Sunday 19 October 2014

ESM Goh Chok Tong at S Rajaratnam Lecture 2014

Republic needs robust foreign policy to fly: ESM Goh
By Charissa Yong and Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE'S foreign policy is as vital for its continued success as its domestic policy and, for this reason, the country cannot afford to have an inward mentality of a small, barricaded island, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday.

"Like a bird, a country needs two wings to fly - a domestic wing and an external wing. One cannot do without the other," he said at the annual S. Rajaratnam Lecture organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This interdependency and how Singapore put into practice the basic tenets of its foreign policy formed the heart of Mr Goh's speech, who as prime minister from 1990 to 2004 is hailed for further advancing the country's presence on the world stage.

Among his foreign policy successes was helping Singapore make inroads into India and the Middle East, and initiating the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attended this week in Italy.

But such success hinges on respect which, in turn, requires Singapore to have good governance and policies, Mr Goh said.

"A mediocre Singapore would not command the respect of foreign leaders, and even the most brilliant diplomats would be powerless to wield much influence on Singapore's behalf."

He said the basic tenets of Singapore's foreign policy as set out by its founding fathers are: safeguarding its sovereignty, enhancing its security and expanding its international space.

Mr Goh identified three principles crucial for advancing these imperatives successfully.

These are: clearly defined foreign policy objectives, delivering on its proposals, and seeking win-win outcomes where Singapore's interests are aligned with those of its international friends.

A well-led government and a competent public service are decisive for a good track record, he added.

"If a government is mired in parochial institutional interests and turf sensitivities, the best ideas will come to naught and our international credibility will suffer," he told an audience of 500 government officials, students and diplomats, including Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong.

Mr Ong later moderated a question-and-answer session, with Mr Goh fielding questions on matters such as the Hong Kong protests.

In his speech, Mr Goh related several personal anecdotes, including how he got then US President Bill Clinton to agree to a US-Singapore free trade agreement in 2000 during an APEC Leaders meeting. After playing golf way past midnight, he pitched the idea. Mr Clinton agreed. And it was all done in "under 20 minutes", said Mr Goh.

Noting how PM Lee and his team have "ably steered Singapore through treacherous seas over the past decade", he argued for "the need to leave our politics at the water's edge".

"If Singapore is hobbled by fractious domestic politics, our leaders will have less time and energy for foreign policy. Our external wing will be weakened."

It is not as if Singaporeans and the domestic economy do not benefit from a robust foreign policy, he added.

Looking back on his years at the helm, he said: "We need the world more than the world needs us." Singapore's external trade is four times its gross domestic product, he noted.

This is why Singapore's prime ministers have and must always play an active role in advancing the country's external interests, even as they pay attention to domestic priorities, said Mr Goh.

Quoting the late foreign minister S. Rajaratnam, he said: "As Raja said in 1965, cherish independence without denying the reality of interdependence (of nations)."

In ESM Goh's words

- In response to retired diplomat Chan Heng Wing, who observed that there are some people in Singapore who are "trying to learn the whole process of demonstrations" from places such as Hong Kong:
"Bear in mind that (Singapore) is a place which has done well. If there are gross injustices in Singapore - the Government is oppressive and the people are not benefiting from the rule of the Government - then I think (demonstrations) will come naturally. You cannot control it.

Our advantage is we have run Singapore well. And those who want to demonstrate, it's just small groups here and there. So the key to avoid demonstration and protests will be: Govern Singapore well, fairly, equitably, and ensure that everybody can move up this ladder of progress."

- In response to Singapore's Non-Resident Ambassador to Kuwait Zainul Abidin Rasheed, who asked about Singapore's challenges in remaining relevant to China:
"It is actually quite a challenge for us, because the Chinese learnt very fast. So we kept on asking ourselves: 'This year, what do I have to offer China? Next year, what do I have to offer?' The time will come when the Chinese will know much more than us in many things, where you can't offer them anything of value.

Well, then you've got to be learning from China. But that's a very different relationship."

- In response to a student from Anderson Junior College, who asked about Singapore's position in the Israel-Gaza conflict, given the strong defence ties with Israel:
"I think standing up for principles is very important. We have spoken up against the killing of innocent people, and we had urged both sides to get together to talk, come to some terms.

From the Israelis' point of view, they said, 'Gaza - if you stop your intrusions, your tunnelling into our territory, we stop the bombing.' So you get into this chicken-and-egg situation. So we have spoken up against the loss of lives in the Gaza Strip."

- In response to retired diplomat Chan Heng Wing, on whether increased debate on foreign issues here is detrimental to domestic politics:
"It depends on the issues which they import into Singapore. If they import issues which do not have much to do with Singapore, (which are) just purely because of their beliefs in certain values practised elsewhere or certain causes, then I think that's detrimental to our interests.

