Tuesday 7 March 2017

Budget 2017 Committee of Supply Debate: MINDEF, MHA, MFA, MTI, MinLaw, PMO

Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Defence

Singapore strengthens cyber defence with new organisation
It will also bolster round-the-clock protection of networks, build force of cyber defenders
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

Singapore is setting up a new Defence Cyber Organisation (DCO) to bolster its defences against the growing threat of online attacks, as it moves to boost the round-the-clock protection of its military networks.

It will also build a force of cyber defenders - tapping national servicemen, both full-time and operationally ready men - who will lead the charge in this new battlefront.

These moves are vital in the light of the Defence Ministry's (MINDEF) disclosure earlier this week that the personal details of 850 NSmen and staff were stolen, a theft uncovered last month.

"We can expect more of such cyber attacks in the future," Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday when announcing the DCO in Parliament during the debate on MINDEF's budget.

Dealing with such security threats, including fake news, is increasingly important for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which as a fighting force is relying more often on computer technology.

Cyber warfare is a growing phenomenon. Dr Ng cited Ukraine's power grid being hit by cyber attacks and, in the US presidential election, the computers of the Democratic National Committee were hacked by unknown sources to discredit its candidate Hillary Clinton.

Fake news inflamed ethnic and political tensions in Indonesia, prompting it to form an agency to counter cyber crime and fake news.

"Modern militaries can no longer choose to ignore these external threats through the digital front,'' said Dr Ng.

Explaining the make-up of the DCO, he said it is "at the highest level of our organisational hierarchy".

It will have four formations, each with different roles, including overseeing the cyber security of all defence agencies and building up cyber defence capabilities.

The DCO will be led by a deputy secretary and the formations by a colonel or a flag officer, who is either a general or an admiral.

It fortifies the military's past efforts at securing its cyber defence. These include the 2013 Cyber Defence Operations Hub, which gathers its cyber-security experts under one command.

The round-the-clock monitoring of the military networks will be carried out by two units of the Cyber Defence Group (CDG) formation.

They are the Security Monitoring Unit and Incident Response and Audit Unit, whose teams will identify and neutralise cyber threats.

Under the units' watch, the security of SAF's networks will also be audited for resilience.

The CDG also has the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre, which has been operational since 2015 but was unveiled yesterday.

The ministry plans to have about 2,600 cyber defenders in 10 years - a big jump from the current numbers that "reflects the importance of this new battlefront", said Dr Ng.

SAF will also partner Singapore Technologies Electronics (Info-Security) and Nanyang Polytechnic to provide, among others, industrial attachments and joint development of cyber defence curriculum.

Two new defence technology labs are to be set up, to develop robotics, and exploit artificial intelligence and data analytics.

In addition, a new $900 million training ground covering 88ha will be built to give SAF soldiers a realistic combat experience.

Dr Ng said: "Even as we set up a new cyber command and technology labs... we must never neglect to train the SAF as a conventional force against traditional threats... and terrorism."

$900m urban training area in the west to hone soldiers' skills
SAFTI City, a state-of-the-art training facility as big as Bishan, will take some 10 years to build
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

A new training area the size of Bishan town will be built in western Singapore to let soldiers hone their urban and coastal defence fighting skills in realistic settings.

One sector of the 88ha area - dubbed SAFTI City - will be packed with shophouse clusters, high-rise interconnected buildings, low-rise residences, basement carparks, a bus interchange and even an MRT station with multiple exits.

To train island defence capabilities, another sector located near the Poyan Reservoir will house a petrochemical complex, warehouses, container parks and industrial buildings. New grounds for infantry and armoured vehicle drills will be developed in the three existing training areas of Pasir Laba, Ama Keng and the Murai Urban Training Facility.

A variety of training scenarios - called Instrumented Battle Circuits - can be simulated in these areas.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced the SAFTI City in Parliament yesterday, adding that it would cost about $900 million and take about a decade to build.

He said that while Singapore is building new training facilities overseas due to finite land at home, it also sees the need to build world- class training facilities here.

"We must guard against over-dependence on overseas training grounds. It is not possible for all our NSmen to train only overseas as the bulk of our training is still conducted locally, especially for our army," said Dr Ng.

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said later in a statement that SAFTI City is part of a revamp of existing training areas in western Singapore to make better use of the land available for military purposes.

With more than 200 buildings of varying heights and types, and extensive road networks, SAFTI City will allow troops to train in different types of operations, from homeland security and counter-terrorism to disaster relief, MINDEF added.

SAFTI City, which takes it name from the nearby SAFTI Military Institute, will also be outfitted with instruments and video cameras that will instantly track the actions of units and individual soldiers.

This data can then be analysed and used to help troops learn from past exercises.

In his speech, Dr Ng said the key feature of SAFTI City will be the state-of-the-art training simulation built into its facilities to replicate different environments that soldiers operate in.

For instance, interactive targets and battlefield effects such as artillery attacks will allow soldiers to train more realistically, he said.

"SAFTI City will take our NS training to a much higher level of realism and effectiveness," he added.

Robots could fight alongside soldiers in next-generation SAF
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

Singapore's soldiers could see robots fighting alongside them in the future, in the form of unmanned ground vehicles armed with machine guns.

In the skies, micro unmanned aerial drones may provide troops with greater situational awareness.

These are the scenarios for the next generation of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) which were revealed by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) yesterday during the debate on its budget.

To design, build and test these robots, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced that a robotics laboratory will be set up next month in the DSO National Laboratories.

Dr Ng said that currently, soldiers with the 6th Singapore Infantry Regiment are experimenting with unmanned aerial and ground vehicles to perform missions.

The next-generation SAF will also tap data analytics to enhance counter-terrorism operations, said MINDEF. To build capabilities in these areas, the Defence Science and Technology Agency will set up an analytics and artificial intelligence laboratory.

Dr Ng noted how the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre, which monitors over 1,500 commercial shipping vessels daily, used artificial intelligence to detect a possible supporter of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria who was on board a tanker in 2015.

"That person was barred from disembarking into Singapore. Finding this needle in a big haystack is possible only through modern means," said Dr Ng, who also announced an inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit to be held early next year, likely on a biennial basis.

For funding, both technology labs will be given a total grant of $45 million annually for a start, he said.

