SINGAPORE: The Government will examine threat factors and "entry points" before crafting relevant policies to tackle foreign interference, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling on Tuesday (Oct 1).
"We want to have the appropriate levers to be able to address the issue, we will look at what are the threat factors and what are the entry points," said Ms Sun, who was speaking at a panel discussion at the National Press Centre after a special screening of the CNA documentary – Fighting Foreign Interference.
About 80 people watched the hour-long documentary, which explains how foreign interference in domestic politics can sway people's opinions. It also focuses on how Singapore can confront these challenges in an environment of growing foreign interference.
Forms of foreign interference and influence can be "broadly grouped" into two sources, Ms Sun said, referencing the documentary: The first being influence through local proxies and the second being hostile information campaigns.
"How can foreign influence and interference take place through local proxies? It could be through donations, sponsorships, affiliation, leadership. These would be areas that legislators will look at, policy makers will look at.
"The entry points could be religious organisations or politically significant entities," she explained.
Foreign interference is something that many states across the world are facing, added Ms Sun.
"It's not a new problem, it's just that with the advent of the Internet and with social media, the use of hostile information campaigns has become so much easier," she said.
"That's the turbo-charger that we see in the current climate."
"A NEW REALITY"
Responding to a question on whether identifying the threat actor in a foreign interference case can affect people's confidence in proposed legislation, panellist Dr Shashi Jayakumar said that there may be good reasons for naming such adversaries, but there are also downsides.
"I think it's very important for us to be able to call out the adversary even at a time when ... the adversary may, on the face of it, have very good diplomatic ties with us," said Dr Shashi, who heads the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
"We're not a big country - look at the United States, when they identified hostile information campaigns. What do they do? They indict by name ... But if you look at hostile campaigns in not just Singapore, but Asia ... when is the last time a hack got called out in Singapore by name?"
Dr Shashi, who was answering questions from the audience along with Ms Sun and Managing Director of Black Dot Nicholas Fang, said that there are also good reasons to not call out the threat actor.
"We may well be betraying our forensic capability, and what's the point of calling out when the actor can have plausible deniability (and) cover their tracks," he said.
Mr Fang added that naming the adversary may have serious foreign policy implications.
"If people know that ... a lot of your foreign policy is dependent on having good relations with everyone then tipping a relationship on any one side will have serious implications for the direction, stability and security of the country ... it creates yet another vulnerability that bad actors will exploit," he noted.
One of those in attendance was second year Nanyang Technological University (NTU) public policy and global affairs student Bryan Chiew, who attended the screening along with about 14 fellow university students.
“The reason why we came down is because it’s an acknowledgement of the change in our social landscape or political landscape. We came to learn and definitely got that experience,” said Mr Chiew, who is president of the NTU Students’ Union.
“It’s an issue that Singaporeans need to confront, it’s definitely a new reality. Whether you like it or not, it’s happening and we need to have that awareness of what goes on."
Fighting Foreign Interference will air on Friday (Oct 4) at 9pm.