our countrywide pursuits, we want to point out our situation and stand our floor, in a firm and principled way.

Global Get Governed BY THE RULE OF Regulation AND Global NORMS

Fourth, we will have to boost a international purchase governed by the rule of legislation and international norms. In a process exactly where “might is right” or the laws of the jungle prevail, smaller states like us have minimal likelihood of survival.

Alternatively, a more promising process for smaller states, and frankly, a greater process all round for the comity of nations, is a single that upholds the legal rights and sovereignty of all states and the rule of legislation. Even bigger powers will still have more impact and say, but more substantial powers do not get a totally free move to do as they remember to.

In exchange, they profit from an orderly international surroundings, and do not have to vacation resort to power or arms to get their way

This is why Singapore has always participated actively in the United Nations (UN), and the formulation of international regimes and norms. We ended up a key player in the negotiations on the Regulation of the Sea Treaty (UNCLOS) in 1982. We play an outsized purpose at the WTO, and in negotiating a world wide web of totally free trade agreements at a bilateral and multilateral amount.

As a country exactly where trade is 3.5 situations our GDP, we will have to stand up for the multilateral, international investing process. And as a port at the narrow straits that in the long run link the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, liberty of navigation according to UNCLOS is completely significant to us.

Extra lately, we actively participated in the negotiations for the Global Agreement on Local climate Adjust. I expended 5 decades, quite a few of them as a Ministerial facilitator, that in the long run led to the Paris Agreement. We did so simply because we are particularly susceptible to weather change as a minimal-lying island city point out.

Singapore’s Minister for International Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan (left) with China’s Xie Zhenhua and US’s Todd Stern right after the signing of the Paris Agreement. (Photograph: Vivian Balakrishnan/Facebook)

Singapore will have to assist a guidelines-based international community, boost the rule of international legislation and the tranquil resolution of disputes. These are essential priorities. They reflect our important pursuits, and they affect our situation in the entire world.

We will have to stand up on these troubles, and speak with conviction, so that persons know our situation. We will have to actively counter the ways of other powers who may try out to impact our domestic constituencies in purchase to make our international coverage greater accommodate their pursuits.

Ultimately, we will have to be very clear-minded about Singapore’s lengthy-expression pursuits, and have the gumption to make our international coverage selections appropriately.

In the course of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians ended up warned of the penalties they would experience if they gave in to original Spartan needs. Greek statesman Pericles explained to his fellow Athenians that if they ended up frightened into obedience by the original needs of the Spartans in purchase to keep away from war, then they would immediately have to meet a greater demand from customers.

Contained in the Spartans’ demand from customers was a take a look at of the Athenians’ resolve. If they give in after, inevitably, they would have to give in again and in the long run, they would be enslaved. On the other hand, a firm refusal would make the Spartans evidently realize that they will have to take care of them more as equals

While we dwell in a different period and geopolitical scenario, this lesson, this warning in opposition to appeasement stays instructive for Singapore. No matter whether we are dealing with a key security and financial partner or a big neighbour, Singapore has always stood firm when it comes to our important countrywide pursuits, especially when it impacts on sovereignty, security and the rule of legislation.

When US teen Michael Fay was sentenced to caning for vandalism in 1994, we upheld our court’s decision, even below terrific strain from the US.

In 1968, to get an instance further again from record, we proceeded to hang two Indonesian marines for the bombing of McDonald Property during Konfrontasi. I want you to bear in head the events bordering 1968. We had just been kicked out of Malaysia. The British had declared their intention to withdraw their forces from Singapore. We ended up still battling a communist insurgency. Can you picture the guts it took for the leaders in 1968 struggling with such circumstances to stand up and do the appropriate thing?

A Konfrontasi memorial ceremony was held on Mar 10, 2016. (Photograph: Ngau Kai Yan)

These ended up episodes, painful nevertheless they may be, that founded very clear purple-lines and boundaries. The concept was very clear: Singapore may be smaller, but upholding our laws and safeguarding our independence, our citizens’ safety and security was of overriding value.

So we cannot manage to at any time be intimidated into acquiescence. The actuality that we have consistently shown this in motion places our interactions with neighbours in close proximity to and significantly, other states smaller and big, on a more good and equivalent footing. This is why we speak up when simple ideas are challenged.

When Russian troops took control of Crimea, Singapore strongly objected to the invasion. We expressed our view that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and international legislation had to be revered.

Which brings me to the fifth principle that we will have to be a credible and constant partner.

