Minister Shanmugam backs Bilahari's 'brilliant' response to Kishore's article on small states

Minister Shanmugam backs Bilahari's 'brilliant' response to Kishore's article on small states

Bilahari Shanmugam Kishore
Composite of Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan (left), Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam (centre) and Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (right). 

SINGAPORE: Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam has weighed in on differences about foreign policy ideas between Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan and dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Kishore Mahbubani.

In a Facebook post on Sunday (Jul 2), Mr Shanmugam, who used to be Minister for Foreign Affairs, said he found Professor Mahbubani's piece on foreign policy "questionable, intellectually" and commended Mr Kausikan for a "brilliant response".

Mr Shanmugam said: "Kishore’s comments for example: 'Small states must always behave like small states' are contrary to some basic principles of Mr Lee Kuan Yew Principles which made us successful. Mr Lee never advocated cravenness, or thinking small. Did we get to where we are now, by thinking “small”? No. That is why Singapore was and is respected, despite being one of the smallest countries in the world."

"As Foreign Minister, I never forgot that we were a small country and there were limits to what we can do. But equally I also knew, that once you allow yourself to be bullied, then you will continue to be bullied. And I never allowed myself to be bullied, when I represented Singapore.

"There were Ministers from other countries who threatened us, in different ways, took a harsh tone, when we didn’t give them what they wanted. As all our Foreign Ministers have done, I just looked them in the eye and told them we stood firm. They changed their attitude after that," Mr Shanmugam added.

The minister said that Singapore needs to be "clear" about its interests and "go about it smartly." But he rejected the notion of going "on bended knees and by kowtowing to others."

"By definition almost every country, including our neighbouring countries, are all bigger than us. We treat each other with mutual respect. Once we are shown to be “flexible”, then that is what will be expected of us every time."


In his piece titled, Qatar: Big lessons from a small country, published in The Straits Times on Saturday, Professor Mahbubani drew three lessons from the recent developments in the Middle East when the small Arab nation had diplomatic relations cut off by neighbours Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In his Facebook post commenting on the article, Mr Kausikan took issue with the first lesson mentioned by Professor Mahbubani in his article: "Small states must always behave like small states".

The Ambassador-at-Large described the statement as "muddled, mendacious and indeed dangerous".

"Coming from someone of Kishore's stature - he is after all the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy - it is so dangerously misleading that it must be vigorously rebutted even at the cost of offending an old friend," Mr Kausikan said.

"Kishore says Mr Lee never behaved as the leader of a small country and earned the right to state his views because he was respected by the major powers. True. But how did he earn that right?

"Mr Lee and his comrades did not earn respect by being meekly compliant to the major powers. They were not reckless, but they did not hesitate to stand up for their ideals and principles when they had to. They risked their lives for their idea of Singapore. They took the world as it is and were acutely conscious of our size and geography. But they never allowed themselves to be cowed or limited by our size or geography." the Ambassador-at-Large added.

Mr Kausikan went on to cite some instances when Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team "did not hesitate to stand up for their ideals and principles when they had to" risking their lives in the process for "their idea of Singapore".

"Independent Singapore would not have survived and prospered if they always behaved like the leaders of a small state as Kishore advocates. They did not earn the respect of the major powers and Singapore did not survive and prosper by being anybody's tame poodle."

"I am profoundly disappointed that Kishore should advocate subordination as a norm of Singapore foreign policy. It made me ashamed," Mr Kausikan said.


In his first response to the criticisms, Professor Mahbubani on Monday denied that his article was an attack on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, saying the piece was submitted to The Straits Times several weeks before the parliamentary debate on the dispute surrounding the 38 Oxley Road home.

Instead, he accused senior officials of taking the opportunity to "distract attention from their own contributions to our problems."

“My criticisms have hit home. In response, some of these senior officials are floating a canard that this article is an attack on PM because it appeared on the weekend before the parliamentary debate today. However, this argument is flawed because my article was submitted to the ST several weeks ago," said Professor Mahbubani.

“I wrote this article as I believe that some of our senior officials have been imprudent in their public statements,” he said. “As a result, there have been some serious mishaps in our external relations,” he added. 

Professor Mahbubani's commentary was defended by Dr Yap Kwong Weng, an Indochina regional advisor of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. 

In a response published in The Straits Times on Monday, Dr Yap said: "I find Bilahari's reply exaggerated and unnecessary. There is nothing 'flawed' or 'dangerous' about what Kishore had to say.

"Kishore stated that small states should not behave as if they are big states. He pointed out we will not have another Lee Kuan Yew any time soon. His key point was to be mindful not to overextend our capacity as a small nation. There was nothing wrong or disrespectful about this line of thinking."

Source: CNA/mn