Saturday 29 August 2015

K. Shanmugam's dialogue at the Singapore Press Club

Singapore cannot exist in a cocoon
Republic is affected by what happens in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, says Shanmugam
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

Singapore enjoys good relations with Malaysia and Indonesia, but Singaporeans need to be more aware of trends and developments in these countries, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

His remarks came four days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singaporeans should pay attention to the world around them.

In a speech to media professionals, Mr Shanmugam said the Malaysian economy is not doing too well, even as Malaysia is grappling with rising racial, religious and political polarisation, as well as a weakening economy. These trends may have serious implications for Singapore's own economy and social cohesion, he said.

"Anyone who thinks that 700 square kilometres can exist by itself in a cocoon, unaffected by international or regional economic or sociopolitical issues, clearly doesn't understand how Singapore functions," he said in a speech titled Small State Diplomacy: Challenges And Opportunities For Singapore.

Any economic problem in Malaysia will be a serious issue for Singapore as the two countries are closely linked, he said at a two-hour session organised by the Singapore Press Club and held at the Singapore Press Holdings' auditorium.

While Singaporeans may see the current weak ringgit as a good thing, Mr Shanmugam disagrees. "When your neighbour's economy is in such a state, and your neighbour is your second-largest trading partner, it doesn't benefit us," he said.

He argued that Malaysia's challenge in the medium to long term is to move away from relying on its extractive industries and lift its economy to the next level.

But it needs an educated population to do it, he said, a requirement that highlights another long-term problem: Malaysia's schools are not racially integrated.

Chinese children attend Chinese-medium schools, while Malay children go to mainstream schools "which are becoming more and more Malay and Islamic". "From a very early age, the Malay and Chinese population are apart. How will they integrate later?"

This underlies Malaysia's second problem of rising racial polarisation, seen in how its race-based political parties are increasingly under strain, Mr Shanmugam said.

He highlighted the widening political divide among races, with the opposition Democratic Action Party dominated by ethnic Chinese, while Umno grows more powerful in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

He noted that high-level Umno leaders, but not the leadership, are openly pushing for a fully-Malay government, arguing that as Malays form 65 per cent of the population, there is no need for the Malaysian Indian Congress and Malaysian Chinese Association as in the current coalition government. Also, talk of Umno combining with Parti Islam SeMalaysia has become mainstream as well.

Closely tied to the increasing salience of race is Malaysia's rising Islamisation, Mr Shanmugam said. Broad sections of the Malay population support the adoption of Islamic laws and assess their political leaders in terms of how Muslim they are.

"An honest politician, an upright politician, will find it very difficult to talk about a united Malaysia that is more integrated. The political dynamics are such that he will have to play to the Malay ground," he said.

The Islamisation "has gone past the tipping point now", he added.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is under pressure from his political opponents, said Mr Shanmugam. This weekend's Bersih rally is shaping up into a confrontation between the authorities and the organisers who insist on defying orders.

The upshot is that Singapore will be affected by these trends, Mr Shanmugam said.

One, if investors view Malaysia as not completely stable, they may decide not to invest in Singapore.

Two, with the global stock market uncertainty, anything that creates economic investment uncertainty will be a "double whammy" for Singapore.

Three, as race and religion are emotional issues, Singapore's social fabric may feel the ripple effects.

As for Indonesia, its economy is underperforming compared to its potential, and political players have made many attempts to play to a strong streak of nationalism, Mr Shanmugam said. For instance, illegal fishing is dealt with dramatically, by sinking foreign boats in Indonesian waters. Indonesia has also said it will not renew its investment guarantee agreement with Singapore, which is set to expire next year.

Singapore, he noted, is an easy scapegoat for some parties on issues like extradition, and that it is allegedly a haven for corrupt Indonesians. Both countries have signed an extradition treaty but Indonesia's Parliament has refused to ratify it, and Indonesian officials let some of these "corruptors" travel freely in and out of their country, he said.

Singapore wants to see Indonesia prosper, Mr Shanmugam said, but added: "The level of economic cooperation will inevitably be affected if nationalism takes a wrong turn."

Some in Singapore 'could be influenced by other countries'
By Goh Sui Noi, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

Singapore up to now has not had to think about how its foreign policy might upset the domestic constituency, said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.

