SINGAPORE: There will always be ups and downs in Singapore’s relations with other countries, but its fundamental approach should not change, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 19).
Speaking at the PAP Awards and Convention, he noted that Singapore should take a long-term view, and work towards good relations that benefit both sides.
“Where relations are going well, we should not take them for granted,” he said. “More importantly, when relations are down, we must not get flustered or cower.”
But while Singapore is friends with many countries, he stressed that it must not inadvertently fall under foreign control, or influence.
“No foreign country should ever influence our domestic debate and politics, or divide and weaken us, either openly or covertly,” he said. “Singaporeans have to understand our core interests.”
“When we are put to the test, we must stay united and back the Government, so that we can stand our ground and defend Singapore’s interests as one country.”
Mr Lee noted that Singapore’s relations with Malaysia and Indonesia will always be complex, and issues will crop up from time to time. One example of this, he said, is Pedra Branca.
“I thought the issue was permanently settled long ago with the International Court of Justice ruling in 2008, which awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore. But almost a decade later, the Malaysians are going to the ICJ again, asking the Court to reinterpret and to revise the judgment.
“I’m not sure what Malaysia’s motive is, but their General Election is coming, which may have something to do with it,” he added.
And in Indonesia, he noted that politicians have been talking about taking back their airspace from Singapore. The issue, he said, is not about Indonesia’s airspace, but the Flight Information Region (FIR), which is for managing air traffic.
“Who controls the FIR is a technical matter of making the best arrangements for air safety, but it has been politicized and made into an issue of sovereignty and national pride,” he said. “That makes it much harder to solve.”
But he stressed that relations with Malaysia and Indonesia are good, with Singapore the largest foreign investor in both countries, and their top source of tourists.
Singapore’s relations with the big powers – the US and China – are also in good order.
“It is not always easy to be good friends with both the US and China at the same time,” he said. “But as a small nation, we have to make friends with as many countries as we can.
“So we have to work hard to tend our relationships with both the US and China, while upholding Singapore’s own interests.
“I think we have not done too badly.”