SINGAPORE: Singapore must stand firm to preserve its “fundamental interests”, even if the country comes under heavy pressure, or despite a temporary downturn in bilateral relations, said former President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Tuesday (Nov 28).
He said the country should not shy away from standing up for its vital interests, even if things inevitably turn sour for a while.
Dr Tan was speaking at the S Rajaratnam Lecture 2017 – a platform for distinguished public figures to speak on topics related to diplomacy and international relations.
As Singapore works to preserve its interests, he said the country should not hesitate to seek solutions through diplomacy, negotiations or third-party dispute settlement.
Dr Tan added that Singapore has been tested by big and small countries on matters fundamental to its sovereignty and national interests since independence.
This includes issues concerning sovereignty, such as the dispute over Pedra Branca with Malaysia, and matters concerning the honouring of international agreements, such as the terms of water agreements with Malaysia.
Skilled diplomacy is needed to manage differences with other countries and to keep a fine balance in external relations, he said.
“Diplomacy is not just about having 'friendly' relations at all costs. It is about promoting friendly relations as a way to protect and advance our own important interests," said Dr Tan.
"We don’t compromise our national interests in order to have good relations. The sequence matters."
Ultimately, foreign policy serves to safeguard Singapore’s interests and Singaporeans’ freedom to chart their own paths, added Dr Tan.
He also cautioned about forces that seek to divide a country, including misinformation through the spreading of fake news and falsehoods.
Singapore is not immune to such threats, said Dr Tan, being one of the most connected societies in the world.
“It is imperative that Singapore remains vigilant against those who seek to mount insidious information campaigns to influence segments of our population for their own ends," he said.
"Singapore cannot tolerate attempts by foreign countries or entities to manipulate our people’s sentiments."
He urged people to question what they read, exercise judgement, and not to take information at face value.
This includes foreign policy commentaries or opinion pieces, said Dr Tan who urged the audience to ask who stands to benefit from the views seen in those articles.