Dr Ng said MINDEF has projected that the defence budget can be maintained on the current trajectory of 3 per cent to 4 per cent annually, even with new demands to renew its assets. These include the replacement of two submarines and the upgrading of F-16 aircraft with new weapons and radars.

Where possible, costs will be cut, Dr Ng said. The army, for example, has a new "Smart" magazine, which can simulate the firing of blank rounds, and will save the force $1.4 million a year, he said.

"But MINDEF will not hesitate to push for higher spending if there are increasing new demands or if the security environment deteriorates," he added.

WSQ accreditation for skills learnt during national service
The 23 accredited SAF courses, including Basic Military Training, will give NSmen a boost in their future careers
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

A total of 23 courses conducted by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are now accredited under the Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) scheme, a move aimed at giving national servicemen a leg-up in their future careers.

These courses include the Basic Military Training (BMT) for most recruits except for commando or naval diver trainees, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said yesterday.

In all, more than 96 per cent of full-time national servicemen (NSFs) who enlist from this January will receive the WSQ annually.

The move to accredit SAF courses under the WSQ is to recognise that servicemen attain leadership, technical and specialist skills that meet professional standards accepted by industries, Second Defence Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday in Parliament.

"In fact, the teamwork we learn in NS is very much better than most commercial courses on teamwork," he added.

The WSQ is a national training framework that trains and certifies individuals in skills that are valued by employers. Under the framework, workers gain qualifications ranging from certificates to advanced diplomas. Those who do not get a full qualification will get a statement of attainment (SOA) for each module they complete.

For instance, an NSF with a Physical Employment Status of A or B will get two SOAs under the Employability Skills WSQ framework after completing BMT.

Commanders will receive additional accreditation for their leadership skills. So, a naval officer will get a level three advanced certificate - level six is the highest WSQ qualification - under the Leadership and People Management WSQ framework after completing the Officer Cadet School course.

MINDEF and SAF have been working with SkillsFuture Singapore to expand accreditation across the armed forces, said Mr Ong, who is also Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills). Skills accreditation is one of several ways to improve the national service experience and deploy servicemen more effectively, he said, as Singapore marks the 50th anniversary of NS this year.

He also listed how the military would make its soldiers fitter and provide safer training, as he described servicemen as "our most precious resource in the SAF".

He announced a new Centre for Excellence for Soldier Performance that will be up by the end of the year.

It will focus on developing fitness regimes, soldier nutrition studies, injury prevention programmes, and rehabilitation regimes to help injured national servicemen recover. It will also look into enhancing the mental strength of soldiers.

The SAF is also looking at how to better deploy its manpower as technology advances, said Mr Ong.

He noted that combat engineers in the past had to lift and hold heavy loads to assemble a bridge, but their counterparts today can do so with the push of a few buttons, thanks to new hardware that makes use of a hydraulic arm.

Thus, the SAF has been reviewing vocation requirements in terms of fitness and abilities, said Mr Ong, without elaborating.

He also updated the House on a review of the SAF's safety system by an external panel of safety experts that began in October 2013.

The panel completed its work recently and reported that the SAF's health and safety system is internationally one of the best, he said.

But there are also a few areas for improvement, such as the need to strengthen safety culture in SAF units and further promote open reporting of near-miss incidents.

The SAF has accepted the panel's findings and will improve on these areas, Mr Ong said.

Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Home Affairs

Security for events, buildings to be tightened
New laws this year will require businesses to adopt measures to guard against threats
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

Security for major events and new, large-scale commercial buildings will be improved as part of an ongoing drive to harden Singapore against the terror threat.

The Government will enact new laws this year to require businesses to adopt "certain measures" to guard against security threats, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said yesterday.

The Public Order Act will be amended to require security measures at events with large crowds and those deemed to be at high risk of terrorist attacks.

A new Infrastructure Protection Act will also be introduced, to ensure selected key buildings have enough protection. It will require new, large-scale commercial buildings to go through a review during the design stage to determine what security measures are needed.

These proposed legal changes were among various initiatives announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to counter the terror threat that Singapore faces, which remains high.

Mr Lee said his ministry will take a "practical approach" to keep costs reasonable for businesses.

During the debate on MHA's budget, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) that the threat from terror groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remains high.

Responding to Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), the minister outlined how the Home Team is strengthening capabilities.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority has started collecting iris scans to better verify travellers' identities, he said.

And frontline police officers will soon have their revolvers replaced with pistols which carry thrice the amount of ammunition.

Last year, the police rolled out emergency response teams - crack troops to respond to terror attacks. More cameras are also being installed in public areas to boost surveillance.

The Home Team will also ramp up its use of technology, including using drones to support operations.

Singapore's tough security laws, like the Internal Security Act, also play a critical role in combating the threat, Mr Shanmugam said, adding: "We will deal with anyone who engages in conduct that is potentially a trigger for terrorism. If necessary, we will detain the person."

He highlighted two examples in Europe where the authorities had to let terror suspects go because of a lack of evidence - these men eventually went on to conduct attacks.

"We should not reach this stage in Singapore. The trade-off for us is between taking a greater risk or intervening earlier. My view is that we must be able to intervene early and decisively," he said.

Meanwhile, Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman highlighted the threat posed by fake news, citing the newspaper reports which distorted facts and led to the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950 as an example of how information attacks could divide society.

This threat is far more dangerous now with the Internet and websites that post false claims, he added.

Terror groups like ISIS are also releasing propaganda online targeting Muslims in the region, noted Dr Maliki. "Our youths who are active on social media are particularly vulnerable," he said, urging individuals who come across extremist material online to check with the local religious authorities, and then counter these views.

MINDEF will also prepare its troops to counter terror threats - the new $900 million SAFTI City will have facilities for such training operations.

Singapore police seen as world-class crime fighters: Survey
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

The Singapore Police Force scored high marks in the latest public perception survey, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam revealed yesterday, in the light of recent discussion about the public service.

"An incredible number of the public holds the police in high regard. Eighty-seven per cent regarded the police as a world-class crime-fighting organisation," Mr Shanmugam said during the Budget debate.

The 2016 survey involved 4,800 Singaporeans and permanent residents. The survey also showed that 90 per cent of respondents believe the police are ready to deal with any major law and order incident, and are well prepared to respond to future security needs, he said. Meanwhile, 88 per cent feel the police provide "a high quality of service".

Separately, 93 per cent of the respondents said they felt safe walking in their neighbourhood at night.

