Friday, 8 May 2015

Former Senior Minister S Jayakumar launches memoir

By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 7 May 2015

A SMALL state like Singapore could be eaten alive on the world stage, but with nimble manoeuvring and resolute action, it can carve out a seat at the table with world leaders.

Former senior minister S. Jayakumar's new book seeks to bring to life this lesson, honed over 31 years in politics, for a new generation. Launched yesterday, Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu: A Singapore Memoir covers the veteran minister's life from his post-war boyhood and career as a law academic, to his long political career that ended with retirement in 2011.

The memoir draws its title from Professor Jayakumar's philosophy as foreign minister, a post he held from 1994 to 2004 and which, of all his portfolios, most defined his political legacy.

At the book launch yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Prof Jayakumar, 75, said he hopes his memoir will illustrate that Singapore should "never be deterred by the fact that we are a small country - we can still play a role on the world stage".

Both the new book and a previous one in 2011, titled Diplomacy: A Singapore Experience, reveal how Singapore has used a combination of support for international law, coalition-building with other like-minded states, and a resolve not to be pushed around by bigger nations, to maintain a seat at the global table.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the guest of honour, said the book "reminds us of the harsh reality of international affairs, especially for a small country with little clout".

"Things have gone well for us for so long that people sometimes do not realise that we can still easily be turfed off and become an item on the menu, and this has not happened only because of the quiet and unremitting efforts of Jaya and others like him."

Calling him a "mentor and old friend", PM Lee said Prof Jayakumar played a major role in all the key constitutional and legislative changes of the last 30 years. He helmed portfolios like Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Law and Labour and oversaw national security and climate change issues.

When Mr Lee entered politics in 1984, Prof Jayakumar introduced him to the media; when Mr Lee became Prime Minister in 2004, he asked Prof Jayakumar, whom he knew to have "wise counsel, insightful criticism and tactful advice", to be his deputy.

"His experience and clarity added ballast and judgment to my Cabinet," PM Lee told the audience that included retired and current ministers and diplomats.

On a lighter note, he added that he learnt something new from the book: that its author is a "talented amateur painter". Last night, PM Lee posted on Facebook a photo of Prof Jayakumar's "striking" oil painting of a tree against a vivid red and yellow background.

The book is dedicated to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, "who made possible the Singapore Story", wrote Prof Jayakumar.

The memoir ends with a moving e-mail exchange between the two men in 2011, after they both retired from Cabinet. The late Mr Lee always urged younger leaders to "keep the Singapore story going", said Prof Jayakumar.

It was this same message he wanted to convey to a new generation by writing down his life's work, he told reporters.

The book, published by Straits Times Press, is available at leading bookstores or online at from today, for $27.82 (GST included).

Prof Jayakumar is donating his royalties to MFA's adopted charity The Rainbow Centre, which helps children with special needs.

The following is a 2011 e-mail exchange between then Senior Minister S. Jayakumar and then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, after both men stepped down from the Cabinet following the May 2011 General Election.

Mr Lee to Jayakumar: You have been a staunch and persevering comrade

Dear MM,

The closing part of today's Cabinet meeting was an emotional one for me. There was much I wanted to say to thank you not only as a Cabinet colleague but as a Singaporean for all that you have done for our country and people.

But I could not bring myself to say that as I was close to tears.

So I am using the rather impersonal medium of the e-mail to say it. My life, and outlook to life and Singapore completely changed when I joined politics and had the opportunity to work closely with you first as an MOS (minister of state) and then as a minister.

The way with which you approached difficult issues with the national interest uppermost in mind had a profound impact on me. In later years when I headed various ministries I have tried hard to imbue younger Cabinet colleagues who worked with me, as well as senior civil servants, with the same approach that I had learnt from you.

When you stepped down but still attended Cabinet meetings as MM (Minister Mentor), I could see that the younger, newer office holders benefited from your analysis and reflections of current events in the "post-Cab" discussions. It is a pity that the new ministers in the next Cabinet will not have the same advantage.

But, as you have said, Loong has to move on with a new team.

Thank you for what you have done for Singapore and, on a personal note, thank you for your patience with me when I worked as your minister in MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) and Min FA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).



Dear Jaya,

Your e-mail moved me deeply. We have fought many a battle together and depended on each other's trust and judgment for over 30 years. You have been a staunch and persevering comrade and contributed much to the stability and well-being of today's Singapore. You were fit enough to have gone on for another term but chose to make way for fresh blood.

