Wednesday 7 August 2013

Singapore a small but relevant dot in the world: Shanmugam

By David Ee, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2013

BEING a small dot on the world map may make Singapore "intrinsically not relevant". But it has overcome this handicap by succeeding both economically and politically, said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

Singapore's geographical size "means that people will talk to us only if we are relevant. We are only relevant if we are successful".

The country's relevance is seen in the active roles it plays in international and regional forums like the United Nations and Asean, despite its size, added Mr Shanmugam at this year's Foreign Service Scholarship Awards.

For instance, he cited Singapore's role in establishing more than 30 Free Trade Agreements with other countries, and having defence arrangements with Asean nations.

Having a voice at these multilateral discussions is "far more important for us than for a bigger country", he explained.

He noted that global decisions, whether in the United Nations or the World Trade Organisation, can have serious impact on the country, because of Singapore's size and openness to trade.

"Diplomacy is our first line of defence ... I tell all of our officers: 'If you're not at the table, you could end up being on the menu'," he told about 100 guests, including scholars old and new.

"We as a small country need international order that is governed by (the UN's) framework.

"(And) if something changes in the international trading system, that impacts on us, right?

"But you think anybody cares whether (it does)?"

Four scholars, selected from hundreds of applications, received their awards yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tanglin.

Mr Lian Kay Hian, 19, received the Overseas Merit Scholarship (Foreign Service).

Mr Leon Lau, 21, and Ms Natasha Rodrigues and Ms Natasha Sim, both 19, all received the Singapore Government Scholarship (Foreign Service).

Mr Lau, who through his wide travels and interest in languages was drawn to a career with the foreign service, was acutely aware of the importance of diplomacy to Singapore.

"If overnight we are wiped out, the world moves on," said the Raffles Institution graduate, who speaks French and will be studying under the Europe-North America Programme at Sciences Po in France.

"(But) we create a very good name for ourselves overseas. We punch above our weight."

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