Mr Shanmugam credited the heightened police presence and the quick arrest of criminals as some reasons for the high score. "All of this reflects the extraordinary level of faith and trust Singaporeans have in the police force. I have no doubt that the same goes for other Home Team departments... Many law enforcement agencies around the world envy this," he added.

A key factor is the "immense dedication and commitment of our Home Team officers", said Mr Shanmugam, adding that the overall crime rate last year of 588 cases per 100,000 population was the lowest since 2014. That year, the figure was 589 cases per 100,000 people.

The survey results, made known to him on Thursday, may have been about the police, but they also give perspective to the discussions about the public service that had taken place in Parliament this week, he said. During day two of the Budget debate on Wednesday, several MPs cited anecdotes showing how the public service should think out of the box, and be less zealous about guarding its own turf.

Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin said more could be done for the working poor, while Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said he was concerned the public service may lack heart in its pursuit of efficiency, and Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) pointed out that public servants can guard their turf too jealously, to Singaporeans' detriment.

These cases arise because of structural reasons or inter-agency issues, but "are the exception and not the rule", said Mr Shanmugam, who is the latest minister to defend the public service, after Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee did so on Thursday. Said Mr Shanmugam: "In a large majority of cases, our public servants are outstanding, dedicated and go well beyond the call of duty and serve with heart," he said, adding that Mr Ng, Ms Lee and Ms Kuik share this view.


4,800 Singaporeans and permanent residents were surveyed by the police last year.

93 per cent felt safe walking in their neighbourhood at night.

92 per cent rated general safety and security in Singapore as "good" or "very good".

90 per cent believed the police are ready to deal with any major law and order incident, and are well prepared to respond to future security needs.

88 per cent felt that the police provide a high quality of service.

87 per cent regarded the police as a world-class crime-fighting organisation.

Almost half said the installation of police cameras at housing estates made them feel safer.

SGSecure reaching out to workplaces
Movement will train public officers, engage businesses and unions, and hold briefings for various industries
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

Singapore's big push to get its people ready to respond to a crisis is making its way to workplaces.

Since its launch last year, the SGSecure movement has hit the heartland, where outreach efforts are under way to teach residents how to respond in the event of an attack.

This year, it will extend its reach to workplaces, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday, urging companies to get involved.

He was giving more details on how SGSecure is set to grow this year. Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) had sought updates on the initiative during the debate on the Home Affairs Ministry's budget.

The SGSecure programme will train public officers and work with the Manpower Ministry, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore Business Federation to engage businesses and unions.

There will be SGSecure briefings and conferences, customised Emergency Preparedness Days and counter-terrorism seminars for industries, such as the security, manufacturing and hospitality sectors.

Efforts to strengthen community cohesion and resilience are set to continue, Mr Shanmugam said in a speech that sketched out the tense security backdrop in the region, and detailed how the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group has hit closer to home.

"We need to make sure our community comes together as one united people after an attack," he said.

Ms Rahayu also wanted to know how Singapore can better train its community leaders to respond in the wake of an attack.

Mr Shanmugam said a Crisis Response Exercise, which brings community stakeholders together in a simulated attack scenario, is being piloted within the constituencies.

Home Team psychologists will partner with the People's Association, and with psychologists from the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Institute of Mental Health, to support and train grassroots leaders in giving psychological first aid to affected residents.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said the Home Team is also stepping up efforts to strengthen its partnerships with the community.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) has praised the Home Team for its hard work in keeping Singapore safe and secure, in a world grappling with rising threats to peace and security.

"We cannot afford to be complacent. The heavy responsibility of protecting Singapore does not and should not rest on the ministry and the Home Team alone," he said.

"We must recognise that this is a collective responsibility, which requires the combined effort of all of us who call Singapore our home."

Mr Lee agreed, saying: "An active citizenry that is invested in the safety and security of Singapore is essential to the Home Team's work."

He cited the Singapore Civil Defence Force's (SCDF's) Save-a-Life initiative, which aims to build a network of trained community responders to help those who suffer a cardiac arrest, as an example.

About 2,000 residents have been trained, and the programme hopes to train more than 24,000 residents in the coming years, he said.

More automated external defibrillators (AEDs) will be installed. By 2019, there will be 5,000 AEDs across Singapore - one for every two HDB blocks in all constituencies - up from close to 460 installed in eight constituencies currently.

Mr Lee encouraged more people to learn AED and cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills, and download the SCDF's myResponder app.

It alerts users to a report of somebody with cardiac arrest nearby, enabling them to respond quickly.

Positive peer 'influencers' to spread anti-drug message
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) is ramping up its social media presence and looking to positive "influencers" to help spread its anti-drug message.

Amid the growing challenge of keeping Singapore drug-free, the Home Affairs Ministry announced a comprehensive strategy to engage youth yesterday, with prevention as its first line of defence.

Yesterday, Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) asked how young Singaporeans could be steered away from picking up the drug habit at an early age in the face of peer pressure.

Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin responded by revealing a new initiative to establish positive "influencers" in peer circles.

Young people from the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities have already signed up for this pilot of the Anti-Drug Advocate Programme, he said.

Youth who have signed up will learn about Singapore's drug policies and the harmful effects of substances, he added.

"They will visit halfway houses and drug rehabilitation centres, hearing first-hand accounts from ex-abusers on how hard it is to kick the drug habit," he said. "These youth will see what is really at stake if they try drugs."

Mr Amrin said the aim is to encourage youth to start initiatives that spread the anti-drug message among their friends.

"Prevention is the first line of defence," he added. "A key part of the battle is won if we can keep people away from drugs."

CNB statistics showed that close to two-thirds of new drug abusers arrested last year were below the age of 30.

There were also more cases of students abusing drugs, said Mr Amrin, replying to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) about the drug situation here.

Yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam reiterated the need to safeguard Singapore's tough stance against drugs.

"The challenge of keeping Singapore drug-free is increasing," he said.

There are growing threats from the region, with South-east Asia being a major market and producer of illicit drugs. There is also a growing number of new drug abusers.

A survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse last year found that young people below 30 were more open-minded towards drugs, compared with the figure in 2013, Mr Shanmugam said.

This problem is compounded by the rise of drugs available online, with black market sites allowing users to buy them anonymously.