My work is done. Now I must make sure that we will (serve) TPGRC (Tanjong Pagar GRC) with a younger and more vigorous team. We are in a more complex environment than before.

Yours ever,

Kuan Yew

Why did ex-Senior Minister S. Jayakumar pick up inline skating in his 60s? Excerpts from his memoir
By Chew Hui Min, The Straits Times, 7 May 2015

Former Senior Minister S. Jayakumar's memoir, launched on Wednesday, contains insights from his 31 years in politics and anecdotes from his personal life.

Professor Jayakumar is donating his royalties from the book, Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu: A Singapore Memoir, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' adopted charity The Rainbow Centre, which helps children with special needs.

The 224-page volume is available at leading bookstores at $27.82 (GST inclusive). It can also be ordered from the Straits Times Press Online Bookstore

Here are a few interesting excerpts from the memoir:

1. A short stint as a reporter in 1959

"My stint as a journalist was quite exciting. One felt a sense of importance in knowing the latest news before it went into the public domain. I have three distinct memories of those six months as a journalist...

"The third memory concerns a gangland-style murder in Chinatown. Secret societies were rampant in Singapore then. I arrived at the scene with a cameraman. The bloodstained body was still on the five-foot way.

"The police had questioned the victim's wife and family. I tried to extract as much information as I could from the police officer. He shook his head in frustration, saying that the wife and relatives all knew who had done it. Other witnesses could also identify the assailant but no one was prepared to give a statement. They feared reprisals if they had to testify in court.

That episode had a profound impact on me and later shaped my views on the need for the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act which provides for preventive detention."

2. Marriage and family

"My parents were very conservative Indians. They seemed very concerned that in my late twenties I was showing no interest in marriage and spent many late nights out.

"Sometime in 1968, I planned a trip to Penang by car with S Rajendran, a good friend from law school days... When my parents got wind of this, they asked me to stop over in KL to meet a Dr Rajahram and his daughter Lalitha, who was also a doctor... I quietly fobbed off my parents' attempt by telling them that our travel plan to Penang did not include a stop in KL.

"When I mentioned this to Rajendran, his response was, why not? What is the harm in meeting the girl? So that was how I turned up in KL, visited the family of Dr Rajahram, and met Lalitha... The rest is history, and after a few months, we got married in January 1969."

3. Working with three Prime Ministers

On Mr Lee Kuan Yew:

"My first observation is that Mr Lee was a perfect gentleman. He made it a point to have regular lunches with the younger Ministers of State, like Yeo Ning Hong and myself. It was his systematic way of getting to know us better... When the Istana waiter brought the food, he always insisted that we be served first. These may seem small things, but to me it spoke much of the man who was the leader of a country."

On Mr Goh Chok Tong:

"Chok Tong had a very easy and approachable way of dealing with foreign leaders and this enabled him to establish a good rapport with them. Whether it was with President Bill Clinton, Indian Prime Minister PV Narashima Rao, Japan's Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto or Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, I noticed that they hit it off after their first meeting."

On Mr Lee Hsien Loong:

"He was a very intense person, a profound thinker and a leader who was hands-on with any important issue. Whatever the subject matter, he would know as much, or even more about the subject, than the minister. This applied to even legal matters. He was not legally trained, but when we had difficult legal issues, including constitutional issues, he could hold his own.

4. Perils of official travels: Panic on flight to Cuba

"On 9 May 2007, after an official trip to Panama, I took an evening flight on Copa Airline from Panama for an official visit to Cuba. Lalitha was with me and we had an accompanying delegation of officials... Unexpectedly, just 20 minutes into the flight, the aircraft suddenly fell several thousand metres.

"Pandemonium broke out. It was a scene of utter chaos, with passengers panicking when some of the oxygen masks malfunctioned and did not inflate. Some passengers actually began grabbing the masks of others when theirs did not work."

5. Retiring from political life

Learning inline skating after 60:

"My friends thought I was crazy when in my late 60s I took up inline skating. I was having coffee with my daughter at an outdoor cafe in New York City when a couple whizzed by on rollerblades. I told her that it looked very interesting and she encouraged me to take it up. I did.

"As she did not play golf, this was one way of bonding with her. We used to skate in East Coast Park very early in the morning before going to work. Lalitha and my sons joined us on weekends. Lalitha and I were the oldest couple on the block."

