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Singapore's pioneering 'Accidental Diplomat' launches his memoirs

As one of Singapore's first-generation diplomats, Professor Maurice Baker played a pivotal role in helping Singapore establish itself on the global stage. His memoirs chronicle some of the stories of his diplomatic postings. 

SINGAPORE: The memoirs of Professor Maurice Baker, one of Singapore's pioneer diplomats, was 15 years in the making, and bears the title The Accidental Diplomat because the author says most of the significant events in his life were never planned.

The book, launched on Tuesday (Aug 19), chronicles more than 46 years of his life history and includes stories of his diplomatic postings as well as the rare honour of representing Singapore, during the early post-independent years.

Prof Baker, now aged 94, began his diplomatic career in 1967, as Singapore's first High Commissioner to India and concurrently Ambassador to Nepal. Like all other first-generation diplomats, he lacked diplomatic experience. But he compensated for this by building relationships of trust, which helped earn him and Singapore acceptance and respect in the international arena.

In 1969, following the May 13 racial riots in Malaysia, he was appointed as Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia. He was seen as the best man for the job because of his close friendship with then-Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdul Razak.

Prof Baker came back to Singapore in 1971, to return to academia. He was appointed Ambassador to the Philippines in 1977. Three years later, he was re-appointed High Commissioner to Malaysia, a position he held till April 1988.

In his two terms as High Commissioner to Malaysia, Prof Baker witnessed four Prime Ministers who held office, from Tunku Abdul Rahman to Dr Mahathir Mohamed.

Said former President SR Nathan: "Maurice Baker was of the generation who went through the occupation, and matured ahead of his time. He was very much involved in seeking the fight for independence. Even when he was a student, he was part of the Malayan forum, which began to create a sense of consciousness among Singapore Malayan students in London about the need to struggle for independence."

Professor Baker was too frail to speak to us because of the onset of Parkinson's, but his son Bernard Baker shared with the media what his father's early years were like. “He explained that it was not a job he wanted at all, but it was a job he did because he felt a sense of duty to Singapore and to his old friends, Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and so on,” said Mr Baker.

“He felt he had to do something for the nation and that's why he went in. He told me that he did not really know what was expected of him, and that his happiest days were as an academic. But as time went on, after Delhi especially, I think he became very comfortable with the job."

Upon his return to Singapore, then-President Wee Kim Wee appointed Prof Baker pro-Chancellor of the National University of Singapore. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2002.

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