While many think that only young people from low-income households are vulnerable, Mr Shanmugam said, a 2014 study found that most young cannabis abusers came from middle or high socio-economic backgrounds, and often did well in school.

He also said "there is increasing international pressure to adopt a softer, harm-reduction, approach".

But suggestions that such pressure will lead Singapore to deviate from its policies - such as the death penalty - are "delusional", he added.

"We do what is right for Singapore. A penalty will be in the books if we believe it to be right. It will be removed if we believe that removal is the right thing to do, and not because of any international pressure."

He added: "We have to remain steadfast in our resolve to keep Singapore drug-free."

Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Law

Framework for in-house counsel to take effect this year
It will act as national standard and cover three competencies - legal, business and conduct
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

A new competency framework to raise the standards of in-house counsel will be launched this year, and the Ministry of Law will explore if it should be made mandatory in the future, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah.

Speaking during the debate on the ministry's budget yesterday, she said it will monitor the adoption of the framework.

She added that the ministry, together with the Economic Development Board, has been actively encouraging companies to "anchor their decision makers with global or regional mandate in Singapore". This includes in-house legal teams.

Singapore had more in-house legal employees than Hong Kong and Shanghai in 2014, she noted, citing a study of Fortune Global 500 employment in corporate functions by Aon.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said the framework will set out a clearer career pathway for in-house counsel at different seniority levels.

It will act as a national standard for the in-house industry, he added.

Developed by the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA), it will cover three categories of competencies: legal, business and conduct.

"Singapore should aim to be, and is certainly capable of becoming, the Asian hub for in-house legal capability," said Mr Tay, a corporate member of the SCCA. "This will help attract multinational corporations, whether Western or Asian, to invest or continue to invest here."

SCCA president Wong Taur-Jiun told The Straits Times yesterday that the association has been working on the framework for about a year, with its launch targeted for the second or third quarter of the year .

On top of some 2,000 in-house counsel here, recruiters and employers can benefit by referring to the framework during their hiring and training processes, he added.

To further develop the in-house legal talent pool, Mr Tay urged the Government to make the framework mandatory "at some point".

"Singapore is one of the few countries in which in-house counsel are not required to meet any form of professional standards, or any form of continuing education," he said.

Ms Indranee agreed with the need to upgrade capabilities among legal professionals: "To ensure that our legal industry continues to be vibrant and competitive internationally, key stakeholders must actively embrace disruptive change and grasp the opportunities at hand."

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, in his speech, called for more growth in the use of Singapore law in the region.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked how the ministry can boost the country's status as a dispute resolution hub.

Mr Shanmugam said there is an increasing use of Singapore law in cross-border transactions in the region. However, "growth in this trend must come from businesses, led by parties and industries".

He added that "they will benefit from the emergence of a default Asian law." He noted that the ministry has supported various centres of excellence, including those specialising in regional law.

Several MPs also asked about enhancing access to justice. Mr Tay sought an update on cases under the Protection from Harassment Act, which came into force in November 2014.

As of Jan 31 this year, there have been 268 applications for protection orders filed by victims of sexual, workplace and online harassment, Ms Indranee said. And 96 protection orders have been granted, with 99 applications withdrawn. There were also 77 expedited protection orders granted.

Attorney-General's Chambers

Not an issue that deputy A-G is former PAP MP: Indranee Rajah
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

There should be no issue with the fact that Deputy Attorney-General (DAG) Hri Kumar Nair was a former People's Action Party (PAP) MP, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

She cited a number of countries that had attorneys-general with political affiliations, and pointed out that the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) needed the best legal talent Singapore could offer.

She was responding to Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who said appointing a party politician to the post could undermine "public confidence in the AGC's stated mission of fair and independent prosecution".

Ms Lim said this was because the AGC, as an organ of the state, should be independent and ready to rein in the Government if it "acts unlawfully or is abusing its power". Appointing a former MP to the DAG post is "not ideal" in such a context, she added.

Mr Nair, a senior counsel, began his three-year term as DAG this month. He was MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC from 2006 to 2015, and is no longer a PAP member.

In her response, Ms Indranee said that in countries such as Britain, the United States and Australia, the attorney-general was a sitting MP or politician. She pointed out that the current attorney-general in the US, Mr Jeff Sessions, was a Republican senator. "As a matter of systems design, many countries see it perfectly proper to have an A-G who is a politician," she said.

But Singapore has a slightly different model, where the attorney-general and AGC officers are neither politicians nor political party members.

Even so, it would be going too far to suggest that AGC officers must not have had any links with political parties, she said. This is because it is the courts that decide on innocence or guilt - the attorney-general decides whether or not to prosecute.

She said the talent pool for the highest legal appointments is small. Of all the senior counsel appointed in the past decade, only 16 were in private practice.

One of them was Mr Nair, who is "among the top six to seven litigators" here, said Ms Indranee, adding that Mr Nair accepted his appointment despite the personal and financial cost.

"He loses the privacy he enjoyed in private practice. He also now earns significantly less than what he used to earn," she said, adding that Mr Nair's spirit of public service should be welcomed.

Of the top lawyers here, two - Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and Alvin Yeo - were former PAP MPs, and Senior Counsel Edwin Tong is currently a PAP MP for Marine Parade GRC.

Ms Lim then pointed out that even though ultimately, the decider in legal cases are the courts, by deciding which cases to prosecute, the attorney-general has "very wide prosecutorial discretion". Could the Government not find another candidate from the legal service to fill the post?

Law Minister K. Shanmugam rose to ask if Ms Lim would be more comfortable with Mr Singh or Mr Yeo in the post, noting that both these top lawyers were linked to the PAP.

He pointed out that there was "no question" as to Mr Nair's abilities. It is precisely because the AGC holds such powers of discretion that the Government chooses people of character and competence, he added. Such a philosophy has left Singapore's legal institutions - the judiciary, AGC, legal service and the Bar - "much better" than when the country was under British rule.

"This is a Government that builds up institutions, not pulls them down," said Mr Shanmugam.

In reply, Ms Lim said: "My reservations remain. Nevertheless, I do respect that the AGC has to continue with its work."

She also asked why the AGC's headcount had increased dramatically - at 594 this year, 42 per cent higher than its size seven years ago.

Ms Indranee said the rise was a move to "right-size" the AGC, as the complexity and volume of work it handled have gone up significantly.

Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Trade and Industry

Help for SMEs to tap opportunities abroad
Lim Hng Kiang outlines four key ways, including deeper international links with provinces, states and cities
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

An initiative to deepen international links with not just countries but also provinces, states and cities will make it easier for local companies to tap overseas opportunities, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang yesterday.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) keen on expanding abroad will also be encouraged to partner larger companies and take advantage of the digital economy, he told Parliament during the debate on the Ministry of Trade and Industry's budget.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) and Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) had asked what mounting global anti-trade sentiment means for Singapore, and what support firms will receive to tap overseas opportunities.

Mr Lim said trade and external demand are key drivers of Singapore's economy, accounting for two-thirds of gross domestic product.

"Small and open economies like Singapore are especially vulnerable to global developments, but our external linkages can also make us more resilient," he added, noting that trade agency IE Singapore's Internationalisation Survey last year showed companies' overseas revenue grew 4.2 per cent year-on-year, faster than total revenue growth of 1.3 per cent.

Mr Lim outlined four key ways to help firms tap international opportunities. One involves Singapore continuing to take advantage of the 21 free trade and economic partnership agreements it has with 32 trading partners in multiple regions. These agreements helped firms benefit from tariff savings of more than $900 million in 2015 and also lower non-tariff trade barriers, he said.

Second, the country will deepen international links with provinces, states and cities. For example, the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park projects are spread across six provinces in Vietnam and cater to the priorities of each province, taking into account local skill sets and investors' demand.

There are also opportunities in developed markets - Singapore has hosted delegations from American states like Texas, Alabama and Washington, "all of whom have been eager to find new markets for their exports and welcome new investments", said Mr Lim.

The third way will see the Government ramping up support for companies keen on going global - for instance, by helping SMEs take advantage of the digital economy to access new markets.

Singapore firms can also partner larger companies to venture abroad, he noted. Companies can benefit from greater economies of scale by going abroad together, and trade associations and chambers can help foster such collaborations.

The final measure to support companies venturing abroad is the Global Innovation Alliance, which was announced in last month's Budget.

Economic agencies will work with institutes of higher learning to establish connections with technology and innovation hubs globally, Mr Lim said.

During yesterday's debate, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said "Singapore Centres" will be set up in key markets to strengthen coordination of agencies' overseas operations.

They will serve as the key point of contact for Singapore-based companies entering overseas markets, as well as for overseas investors keen on learning more about Singapore.

These centres have been set up in nine key markets so far, and will be extended to all 36 overseas locations where the Economic Development Board and IE Singapore have a presence, said Mr Iswaran.

More support for start-up scene here
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2017

Singapore's start-up scene is set to get a boost, with more support for promising deep-technology companies and an enhanced scheme for foreign entrepreneurs keen to set up innovative businesses here.

Government schemes to support start-ups will also be unified under an umbrella called Startup SG, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon in Parliament yesterday during the debate on the Ministry of Trade and Industry's budget.

He was responding to questions from MPs about government efforts to develop Singapore's start-up landscape.

The number of start-ups here more than doubled from 22,000 in 2003 to 48,000 in 2015, he noted.

Their quality has also improved, with significant increases in the number of start-ups that were bought over and their valuations at that point.

In 2015, 220 venture capital deals worth more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) were completed, compared with 26 deals worth US$80 million just five years ago.

But more can be done to help start-ups, especially with branding, funding and attracting talent, Dr Koh said.

The move to unify start-up support schemes under the Startup SG umbrella is the first step towards creating "a coherent brand identity for the Singapore start-up scene that resonates among Singaporeans and the rest of the world", he added.

The Government will also ramp up co-investment support for promising start-ups in deep-tech fields such as medical technology, clean technology and advanced manufacturing, to catalyse private-sector investment for this group.

For instance, the cap for government co-investment in deep-tech start-ups will be raised from $2 million to $4 million.

To build up the entrepreneurial talent pool here, a work pass scheme known as EntrePass - for foreign entrepreneurs keen to start businesses in Singapore - will be enhanced, Dr Koh said.

There are three key changes to the EntrePass:

• Removing the requirement for applicants to have a paid-up capital of at least $50,000 in their start-ups;

• Broadening the evaluation criteria for global start-up founders with an established track record;

• Extending the validity of each EntrePass from the current one year to two years, if the entrepreneur has shown progress.

Foreign companies complement local start-ups "through the cross- fertilisation of ideas, catalyse new partnerships and create good jobs for our people", Dr Koh said, noting that foreign start-ups employed over 19,000 workers as of 2015.

"These enhancements will better position us to engage and attract a larger pool of global talent at an earlier stage, who can contribute to the vibrancy of our local start-up scene," he added.

"The enhancements are especially timely, given increasing international interest in Singapore as a global start-up destination."

Committee of Supply debate: Prime Minister's Office

Extra four weeks of unpaid infant-care leave for public servants
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2017

From July, the public service will give an extra four weeks of unpaid infant-care leave per parent under a pilot scheme announced yesterday.

The leave is to be taken in the child's first year.

With this latest move, public servants and their spouses are guaranteed a total of six months of parental leave per couple.

This means that as long as one parent is a public servant, the couple can have up to 26 weeks of leave, or six months, between them.

The scheme is to help ease new parents back to regular work and better support them in the workplace, said Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters.

"Parents are happy to have more time to care for and bond with their infants, and fathers can also play a bigger role in raising their newborns, all while remaining in employment," she said.

The scheme follows recent leave policies, such as the mandatory two weeks of paternity leave and new four weeks of shared parental leave.

Mrs Teo, whose population unit comes under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), explained during the debate on the PMO's budget the rationale for giving an extra four weeks of leave to new parents.

Although infant-care centres can take in two-month-old babies, most parents feel more confident when their babies are aged at least six months, she said.

Under the existing leave policies, a couple get 20 weeks of paid leave, and two weeks of unpaid leave, in the baby's first year.

This leaves a potential gap of four weeks, which the new scheme of unpaid leave hopes to fill.

Both men and women can apply for the new leave. Supervisors have to say "yes" to all applications, as long as reasonable notice is given.

The scheme will last three years for now, said Mrs Teo, urging companies to have similar leave policies. But she acknowledged challenges such as the difficulties some employers face in accommodating staff with childcare needs.

"Some parents also tell of the pushback they experience from co-workers. Extending parental leave can unwittingly be an added source of tension at the workplace," she said.