Taking up painting:

"In recent years, I decided to take up painting. My brother Govindasamy was very good in drawing. I guess it rubbed off on me. As kids we would draw our own comics and share these with friends.

"Later I painted murals of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and other Disney characters on the bedroom walls for my children when they were young. These were very amateurish efforts."

"You're the tour agent, right?"

"Retirement can have its funny moments. About eight months after retiring, I took my three-year-old granddaughter Ellora for an outing at the Singapore Cable Car... After a ride in a cable car, which she enjoyed tremendously, we came down to the ground floor where there were various kiosks selling souvenirs.

"She was attracted to some pencils with plastic animal figurines on top of the pencil heads. She grabbed a fistful of five or six pencils. I asked the sales lady at the kiosk for the price and was taken aback when she said each pencil cost $8.

"Ellora was engrossed in admiring the pencils and I noticed that the lady was all this time staring intently at me. Then she said, with a Singlish twang, 'You, ahh... I know you...' I told myself, OK here is the part when she says you are the minister.

"But that is not what she said.

"She continued: 'Ahh, I know you... you are the tour agent right? You bring the tourists here right?'"

Scared to sound preachy? Not me

In his memoir Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu launched this week, Professor S. Jayakumar, a former deputy prime minister who helmed several ministries, offers rare glimpses of his growing-up years and his three decades in government. His main goal, though, is to show that all here have a role to play in keeping the Singapore success story going. Here is an edited excerpt from the book.
The Straits Times, 9 May 2015

IT HAS been several years since I stepped down from political office. I am now 75 years old. I have seen Singapore succeed against all odds.

Like many others of my generation, I have a deep interest in ensuring Singapore's continuance as the vibrant, successful country that it has become. Singapore is the only home for our children and grandchildren.

Two of my most treasured books are autographed copies of Lee Kuan Yew's two volumes of memoirs. He autographed them for all his Cabinet colleagues, including myself.

In his first book, The Singapore Story, he inscribed:

"Jaya, Keep the Singapore Story going, Lee Kuan Yew, 1998."

In his second book, From Third World To First, he wrote:

"To Jaya, You have to contribute to the sequel to the Singapore Story, Lee Kuan Yew, 2000."

How do we keep the Singapore Story going? As I reflect on this question, and wonder what the future holds in store for Singapore, I recall something I wrote 33 years ago, in 1982.

"Whether present and future generations will preserve this heritage, build on it and advance even further or whether they allow the inheritance to disintegrate and the country to stagnate will depend on whether succeeding generations will apply themselves with the same dedication, commitment and fervour in every important field."

Some close friends, who knew that I was writing this book, advised me: Please don't be preachy! They also added: Do not make it sound like a PAP minister's speech. They said Singaporeans are tired of being told ad nauseam how small and vulnerable we are, not to take our success for granted, that we must work hard, and so on.

That may be so, but we do need to think through the question: Can we keep this Singapore success story "going", as Lee Kuan Yew urges? In addressing this question, I guess some may criticise me for being "preachy".

Some may say that I sound like a PAP minister. I make no apology for that. The PAP Government has been a huge factor for Singapore's success. I am proud that it has been an important part of my life's work and I am proud to have been part of the Government.

It is an important question that all Singaporeans must think about. In fact, it is an issue which is even preoccupying the minds of discerning foreigners. As I mentioned in the section on "The Importance of Soft Diplomacy", many other countries admire what we have achieved and wish to emulate us. However, at the same time, some foreigners are questioning how long we can continue our success. For example, in late 2014, a major Japanese conglomerate with huge investments in Singapore convened a meeting in Singapore of their regional representatives. They invited me to speak to them at a closed-door session. I asked their CEO what they wished to hear from me.

He said: "Professor, we know the factors which have made Singapore what it is today. The world is changing. Singapore is changing. We want to know whether in 15 to 20 years, Singapore will still be as successful as it is today."

This is a question which Singaporeans should also be asking.

In a perceptive article, (Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy dean) Kishore Mahbubani asked: "Can Singapore fail?"

He analysed three strategic strengths of Singapore: that it is the world's most globalised nation, its system of good governance and its ethnic harmony. He warned of the dangers of not ever conceiving the possibility of failure. He stressed that he "did not believe Singapore is going to fail".