Supposing Singaporeans were more interested in discussing how events in the US, Europe, China affect us domestically, I think that's useful. (But) I don't see that happening very much.

ISIS, I think, is worth debating. It's not just a matter for the Syrians, the Middle East, the Americans, it affects all of us.

But that issue has got to be debated sensibly. It's not something which you do just at Hong Lim Park to resolve it."

'No leader operates in a vacuum': ESM Goh
By Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Oct 2014

A robust, effective and credible foreign policy is vital to sustaining Singapore's domestic growth, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at the annual S Rajaratnam Lecture on Friday (Oct 17).

He said any leader seeking to govern Singapore must play an active role in advancing external interests, while also focusing on domestic priorities.

As Singapore's Prime Minister for 14 years - from November 1990 to August 2004 - Mr Goh has several foreign policy successes under his belt. These include initiating the Asia-Europe Meeting and negotiating some 15 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

But while his foreign policy has always taken a pragmatic approach, Mr Goh said that interests must be defended stoutly, even at the expense of short-term tensions in bilateral relations. He cited tensions between the United States and Singapore in the 1990s, following the caning of Michael Fay.

He had his sights set on a US-Singapore FTA then. So, in November 2000, he found an opportune time to ask then-US President Bill Clinton to join him for a game of golf. He made a pitch for the FTA after the game and Mr Clinton agreed.

"My good personal relations with Mr Clinton also helped to restore normalcy to our bilateral relationship following the Michael Fay episode. But the crucial factor was having a strategic and decisive counterpart,” said Mr Goh.

He added: “National interests are foremost in determining a country's foreign policy, but personal chemistry and relationships are important enabling factors. No leader operates in a vacuum."

He outlined how foreign policy goals are shaped by preserving Singapore's sovereignty, enhancing security and expanding international space. But to exercise influence in foreign policy, Singapore's leaders must be supported by their record of good performance at home, Mr Goh said.

During a question and answer session, he was asked whether he had any concerns for this, given evolving sentiments when it comes to foreigners in Singapore. He responded: "I would say the key for us is to address not just Singaporeans' interests and sentiments but also the foreigners'. Because if they signal wrongly that foreigners are not welcome in Singapore, I think we are done for."

Mr Goh also fielded questions on how Singapore can continue to remain relevant to bigger Asian countries, such as China. He said that while this is a challenge given that Singapore is a small nation, it does not mean that other countries cannot learn from Singapore in order to progress further themselves.

Effective, credible foreign policy needed to sustain Singapore’s growth: ESM Goh
Empathy, trust and candour between leaders vital for bilateral relationships, he says
By Kelly Ng, TODAY, 17 Oct 2014

An effective and credible foreign policy is necessary to sustain Singapore’s growth and to meet the challenges of a globalised world, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at the S Rajaratnam lecture this afternoon (Oct 17).

Addressing 500 diplomats at St Regis hotel, Mr Goh said: “The paradox of today’s globalised world is that countries are becoming more self-absorbed — including Singapore. Yet it should be apparent that countries need two wings to fly — domestic and external...foreign policy is the necessary second wing for us to fly into the future.”

Mr Goh — who was Singapore’s Prime Minister from November 1990 to August 2004, and remained in the Cabinet as Senior Minister until May 2011 — highlighted three objectives that have shaped Singapore’s foreign policy over the decades: Preserving its sovereignty, enhancing security here and in the region, and expanding its international space.

Recounting experiences during his premiership, Mr Goh said to advance its economic and strategic interests, Singapore had established open links with regional and global partners through free trade agreements and regional forums, such as the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the Asia-Middle East Dialogue and the initiative for ASEAN integration.

Taking ASEM as an example, he noted that empathy, trust and candour between leaders are vital for bilateral relationships. “ASEM was a big idea from a small country. We pulled it off because we did not think only of our own interests. We sold its strategic benefits to others, aligned their interests and ours, and secured their buy-in.”

Still, he said, it is important to stand by our principles and “defend our interests stoutly”. He cited how Singapore had stood firm on the rule of law in sentencing American teenager Michael Fay to jail and caning, for vandalism and theft, although then US President Bill Clinton had requested that Fay be granted clemency from caning.

Mr Goh added that “personal chemistry” between leaders is an important enabler of foreign policy.

“We must know how to get the other person to see the benefits of our idea from his perspective, and from his country’s point of view... A foreign policy based on winning at the expense of others is doomed to failure. The grandest visions forged in the absence of the ability to perceive others’ interests will come to naught.”

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