But this could change as recent events have shown that sections of the population can be influenced on ethnic or other considerations.

And while the domestic constituency matters in that foreign policy has to be in the people's interest, the considerations of small sections of the population may not necessarily be in the larger, broader interests, he said in his talk to the Singapore Press Club yesterday.

Mr Shanmugam cited as an example an event organised by the World War II History Research Association on Aug 15 to mark the end of the war, that was attended by Ms Sim Ann, Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information. After she left, the association reportedly read out an open letter to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe protesting against his Cabinet's reinterpretation of Japan's pacifist Constitution.

The event was reported by China's Xinhua news agency, which also reported an adviser to the association as saying Mr Abe's statement the day before, in which he echoed apologies for the war made by past leaders, was insincere.

Yet, Singapore's position on this issue is factual and clear, neither pro-Japan nor pro-China.

Mr Shanmugam noted that the association had good links with the Chinese Embassy here.

"Sections of our Chinese population may understandably ask, why are we taking a position that is not more pro-Chinese?" he said. "But sometimes that can be an induced viewpoint from a small section."

He gave as an example China's active outreach programme in Singapore's Special Assistance Plan schools, "bringing our children to China, to teach Chinese history, which is fine with us". However, "if it goes beyond teaching history, then it becomes an issue", he added.

He also noted that in Parliament, questions were already being asked, whenever things happened in Gaza, that try "to paint (the) Government as pro-Israel". Yet, on the Palestinian issue, the Singapore Government is strictly neutral and provides more aid to the Palestinian government than the Malaysian and Indonesian governments combined, he said.

He said ethnic groups other than the Chinese were also capable of being influenced by other countries such as India. "This was quite an issue for us in the 1960s. It became less of an issue in the 70s, 80s, 90s."

However, with the Internet and greater connectivity, it could become an issue again, "and then have an impact on foreign policy".

Singapore won’t pay tax on its Johor waterworks: Shanmugam
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

Singapore will not pay the raised land assessment tax on its Johor waterworks as a matter of principle, said Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam yesterday.

The authorities of Kota Tinggi district had sought late last year to double the tax on the Johor River Waterworks, which is owned by national water agency PUB.

The revised rate was more than double that of the next highest rate in the entire Kota Tinggi district, and this new rate was applied to a tax category created solely for the PUB.

At a dialogue yesterday, Mr Shanmugam explained why he chose to lay out Singapore's stance on the issue in Parliament last week, a decision he had thought hard about.

"The water agreement doesn't allow for these sorts of treatments. If I keep quiet about doubling it, tomorrow they might quadruple it," he told media professionals at the event organised by the Singapore Press Club.

In Parliament, he had said PUB is not obliged to pay the tax under the 1962 Water Agreement, which governs the PUB's operations in Johor.The agreement gives Singapore the right to draw water from Johor River up to 250 million gallons daily, or 1.14 million cubic m a day, with Johor entitled to a daily supply of treated water in return.

Underscoring the gravity of the issue, Mr Shanmugam said: "They've issued us further notice saying we are late in payment. If one is bloody-minded about it, I suppose they can seek to levy execution on our waterworks, and then things will get really interesting."

He said: "In a normal legal case, if you don't pay tax, somebody goes and attaches and tries to take over the property. We'll have to see whether they want to treat this as a normal case of non-payment and then we'll have to say what our response will be."

The agreement is valid till 2061 and is guaranteed by the governments of Singapore and Malaysia in the 1965 Separation Agreement.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted how vulnerable newly independent Singapore had been, with nearly all its water coming from Johor back then.

Mr Lee said at the National Day Rally: "Every now and again, when an issue arose with Malaysia, some crazy politicians would threaten to turn off the tap, to get us in line."

In fact, said Mr Shanmugam, Malaysian opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat's deputy chairman in Johor, Mr Jimmy Puah, had criticised the water agreement just last week.

Mr Puah had said Singapore continues to draw 250 million gallons of raw water a day from Johor despite water rationing in the state, Mr Shanmugam said.

"The implication of his statement is obvious... It's powerful rhetoric. They don't care whether we suffer," he added.

The PUB said in a statement last week that it has been supplying an extra five to six million gallons of potable water a day to Johor during its dry spell, since Aug 14.