I, too, do not think Singapore will fail in the sense that we will one day find ourselves in such an unbelievably parlous state that we have to crawl back to re-join Malaysia, or desperately appeal for international assistance to save us.

However, can we imagine Singapore slowly sliding back from First World to Third World? The truthful answer must be, yes, it can indeed happen. History has many examples of countries and cities which have flourished, only to stagnate and go down the slippery slope into decline and decay - Venice, Genoa and the Roman Empire, to name a few.

I have visited Sri Lanka as well as Myanmar. The older-generation leaders in those countries reminisced that in the 1950s, their countries were flourishing nations.

They reminded me that Sri Lanka was once viewed as "the Jewel of the East". In those days, they said with some nostalgia, Singapore had hoped to emulate them. They lamented that their countries had declined and it is they who wished to emulate Singapore.

As I recall those conversations, I wonder if a few decades from now, the same comment might be made of a past glorious and successful Singapore.

A few years before Kishore wrote his essay, I had set out my own views on certain core principles and policies. These had been established over the years by Lee Kuan Yew and the first generation of Singapore's founding fathers after they took over the reins and set the directions for a fledgling independent Singapore. Those key principles and policies have been the ingredients for our success. They underpin our society and way of life. They are well known to most Singaporeans but we should not take them for granted. If we fail to maintain observance of high standards in implementing these principles and policies, then I fear it would be very difficult to maintain our success story.

To reflect on this scenario - whether Singapore could decline - we need to have some appreciation of these factors which have accounted for the success of today's Singapore. At the same time, we must ask ourselves whether it is axiomatic that each of these factors can be easily sustained. I shall now elaborate on each of these principles and policies.


THIS is the principle by which every Singaporean has the opportunity to fulfil his potential on merit, so long as he has the ability and is willing to work hard. The Government facilitates this by creating equal opportunities and a level playing field for all Singaporeans. Education is made available to all, with scholarships and assistance to help those with talent who lack the financial means.

This is one of the cornerstones of our system of governance and it must remain so. I have visited many countries where appointments to key positions or awards of scholarships and bursaries are all contingent upon knowing the right people. One has to either have the right connections or one has to do the appropriate favours for the right people.

In late 2014, I met a top official of an international arbitral body. She was quite intrigued to learn that in Singapore, the Minister for Law (K. Shanmugam), the Chief Justice (Sundaresh Menon), the Attorney-General (V. K. Rajah) and Deputy Prime Minister (Tharman Shanmugaratnam) are all of Indian origin. How is that, she asked, when Singapore's population is mainly of Chinese origin? My response was: This is a very good example of how meritocracy works in Singapore.

If we did not have meritocracy, not only would we not have capable and competent people to formulate policies and decisions but also our people as a whole would lose confidence in the system of governance. They would not have respect for the decision-makers or have faith in the soundness of their policies and decisions.

Multiculturalism, racial/religious harmony and pragmatic language policy

SINGAPORE is the only independent country other than China where the majority is ethnic Chinese. However, the founding leaders wisely decided not to project Singapore as a "Chinese" country. Rather, we see ourselves as a distinctive, multicultural nation, whose destiny is tied up with that of the region, and whose people, of diverse origins, have decided to make this their home.

This approach has had profound impact both domestically as well as in our foreign relations. Minorities in Singapore do not feel sidelined; they feel that they have a stake in the country. Many other countries, even First World countries, are beset with intractable problems of sectarian tensions and violence, which have led to bloodshed and civil strife.

Maintaining racial and religious harmony in Singapore is another important cornerstone of our society and system of governance. It is not just a desirable end. It is a fundamental tenet essential for our stability, and sets the tone and tenor of our society. From the beginning, racial and religious harmony has been embedded into the DNA of our society.

Our racial harmony is a truly precious asset of Singapore that sets us apart from many other countries. However, considerable effort is needed to maintain this tenet. Race, language and religion are highly emotional issues. They can easily give rise to misunderstandings. From my own personal experience, I know that even in modern-day Singapore, there are deep-seated, almost visceral feelings over these issues among some Singaporeans. For instance, when (my wife) Lalitha and I decided on Mandarin as a second language for our children, I received brickbats from some members of the Tamil community, who complained that I was letting down Tamil language and Tamil culture.