Public servant Linda Wee, 32, said she and her husband Roy Ng, 35, who also works in the public service, are looking for an infant-care centre near their home for their newborn girl Rheya. But many centres in the neighbourhood of Tampines MRT station are full.

"The extra four weeks of leave will come in useful while we wait for a space at a centre," said Ms Wee.

In her speech, Mrs Teo also gave an overview of what else the Government is doing to support young couples who want to have children.

It includes faster access to public housing, and more places in infant- care centres.

For parents who want their infants to be cared for at home, NTUC's Seed Institute, which trains early childcare educators, will introduce a course to teach maids how to care for infants. It has 100 places now.

No pay cut for re-employed public servants
DPM: Move reflects practice in most firms; Govt recognises older workers' contributions
By Charissa Yong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2017

Older public servants who are re-employed at the same job grade will no longer have their salaries cut, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

"These officers will continue to receive their last-drawn salary," said the minister-in-charge of the civil service, adding that the Government recognises the contributions and experience of its older workers.

Its move reflects the practice in most companies now, and is a result of the public service's latest review of its guidelines for re-employing workers, he said.

Re-employment contracts may be offered to officers who turn 62 up till age 67. About 1,300 officers were re-employed last year.

During the debate on the Prime Minister's Office budget, Mr Teo also outlined key priorities for the public service.

One of them is driving innovation.

Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung has been appointed to champion public service innovation and will focus on a number of key areas that require close coordination among agencies.

These include the review of regulations to better support innovation and entrepreneurship, and adopting procurement methods that support industry development.

In all, 24 MPs raised questions, asking about a range of public sector plans, from going digital to employing people with disabilities.

Mr Teo said another priority is to develop skills in IT and engineering in officers.

About 10,000 civil servants will be trained in the next four years in areas such as data analytics, in keeping with the country's push to go digital.

Such training will help them come up with policies and deliver better services to people, he said.

Developing public officers is another key priority, said Mr Teo, laying out the human resource policy changes in the pipeline.

From July, public officers and pensioners on older medical schemes who are hospitalised at community hospitals will have up to 28 days' stay covered.

Currently, their medical benefits cover only their stay in restructured hospitals.

The public service will also look at hiring more people with disabilities in meaningful jobs.

In response to Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong, Mr Teo said about 270 disabled people worked in the public service as of the end of last year.

Suitable vacancies are posted on the job portal run by disabilities support agency SG Enable, he added.

Senior public servants are also appointed to champion the hiring and integration of disabled people in their organisations.

No reason to worry about vote secrecy: DPM Teo
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2017

Workers' Party (WP) Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera yesterday called on the Government to educate new citizens that their votes are secret.

He said he had met several new citizens who said they would lose their citizenship if they did not vote for the People's Action Party (PAP).

One was an older, highly educated man who feared it would happen if he voted for the WP.

Mr Perera, who spoke during the debate on the Prime Minister's Office budget yesterday, was rebutted by two ministers.

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who is in charge of population matters, including new citizens, said the issue of electoral fraud had not been prominent in any election.

Also, most citizens believe in the secrecy of their vote, she added.

She noted that the vast majority of new adult citizens have lived in Singapore for at least five years before naturalisation, and would typically have witnessed at least one election before becoming citizens.

Mrs Teo also said that from an early age, she saw TV advertisements during elections assuring people that their votes are secret.

"I don't know of many other citizens who doubt that. I urge the Member not to be overly worried."

Mr Perera suggested that a paragraph on vote secrecy be added to the handbook given to new citizens.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean pointed out that the PAP and the Government had always said the vote is secret. He said the ones saying the vote was not secret was the WP. "Until they discovered it was not such a good idea... they now go out to tell people your vote is secret. For which we're grateful.

"The Government has been saying that all along and we're glad that you agree," said Mr Teo.

Vote secrecy: Charles Chong calls out Workers' Party on issue
The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2017

When the issue of voting secrecy was raised in Parliament last week, Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang said he could not remember his party ever saying the vote is not secret.

But former WP secretary-general J.B. Jeyaretnam had harped on the issue multiple times since writing a letter to then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1976 to seek confirmation that the ballot is secret, said Mr Charles Chong (Punggol East) in a post on the People's Action Party website on Sunday.

And in 1998, Mr Jeyaretnam had moved an adjournment motion where he highlighted the "fear of voting for the opposition, even to cast their vote" - a motion Mr Low supported, Mr Chong wrote.

Mr Chong said he could not help feeling a wave of "deja vu" when WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera called on the Government to educate new citizens that their votes were secret, during the debate on the Prime Minister's Office's budget last Thursday.

Mr Perera said he had met several new citizens who were afraid of losing their citizenship if they voted against the PAP.

"Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same," Mr Chong said.

Mr Perera responded on Sunday, saying that Mr Chong's post "seems to confuse two separate issues - whether or not our votes are secret (on which there is no dispute); and whether there is a fear among some voters that it is not, and if so how to counter that fear".

"From the article, it is not clear Mr Chong believes that no such fear exists, or such a fear exists but there is no need to counter it," Mr Perera wrote in a Facebook post.

Last week, Mr Perera was rebutted by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who said the PAP and Government had always said the vote is secret.

Mr Chong said the exchange reminded him of the letter Mr Jeyaretnam wrote to Mr Lee in 1976. Mr Lee had replied the next day to confirm that "ballot has always been and is secret". Mr Jeyaretnam continued to press the issue, doing so again in 1979 when he called for the removal of the serial number on ballot papers.

"After 40 years, Singapore has progressed, but Mr Leon Perera is still parroting what Mr Jeyaretnam had said in 1976," Mr Chong said. "Where will we be, 40 years from now?"

Mr Perera added that Mr Chong did not explain why the Government does not expose new citizens to the concept of voting secrecy in Singapore. 

"For example, a short write-up could be inserted into the handbook for new citizens. In Parliament, I asked why this could not be done, since this is relatively easy and not costly to do," he said. 

Ministers defend public servants
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2017

Three ministers came to the defence of public servants yesterday, a day after some MPs chided officers for not being as compassionate as they could have been in some scenarios.

Public officers work tirelessly to serve and care deeply about helping those in need, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee said. "There are many examples of exemplary public officers who go the extra mile to help those with particular needs or are in distress," said Mr Teo, the minister-in-charge of the civil service.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam later wrote a Facebook note to Home Team officers to acknowledge the long hours they worked, sacrifices they made, and how they often went beyond the call of duty.