But should Mr Puah's rhetoric and criticism of the Malaysian government take hold, Mr Shanmugam said, "then you will expect the Barisan Nasional government to have to react to it". "How will they react? We don't know."

He reiterated Singapore's position that both countries have to comply with the treaty, but added: "Treaties are only useful to the extent that you can make them work."

'Adroit diplomacy needed to tackle pressure from big powers'
Minister says Singapore will face increasing pressure from US, China, Japan to take sides
By Goh Sui Noi, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

Singapore, being a small state, will face increasing pressures to take sides from the major powers in the region - the United States, Japan and China - as they adjust their three-way relationship and as the South China Sea has become a "proxy" in that adjustment, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said.

China's long-term objective is to be the dominant power in East Asia, noted Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, at a Singapore Press Club talk yesterday.

It "makes no secret" of its desire to exclude the US from the region, he said, pointing to Beijing's new mantra of "Asia for Asians".

But the US, the current dominant and resident power, does not like being challenged, he noted.

Added to this rivalry is Japan, a security ally of the US with its own complex relationship with China and its desire to play a more active role in the South-east Asian region in response to a rising China.

China is working towards its objective chiefly by building economic linkages with countries in the region, including its One Belt, One Road initiative and the setting up of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

But it has also escalated the pace of reclamation in the South China Sea. While other claimant states have also built facilities on the disputed islands, a recent Pentagon report said some 1,200ha had been added since last year, so that in 20 months, China has reclaimed 17 times more land than all other claimants had in the last 40 years.

Neither have the Chinese denied that they will place military features on the reclaimed land, for example, a runway on Fiery Cross Reef. "There can be no doubt that China's build-up is to achieve the capability to control sea lanes in the South China Sea," he said, adding that China probably would not block commercial maritime traffic.

In naval terms, the Chinese are far behind the Americans, but they do not like US ships coming so close to their territory, so they are relying on the concept of deniability, hesaid. Having missiles and other military installations on these land features would give serious pause to any US naval commander.

However, this has got the Americans concerned about freedom of navigation and access for its navy, and they have been reacting by sending reconnaissance planes very close to the reclaimed islands.

Singapore, he noted, had been calling for the dialling down of tensions that have risen as a result of the increased rivalry between the major powers in the region.

And while Singapore enjoys good relations with China as well as Japan and the US, "I'm not sure if we have the luxury of space as we had in the past of being friends with everyone", said Mr Shanmugam. In the next few years, "because of their competition, they, as major powers are wont to do, will soon be talking to us in terms of 'either you're with us or against us' ", he said.

He noted earlier in his speech that the US had tried to stop Singapore from supporting the AIIB, citing concerns over its governance, but Singapore was one of the first countries to support it because there was a need for capital to build the region's infrastructure.

He said Singapore's response to the major powers would be that the Republic would act in its interests.

However, Singapore, being small and dependent - including on the US for defence technology, and on the Chinese and Japanese for trade and investment - will "always be subject to pressure". "We're going to come into an even more interesting phase of our foreign policy where I fully expect that we will be subjected to far more pressure than we have been, and it's going to require fairly adroit diplomacy and the strength and willpower within Singapore (to overcome it)."

The core of Singapore's diplomacy is having a strong defence, he noted. But Singapore has also built regional mechanisms like Asean to maintain peace and resolve disputes. At the global level, it has tried to create a huge footprint through taking an active role in various United Nations-related organisations.

Nearer home, Singapore has good ties with its two closest neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia. However, the increasing Islamisation in Malaysia and nationalism in Indonesia bear watching, he said.

Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam to make police report over 'inaccurate and seditious' Facebook post
The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam says he intends to lodge a police report against independent scholar Sangeetha Thanapal on Friday for a Facebook post he called "inaccurate and seditious".

He said her post - which has since been taken down - had misrepresented remarks he made at a Singapore Press Club talk on Thursday on how regional trends can affect Singapore.

"What Ms Thanapal wrote is inaccurate and seditious, and attributes to me sentiments that I do not hold and have never held," he said in a Facebook post last night.

"I intend to file a police report about this tomorrow."

He added: "She unfortunately twisted what I had said and suggested that I was an 'Islamophobic bigot who thinks Malay-Muslims are a threat'. I had not said anything like that."