Race, language and religion are also prone to exploitation by extremist groups and individuals - for political or other ends - sometimes it may be sheer misguided, thoughtless comments on the Internet that can cause damage. Preserving racial harmony is not just about being vigilant and supervising online publishing. We need to inculcate in generations of Singaporeans the importance of racial and religious harmony through national education.

From time to time, there will be challenges that make it important to redouble our efforts. For example, the debate over immigration policies did bring about some disturbing negative reactions to foreigners, especially to new Chinese and Indian immigrants. When the Jemaah Islamiah group was uncovered in 2001, I also sensed some apprehensions among the non-Muslim population.

We will continue to have such challenges. The Government and leaders of ethnic and civil-society groups need to work very closely to ensure that the fabric of our racial harmony is not impaired.

As for language policy, Lee Kuan Yew and his team made a pivotal decision to defuse language as a divisive issue. They established four official languages and made Malay, the language of a minority, our national language. I have visitors from abroad who are quite amazed that our National Anthem is sung in Malay, and that commands in the armed forces are in Malay.

They also took a practical, pragmatic approach to make English, which is the language of international commerce and technology, the working language for administration and the main medium of education. This key language policy gave us an edge over other countries that, on independence, jettisoned English for political or nationalistic reasons. At the same time, tough action was taken against language extremists who tried to stir up trouble over language issues.

Pursuit of Excellence

IN MY 2010 S. Rajaratnam Lecture, I said: "The second factor (for Singapore's success) is the quality of leadership at all levels. I think it has earned us tremendous clout and respect. MM's stature and the respect which he has on the international stage has been a huge plus for Singapore. Not just MM - our PMs, SM Goh Chok Tong and PM Lee Hsien Loong, and other ministers. It is not a secret that there are other leaders who seek out their views and advice, especially on regional developments.

"Not just that - also the quality of our officials at various levels. Ambassadors, permanent secretaries, defence chiefs and chiefs of intelligence departments are all highly regarded names as well, Tommy Koh, Kishore Mahbubani, Chan Heng Chee, they are known in many parts of the world."

We should be neither boastful nor complacent that we are "No. 1" in many competitiveness rankings and global surveys. The fact is that we are competing against the rest of the world and the competition is getting sharper. Let us not forget that most other countries are bigger and generously endowed with natural resources.

Striving for excellence in all that we do has given Singapore a valuable brand name. If we do not continue to excel and endeavour to be exceptional, we will fall by the wayside and become irrelevant.

As a small city-state, investing in our people - their education, their housing, their employment and their well-being - is critical. Equally important is our readiness to induct new talent at all levels of society - in government, in the public sector and private sector. We have also welcomed foreign talent who we need for our growth, and encouraged them to put down roots and become citizens.

The debates and reactions to the policies of immigration and the attraction of new talent worry me. I take it as fair comment and criticism that the Government might have brought in too many immigrants at, perhaps, too fast a rate. The Government has since been addressing that issue and has been recalibrating the pace of immigration.

However, Singapore's success has been due to a policy that has always welcomed talented foreigners. Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote in 1982: "What was the most important single factor for Singapore's rapid development since 1959? Without hesitation, my answer is the quality of our people."

He then explained that continuous inflow of foreign talent was important. "If we had relied solely upon the talent of our natural population pyramid, Singapore's performance would not have been half as good." He also cited the fact that in his first Cabinet in 1959, only two of the nine ministers were born in Singapore.

Mr Lee expressed those views in 1982. Since then, our birth rate has declined further and our demographic profile is even more worrying. These realities leave us with little choice. We cannot have economic growth without an immigration policy that ensures optimal inflow of foreign talent.

Of course, the numbers of foreigners we can have in each sector, and the pace of inflow, would have to be carefully decided, bearing in mind not only economic but also social and cultural considerations. Singaporeans would need to accept, or at least acquiesce in, having that number of foreign talent.

However, if Singaporeans react in a way that makes it impossible for the Government to achieve that optimal number then, over time, we will have slower economic growth and Singapore surely must decline.

Small states are rarely invited to the table

"Singapore is a small state. This geopolitical reality sets the operating context for our foreign policy. International diplomacy is dominated by the big players. The greater the size and power, the more clout a country has. In this inhospitable environment, a continuing challenge for small countries is how to be a relevant player and how to create economic and diplomatic space. Small countries have to be agile, nimble and creative.