On Wednesday, Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin said more could be done for the working poor, while Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said he was concerned that the public service may lack a heart in its pursuit of efficiency.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) made a similar point that public servants can guard their turf too jealously to the detriment of Singaporeans.

Mr Teo acknowledged that no system is perfect and the public service constantly strives to do better. But he added: "While our public officers at all levels work quietly and tirelessly and do not seek praise, a little encouragement does help."

He said: "I hope that Members will rise, from time to time... in this House to also offer encouragement for the good work of the many public officers who have worked hard and gone the extra mile to serve Singaporeans."

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee said some people might get the wrong impression that the public service had lost its heart, based on Ms Kuik's speech.

Replying, Ms Kuik said she did not believe that the public service had lost its heart.

"I know of many deeply compassionate civil servants, especially those who work in rental housing, who go out on a limb to make things work out for the needy," she added.

She also reiterated that the anecdote she had cited of a single mother living in a rental flat, facing financial difficulties while bringing up her children, was not a real-life example, but "a composite of a few stories of single-parent households".

Ms Kuik also made the point that public officers as well as MPs and members of the public themselves have a role to play, a point that Mr Teo later agreed with.

On Facebook, Mr Shanmugam said generalisations, from a few incidents, will not be accurate.

He added that the MPs had pointed out the good work that civil servants do, and wanted to highlight some areas where they felt things could be improved.

Ending his post, he said: "Keep up your good work, and continue to serve Singapore with your heart."

Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Singapore's foreign policy 'begins at home'
How effective it is depends on the Republic's success and having support from a united citizenry, says Vivian
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2017

How effective Singapore's foreign policy is depends on the country's success, and having support from a united citizenry, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

The Republic's foreign policy begins at home, he added, as he outlined the key planks of Singapore's approach during the debate on his ministry's budget.

In the face of an uncertain external environment, he said, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must work closely with other agencies to strengthen domestic resilience.

"This also means convincing Singaporeans of the need for consistent and principled diplomacy for our long-term interests, instead of taking the path of least resistance in order to achieve short-term gains," Dr Balakrishnan said, adding that the events of the last six months are a reminder of this.

Recent upheavals include the election of United States President Donald Trump and the seizure of Singapore Armed Forces armoured vehicles in Hong Kong.

The other key areas of focus are: remaining relevant to the world; maintaining an independent sovereign foreign policy to safeguard Singapore's interests and those of its people; promoting Asean unity and centrality; and commitment to a rules-based international system.

In the face of global upheavals, Singapore's foreign policy principles remain unchanged, said Dr Balakrishnan.

And amid rising global protectionist sentiments, the Republic has to "double down" on globalisation, he said, stressing that free trade is the country's lifeblood.

That is why recommendations by the Committee on the Future Economy and Budget 2017 are geared towards making Singapore more competitive, he said.

And as a tiny island in an uncertain neighbourhood, Singapore has to build a wide network of friends. "We have to be a relevant, valuable and reliable partner, and at the same time, be realistic about our place in the world."

In his wide-ranging speech in response to MPs who asked about Singapore's foreign policy direction and its foreign relations, Dr Balakrishnan also took stock of Singapore's ties with countries near and far.

Its ties with close neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei are in good shape, while its relationship with China is in "good working order", he said.

And although a new administration has taken over in the US, Dr Balakrishnan said that "as far as Singapore is concerned, we believe that our many decades of consistent policies and interactions with the US have created trust".

He added: "I believe they consider us a reliable partner. I am confident that we will be creative and adaptable in developing win-win partnerships with the US even as President Trump pursues a new set of policies."

Dr Balakrishnan also pointed to the healthy trade and defence ties between both countries, and noted that Singapore is constantly looking for new areas to cooperate with the US, citing an agreement on cyber security signed last year.

On US-China relations, Dr Balakrishnan said it is the key bilateral relationship that will affect peace, security and prosperity in the region and beyond. While competition between the two powers is inevitable, they are now more economically intertwined than ever before, he said.

Dr Balakrishnan thus hopes both countries will come to the conclusion that constructive engagement and win-win cooperation is the right formula."We hope that they will arrive at this conclusion but we should also bear in mind that we have no say. We cannot determine the dynamics of that relationship."

And if, as Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) put it, the US and China do not get along, Singapore should avoid being forced to choose sides for as long as possible, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Singapore must always remain "an honest broker" and take a consistent position with both countries.

Pedra Branca: Singapore confident of its team and case
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2017

Singapore strongly believes that the documents relied on by Malaysia in its bid to overturn a 2008 judgment awarding Pedra Branca to the Republic do not satisfy the criteria under which it applied for a revision.

Its legal team has carefully studied the application that Malaysia filed last month at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), including the three documents it cited to support its bid, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

"We will submit to the ICJ our comprehensive and compelling rebuttal to Malaysia's application by June 14, which is the time limit fixed by the ICJ," he said during the debate on his ministry's budget. "We are confident of our legal team and our case."

He was responding to Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin and Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), who asked about the Pedra Branca case.

Malaysia last month filed an application to revise the 2008 judgment, citing three "new facts" to argue that "Singapore's officials at the highest levels did not consider that Singapore had acquired sovereignty over Pedra Branca from Johor".

It based its application on Article 61 of the ICJ's Statute, which provides that an "application for revision of a judgment may be made when it is based only upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor".

The fact had to be unknown to the court and also to the party claiming revision when the judgment was given.

The request for revision must also be made within six months of discovery of the new fact - in this case, Aug 4, 2016.

Malaysia cited three documents in its application last month. The first is a confidential telegram from Singapore's top colonial official to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1958, which Malaysia says shows that he "did not consider the island of Pedra Branca to be part of Singaporean territory".

The second is a report about a naval incident near Pedra Branca.

The third document is a map of naval operations in the Malacca and Singapore straits from 1962.

Malaysia said two of the documents, from the United Kingdom National Archives, were declassified after the 2008 judgment. The third document's release date is unknown.

The territorial dispute between Singapore and Malaysia had also involved two smaller maritime features, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, near Pedra Branca.

The ICJ, in its 2008 judgment, found that sovereignty over Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia and sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.