CREDIBLE, Regular Partner

Our views are taken seriously simply because nations around the world know that we always get a lengthy-expression constructive view of troubles. The more substantial nations around the world engage Singapore simply because we do not just convey to them what they want to listen to. In actuality they try out harder to make Singapore get their side exactly simply because they know our words and phrases suggest a little something.

We are trustworthy brokers, dealing pretty and brazenly with all functions. There is a feeling of strategic predictability, which has enabled Singapore to build up belief and goodwill with our companions around the many years.

Due to the fact we are credible, Singapore has been ready to play a constructive purpose in international affairs, in ASEAN and at the UN. We have served produce platforms for nations around the world with identical pursuits. For instance, Singapore served create the Discussion board of Small States (FOSS) in 1992. As a group, we have been ready to foster widespread positions and have a more substantial voice at the UN. Currently, the FOSS has developed to 107 nations around the world, more than fifty percent of the UN membership.

We play a constructive purpose in the Alliance of Small Island States. We also launched the Global Governance Group, 3G to assure that the voices of smaller states are heard, and to serve as a bridge involving the G20 and UN membership.

Our trustworthiness has won us a seat at the table, even when our relevance is not right away noticeable. We are not a single of the 20 most significant economies in the entire world, but we just obtained again from the G20, which we ended up invited to.

When we 1st expressed desire in the Arctic Council, there ended up many who questioned what purpose a smaller equatorial country could play on Arctic matters. But soaring sea concentrations and the likelihood of new delivery routes probably affect our situation as a trans-cargo hub. So it is useful for us to be on the Arctic Council.

We received observer status in the Arctic Council in May possibly 2013 and we take part actively and lead our know-how on maritime matters. Minister of State for International Affairs Sam Tan has resolutely represented us on the Artic Council.

Singapore’s International Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (centre left), meets Singaporeans at an early Nationwide Working day reception at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany. (Photograph: Kenneth Lim)


Small states are inconsequential unless we are ready to present a value proposition and make ourselves related.

Singapore’s financial success, political steadiness, our social harmony and unity has attracted interest from some others to do small business with us, and to look at our developmental design.

This is why our diplomats perform so tricky all around the entire world to uncover widespread floor with other states. We look for for earn-earn outcomes based on the principle of interdependence. For instance, we have participated in main cooperation assignments in Suzhou, Tianjin, Chongqing in China, Iskandar Malaysia in Johor, the Kendal industrial park in Semarang, Indonesia and the multiple Vietnam-Singapore industrial parks.

When we embark on these assignments, we lead novel strategies and we put into practice our ideas on a complete-of-authorities foundation, involving our colleagues in other ministries who lead complete-heartedly to these assignments.

Singapore’s situation is significantly more protected now than ti was at our start in 1965. But the troubles of smaller states will be perennial. They cannot be ignored, or wished absent. A robust, credible SAF is an significant deterrence.

International Coverage Starts AT House

International coverage starts at dwelling. Our diplomacy is only credible, if we are ready to maintain a domestic consensus on Singapore’s main pursuits and international coverage priorities, and if our politics do not develop into fractious, or our culture divided.

We have safeguarded our international situation by making a effective overall economy and cohesive culture, generating very clear that we always act in Singapore’s pursuits, and not at the behest or bidding of other states. We have been increasing interactions with as many nations around the world as attainable, on the foundation of mutual respect for all states no matter of sizing and on a earn-earn interdependence.

Upholding international legislation has been a matter of essential principle for us. Becoming a credible and constant partner with a lengthy expression view has offered us a purpose to play and relevance on the international phase.

Geopolitics are turning into more uncertain and unpredictable. We want to assure that our international coverage positions reflect the switching strategic realities whilst we maintain our liberty, our appropriate to be an independent country, with our have international coverage.

We will have to anticipate frictions and problems from time to time. But our undertaking is to maintain this whilst retaining in head the broader interactions. Our tactic, as a point out with an independent international coverage, cannot be like that of a non-public company. Our point out pursuits go significantly over and above the shorter expression losses or gains of a non-public company.

So we will have to remain nimble, be alert to potential risks but seize chances. We want to also keep in mind that some facets stay constant. We want to advance and guard our pursuits. We will have to be prepared to make challenging selections, weather conditions the storms if they appear. We will have to be prepared to speak up, and if needed, disagree with some others, without the need of being gratuitously disagreeable.

We may always be a smaller point out, but all the more purpose we want the bravery of our convictions and the resolution to protected the lengthy-expression pursuits of all our citizens.

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