"In my 2010 S. Rajaratnam Lecture, I said: 'You are either at the table, or you are on the menu.' Small states are rarely invited to the table. In fact, to get a place in the room would itself be an achievement.

"However, this does not mean that a small country cannot be a player.

"This depends on how it projects itself and how the state makes itself useful to other countries. Singapore has done quite well.

"Elsewhere, I have given examples of how Singapore was instrumental in spearheading institutions like the Forum of Small States, Asean Regional Forum and Asia-Europe Meeting. Some of these initiatives were ideas of our political leaders, but I would give credit to the untiring efforts of our diplomatic officers who worked out the strategy and lobbied hard to transform ideas into reality.

"Nations, whether big or small, are driven by hard-nosed considerations of national interests, realpolitik and strategic objectives. Often, these national interests are presented as furtherance of noble, altruistic goals such as human rights and pursuit of peace. However, in my experience, there is much hypocrisy and double standards in international diplomacy. A small country like Singapore must always bear this in mind when interacting with other nations."

'Quality of next-gen leaders will be critical factor'

Former Senior Minister S. Jayakumar has released a memoir covering his boyhood, career as a law academic, and 31 years in politics. Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu takes its title from his philosophy as Foreign Minister, a post he held from 1994 to 2004. He tells Rachel Chang his views on a post-Lee Kuan Yew future, why Government cannot sit back on issues of race and religion, and why he has no desire to return to public life, even to the Istana - a question asked of him in 2011.
The Straits Times, 16 May 2015

Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu sums up Singapore's approach to foreign affairs. How does Singapore keep its seat at the table as a second superpower, China, emerges?

It's the nature of every big power to try to line up as many smaller countries on their side. So it's not surprising that China would want to have Singapore's support on many issues but, at the same time, the United States, too, wants to line up as many countries. So what do we do? We have to demonstrate, as best as we can, that just like them, we are driven by calculations of our national interest. We don't want to go out of our way to upset or annoy any country, but if our interests coincide, we will support them on an issue. If our interests do not coincide, we will disagree.

And that's why in my books (both this one and 2011's Diplomacy: A Singapore Experience), I (recounted) episodes where sometimes China tried to bully us, sometimes the US tried to bully us. I hope the way we've exercised our foreign policy over the years has shown the US and China that we want to be on good relations with both. Sometimes we disagree with one, but it doesn't mean we are permanently on the side of the other.

Singapore is not a claimant in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but it is also under pressure from China and Asean. Asean countries which are claimant states want the grouping to stand with them. But China insists these are bilateral disputes that non-claimants should not interfere with. How do you think Singapore should handle this situation?

We place emphasis on two things: firstly, the observance of international law, which means both general international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and, in particular, the maintenance of the rights of navigation and overflight in the sea lanes of communication. That's where our national interest lies in South China Sea maritime claims.

Secondly, the other prong of Singapore's foreign policy on this is: Support Asean.

But when I say support Asean - Asean does not have a territorial claim as such, nor does Asean have a position on the rights and wrongs or the merits and demerits of any particular claim. Asean's position is that these disputes must be resolved in a way that avoids tensions or conflict, and is in accordance with international law. That is in sync with Singapore's position.

Avoidance of tensions and conflict must be of paramount importance for us if Asean is not to be distracted in its developmental aspirations for each member state.

So that is, I think, Singapore's role. Basically, Asean has to persuade other countries - including some of the claimant states which are Asean countries, and China - that it is in the best interest of all to resolve this in accordance with international law and, most importantly, in a way that does not heighten tensions and conflict.

Some say Singapore's counsel will no longer be sought out by bigger countries after the passing of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, whose insight and analysis was prized by big-power leaders.

It is true that the leaders sought out his views. (But) leaders have also sought out the analysis and views of (Emeritus Senior Minister) Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, (Deputy Prime Minister) Tharman Shanmugaratnam. So Mr Lee Kuan Yew's shoes are not easy to fill. But so long as Singapore is viewed as successful, a small country which has carved out a certain role in the region and in global affairs, people will be interested to know what makes Singapore tick - and what are the views its leaders have.

So the quality of the leaders after Mr Lee Kuan Yew is going to be a critical factor. The succeeding generations of leaders can make their own niche, their own mark and expertise.

So it may not be one new Lee Kuan Yew, but it can be several individuals who are highly regarded. Different people can fill different roles, and by leaders I don't just mean Cabinet ministers, but everybody else - permanent secretaries, diplomats, etc.