The three features in the Singapore Strait are located about 40km east of the Republic's main island.

The ICJ had considered correspondence from 1953 between Singapore's colonial officials and Johor as being of central importance.

Johor's top official had written in a 1953 letter that "the Johor government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca". The court found this showed that while Johor had the original title, "as of 1953, Johor understood that it did not have sovereignty over Pedra Branca".

Singapore's legal team on the case includes senior lawyers well- acquainted with the issue. Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is very fortunate to still have former deputy prime minister and law minister S. Jayakumar, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh and former chief justice Chan Sek Keong - the leading figures in the original team on the Pedra Branca case.

They are working with a younger team of "bright legal minds" in the Attorney-General's Chambers, to build up expertise and experience in the next generation, he added.

On whether this episode will affect ties with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said bilateral relations are excellent, and mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation will continue.

Singaporeans should not be disconcerted by these developments, he said. "Even with the best of diplomatic and personal relationships, we must expect other states to act in their own self-interests."

Part of what underpins Singapore's good relations with Malaysia is a commitment by both sides to resolve disagreements amicably, in accordance with international law, while allowing cooperation to continue, he said.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry, in a separate statement yesterday, announced that Singapore has chosen Judge Gilbert Guillaume - a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration who was president of the ICJ from 2000 to 2003 - as a judge ad hoc for the case.

Under the ICJ's Statute, if there is no judge of the nationality of the parties on the Bench of the Court, the parties may each choose a judge ad hoc who will take part in the decision on the case.

Ties with China multifaceted and strong: Josephine Teo
Both sides will forge new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation, she says
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2017

The friendship Singapore shares with China is one that has developed over the years, with the foundation laid in the early days by late state leaders Lee Kuan Yew and Deng Xiaoping, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday.

Successive generations of officials and leaders on both sides continued building on the relationship.

Such strong friendship and goodwill allow both countries to speak candidly with each other, and discuss concretely how the relationship can be elevated, said Mrs Teo, speaking during the debate on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' budget.

This can be seen in the discussion of China's Belt and Road initiative, she said, referring to the programme that promotes infrastructure projects along historical land and sea trade routes.

Singapore has made three suggestions on the programme to China, she added.

One, the Southern Transport Corridor that links Chongqing to the Asean region, through the Beibu Gulf in southern Guangxi, can help to connect the land-based Silk Route Economic Belt with the ocean-going 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Two, greater trade, digital and financial connectivity along the Belt and Road will create investment opportunities and enhance the flow of goods and capital.

Finally, Singapore and China can work together to train officials from countries along the Belt and Road, to develop human capital. This will boost growth and hasten projects under the initiative.

These ideas were welcomed by the Chinese at the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting that ended earlier this week, she said in a speech in Mandarin.

The joint council is a high-level platform for discussing ways to deepen and broaden Singapore-China cooperation.

Mrs Teo spoke at length on the deep ties between the two countries that started even before diplomatic ties were established in 1990.

The two countries now have three government-to-government projects - the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City, and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

Singapore was one of the earliest supporters of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an international financial institution China initiated that aims to build infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific.

"Our ties with China are in good working order, resilient, and well primed for the future," added Mrs Teo, who is also Senior Minister of State for Transport.

She was responding to some MPs who had asked how Singapore should navigate its relationship with China in the current world order.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) said as China continues to rise, it will gather more economic and military clout to impose its will on Asia. Should the United States disengage from South-east Asia, Singapore runs the risk of becoming economically vulnerable to foreign policies shaped by China, he added.

Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) wanted an update on Sino-Singapore relations, saying the rough patch it hit last year seemed to be "behind us".

She also suggested the setting up of more contact points, both formal and informal, between the governments, businesses and people of both countries, to enhance communication and understanding.

Last November, Hong Kong Customs detained nine Singapore Armed Forces Terrex vehicles on their way to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan. Earlier, in September, Singapore's ambassador to China Stanley Loh had a public spat with the editor-in-chief, Mr Hu Xijin, of state-run Chinese tabloid Global Times over Singapore's role in the South China Sea dispute.

Mrs Teo said Singapore's relationship with China "has always kept up with the times, taking into account China's changing needs".

Both sides "will forge... new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation", she added.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also described Singapore's relationship with China as one that is high on resilience and strategic trust, owing to the frequent interactions between their senior leaders.

"Even when we have differences over some issues... we must recognise that our shared interests far exceed these differences," he said.

"We must not be distracted from the larger strategic imperatives, or allow incidents to derail the substantive, longstanding, and mutually beneficial cooperation."

Vivian Balakrishnan thanks Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh for support of Singapore's position
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2017

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday expressed his appreciation for bipartisan unity on matters of foreign policy.

Thanking Workers' Party MPs Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh for their "thoughtful speeches" during the debate on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' budget, he said: "This unity of purpose is essential for us to pursue our foreign policy goals in this uncertain and volatile environment."

Mr Singh was seeking more information on staffing needs in the light of global uncertainty, while Mr Low asked if Singapore needed to update its foreign policy to survive amid a changing global order.

Mr Low noted how Singapore's approach to foreign policy - its emphasis on international rule of law, and commitment to an open economy and freedom of navigation, among others - has earned it a "good deal of leg room" among major powers.

"Much of our foreign policy achievements are clearly due to our hard-working diplomatic corps, members of whom have been building on the foundation established by our premier statesman, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew," Mr Low said.

But things are changing, he noted. The new US administration poses a challenge, he added, citing how the superpower had pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement this year.

He also spoke of the seizure of the Singapore Armed Forces Terrex infantry carriers by Hong Kong Customs last year, and highlighted the critical challenges of a rising China.

While the Asian giant is an important strategic partner, Singapore must be mindful of not becoming too dependent on the Chinese economy, said Mr Low.

"Singapore not only risks becoming economically vulnerable to any strategic foreign policy shaped by China, the multiracial and multicultural character of our society will also come under pressure," said Mr Low.

Singapore Budget 2017
Budget 2017: Moving Forward Together
2017 Budget Statement debate in Parliament
Budget 2017 Committee of Supply Debate: MINDEF, MHA, MFA, MTI, MinLaw, PMO
Budget 2017 Committee of Supply Debate: MOE, MND, MOF, MOM, MCI
Budget 2017 Committee of Supply Debate: MOH, MCCY, MOT, MEWR, MSF

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