SINGAPORE: China’s ambassador to Singapore Hong Xiaoyong has responded to a speech by Singapore’s retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan on what he calls its “influence operations”, saying his conclusions “cannot be fair and right”.
The Straits Times reported that in his keynote speech during the forum on Chinese Public Diplomacy in East Asia and the Pacific on Jun 27, Mr Kausikan said Singaporeans must be aware of China’s covert “influence operations”.
According to The Straits Times, Mr Kausikan’s speech outlined three ways in which China stands out from other major countries that “persuade, induce and coerce".
The first involves rejecting the norm of non-interference in another state’s domestic affairs and believing that its interests should be promoted wherever they may be, The Straits Times’ report stated.
The second is where China uses a range of tactics from legitimate diplomacy to more covert and often illegal deployment of agents of influence and operations - to sway decision makers or public opinion leaders.
The third, Mr Kausikan said, refers to the aim of its influence operations, which he added was not just to direct behaviour but to condition it as well.
He also said a key tactic is to present target countries with oversimplified narratives, "forcing false choices on you and making you choose between them", The Straits Times reported.
"China doesn't just want you to comply with its wishes, it wants you to ... do what it wants without being told,” he was quoted as saying.
“When the Chinese try to impose a Chinese identity on Singapore, we must resist, because modern Singapore is based on the idea of being a multiracial country," he added.
In a response published by The Straits Times on Thursday (Jul 12), the Chinese ambassador described Mr Kausikan’s speech as a “far cry from reality and leaves an unfavourable impression of China on others”.
Ambassador Hong said: “In response, I would say firstly that every country hopes to gain recognition and support for its development philosophy and foreign policies. In this sense, China is no different. Unlike some countries, however, China does not impose its ideology and development model."
He said China often found itself as the target of “groundless attacks”, as global media is largely dominated by the West.
“In recent years, China has made great efforts in carrying out its international responsibilities and put forward some initiatives on regional and global cooperation, including the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These have gained a positive response from many countries, not because of manipulation but because they meet the interests of other parties and provide opportunities for common development,” the Chinese ambassador added.
Mr Hong said while China is an “engine” of global economic growth, it has always been willing to share its development opportunities with others and by no means imposes its models on other countries.
“China's foreign policies are aimed at serving its national development. Beyond that, China also endeavours to incorporate its development into the greater cause of world peace and prosperity, working towards the goal of building a community with a shared future for mankind. With these objectives in mind, China has implemented its foreign policies consistently. We uphold the principles of peaceful co-existence and champion global fairness and justice. We oppose the big bullying the small and interference in others' internal affairs. This is what China has said and this is also what China has been doing,” Mr Hong added.
The Straits Times said that at the forum, Mr Kausikan had also said narratives used against Singapore by China included: "Singapore has no claim in the South China Sea, so why is the Singapore Government taking sides against China?" and "Relations were much better under Mr Lee Kuan Yew because he understood China in a way the present Singapore leadership does not”.
Addressing this, China’s ambassador said his country attaches “great importance” to Singapore-China relations and “cherishes the friendship established by several generations of our leaders”.
“Mr Lee Kuan Yew, with his extraordinary strategic vision, made important contributions to the establishment and development of our diplomatic ties. We are pleased to see that Mr Lee's strategic vision and commitment to the relationship have been inherited by his successors.
“Over the years, our ties have progressed and continue to do so based on the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. China respects Singapore's achievements in maintaining racial and religious harmony. It has no intention of influencing Singaporeans' sense of their national identity and will never do so. Our close bonds in history and culture should be positive factors and not a burden in the development of our relationship,” Mr Hong said.
The ambassador added: "Mr Kausikan condemned China for presenting false choices and forcing other countries to choose between them. But, in fact, it is his speech that is misleading others into misunderstanding China."
“Distorting the image of China, a key player in the international community, not only causes harm to China but also impairs the friendship and cooperation among countries. That is a scenario nobody would like to see,” he said.