I have been asked about a Facebook post by Ms Thanapal regarding my comments at a Singapore Press Club event on 27...
Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Friday, August 28, 2015

Ms Thanapal, 33, took her post down less than an hour after Mr Shanmugam's post was put up at around 8pm. She also said she was seeking legal advice.

Mr Shanmugam, responding on her Facebook at about 11.15pm, said he held "no personal animosity" towards her, and said he would be happy to speak to her.

Shortly afterwards, she responded saying: "I am very sorry for all that has happened. The post took on a life of its own, and came out differently from how I intended. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me. I will make myself available anytime you wish to do so."

Mr Shanmugam then asked for a telephone number and said he would contact her today. As at midnight, there was no indication in the exhanges about whether he would still file a police report.

When Mr Shanmugam first posted about Ms Thanapal's remarks, he said the point he actually made at the event was that the Malaysian education system was not good for integration.

"The Chinese leadership in various local areas in Malaysia want to maintain control over the Chinese population. It suits them to have Chinese students go to Chinese schools instead of mainstream Malaysian schools. And the schools are more Chinese (because they are effectively single race)," he wrote.

"At the same time, many mainstream schools in Malaysia are becoming more Malay (because the students are largely Malay) and Islamic (e.g. through the way some principals and teachers handle matters) which discourages the Chinese from going into those schools. So you end up with having more Malays going to mainstream schools, and more Chinese going to Chinese schools. As a result, the different races are kept apart from a young age."

Ms Thanapal's Facebook post appeared to take issue with Mr Shanmugam saying that mainstream schools in Malaysia were "becoming more Malay and Islamic".

She wrote: "The only reason you would consider this important enough to make statements about, is if you are an Islamaphobic bigot who thinks Malay-Muslims are a threat."

Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam intends to file a police report about a Facebook post that he said was inaccurate and seditious. More here
Posted by The Straits Times on Friday, August 28, 2015

Activist apologises to minister for remarks
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

Independent scholar and activist Sangeetha Thanapal yesterday apologised to Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam for a Facebook post of hers which he called "inaccurate and seditious".

Ms Sangeetha, 33, wrote on Facebook: "I would like to offer an unreserved apology to Minister K. Shanmugam for what I had done. I had posted an article in haste.

"What I had posted about what he had said was untrue, and my comments were unjustified. On reflection, I am sorry for what I have done. I have since met the Minister and offered my apology to him, which he has accepted."

I would like to offer an unreserved apology to Minister K Shanmugam Sc for what I had done. I had posted an article in...
Posted by Sangeetha Thanapal on Saturday, August 29, 2015

On Friday, Ms Sangeetha took issue with comments that Mr Shanmugam had made a day earlier at a Singapore Press Club talk, where he spoke of growing polarisation in Malaysia, with mainstream schools "becoming more and more Malay and Islamic".

His point was that trends in the education system made integration among the different races a challenge, with Chinese children attending Chinese-medium schools, while Malay children go to mainstream schools.

But Ms Sangeetha wrote: "The only reason you would consider this important enough to make statements about, is if you are an Islamophobic bigot who thinks Malay-Muslims are a threat."

On Friday night, Mr Shanmugam said he intended to make a police report as the post had misrepresented his remarks.

What she wrote, he said, was "inaccurate and seditious, and attributes to me sentiments that I do not hold and have never held," he wrote on Friday. "She unfortunately twisted what I had said."

An exchange between Ms Sangeetha and Mr Shanmugam on her Facebook page followed, and the minister said he held "no personal animosity" towards her, and would be happy to speak with her.

She replied: "I am very sorry for all that has happened. The post took on a life of its own, and came out differently from how I intended. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me."

Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam met Ms Sangeetha for a chat in Chong Pang. He later told reporters he would not lodge a police report.

She told him she re-read his remarks and realised her comments were untrue, he said. His decision to drop it was not prompted by her apology or conduct, he added, but because she did not have the intention to cause ill will between races.

"People go and say things without really thinking about what they intend to say, and end up saying all sorts of things which are untrue," said Mr Shanmugam.

"So we left it at that."

Minister K Shanmugam Sc does have a big heart.
Posted by Fabrications About The PAP on Saturday, August 29, 2015

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