Collectively, they make up an image, and the reputation of Singapore. So that may be the post-Lee Kuan Yew future. It's not one towering figure but a mosaic of many different individuals that make up the Singapore story.

In your book, you say you're not pessimistic about Singapore's future the way some others are, because you see in young Singaporeans an innate pride in, and passion for, Singapore.

Yes, I'm not as despondent as some people about the attitudes of the younger people. Innate pride is critical. You cannot expect people to make the extra effort for the country if they don't feel pride in a country.

Look at the number of young people who were part of the process of paying tribute to Mr Lee. Now, you may need a psychologist to analyse what all that means. But there seemed to be a genuine feeling of sorrow about his passing. And inherent in that feeling was also an appreciation of what is the Singapore he helped to shape. That is also a good sign.

Pride, passion and patriotism cannot be achieved overnight. Often this is acquired over many generations and hundreds of years, after periods of disasters, suffering, victories. So it is a tall order to expect to achieve this quickly for our young nation. But I sense the process has begun. It's only if people feel neutral about the country, then I'll be worried.

The nature of politics will change. Nothing is cast in stone (and) politics will evolve. But I'm thinking about the long-term future.

Of course, how do you avoid a sense of (the young) taking for granted (success) - that is a challenge. Singapore really has not had a major calamity or terrible crisis to bring about solidarity.

So when major crises are absent over a long period of time, there is, by nature, a tendency to take what you see around to be the normal. There's a danger in that. How do you overcome that? It's not easy. It requires a lot of political education and hopefully Singaporeans travel and see how things are in other countries.

One theme in your book is how Singapore aggressively dealt with any race-, religion- or language-related offences. Will this approach continue to be accepted by a new generation more used to self-expression?

Race, language and religion are very emotive, almost primeval instincts. And I think it will take many generations before we can say that these factors are not important. The vast

majority is not a problem, but there's always a small group, whether they are hot-headed, over-zealous or just bigoted, who can create a lot of mischief and problems.

And Singapore is unlike other countries. There are other countries where a city can have a few weeks of riots, looting and destruction, and the rest of the country survives. You see the riots in Baltimore or in Ferguson (Michigan) in the United States. But the rest of the US survives.

Singapore is a city and it's a country. We just cannot (do that). So it's right that we take these things seriously.

There's been a spate of people charged over race or related offences. Are you concerned that it's a rising trend?

I'm not sure the trend is growing, but I strongly support nipping such things in the bud. You have to take action before it gets out of control. That's what I think has kept Singapore safe and sound.

It's always lurking there. And when it manifests itself, you either (use) counselling if he was just misguided, hot-headed or foolish; where it's deliberate mischief, then you have to prosecute. So which instrument you use, whether it's the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, the criminal law or the Sedition Act or, in an extreme case, the Internal Security Act, that has to be carefully calibrated. But action has to be taken.

Some see the authorities as overreacting for arresting anyone who makes a careless remark on social media. It may also prevent the maturing of public discourse here.

There's freedom of speech, but freedom of speech can never be absolute. And in Singapore's context, one very important exception to freedom of speech is that you shall not provoke ill-will amongst races, religions or languages. I think that must be hard-coded in Singapore's approach to law, order and stability because we have seen how it has led to widespread problems in other countries. And all the more so on the Internet, because its anonymity and the speed at which certain things go viral can cause greater damage in faster time.

I'm sure for every offending remark, there are many who have responded with outrage and condemnation. But that does not mean that as Government, you don't act. You have to act. Certain benchmarks are necessary to be set in every society. And for Singapore, if we believe in multiracialism, I think that benchmark is extremely important. That's what has distinguished Singapore from many other countries.

You spent 31 years in public life before retiring before the 2011 General Election. You write about how you've taken up inline-skating, kendo and other hobbies in retirement. Any desire to return to public life? Your name has been mentioned as a presidential candidate.

Well, for the last Presidential Election (in 2011), I was asked the question and I ruled myself out.

I was then several years younger. And now when I'm going to be 76, it's all the more reason for me not to change my position. I've had a very fulfilling and interesting period of three decades in politics and I think I've made a contribution. For me, it was quite important to make a clean break with public life. We cannot be half-retired and half-not-retired. So I did express a wish that when I step down, I step down both as an MP and as a minister. That was my preference.

No comments:

Post a Comment