Staying neutral in foreign policy becoming more challenging

Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan elaborated at great length on the five core principles that have underpinned our foreign policy since independence in a recent speech (Vital to have consensus at home on foreign policy priorities, July 19).

Our very principled approach in foreign relations has made us credible and respected on the international stage despite our small size. We have been persistent and consistent, and played a big part in promoting a global world order governed by the rule of law and international norms.

It is unavoidable that sometimes our stance or action may not please some nations while we stick fast to our principles to protect our interests. We should be patient and take extra effort to help them understand our rationale and our concerns.

We should be neutral on the global stage. Maintaining neutrality, such as avoiding siding with one side against the other in international disputes, has become more delicate now and will become more complex in the fast-changing geopolitical dynamics.

The issue of neutrality encompasses a wide range of subjects beyond foreign policy, such as trade and investments, social, cultural, economic and military ties and interactions and so on. To maintain neutrality that benefits us most, our policymakers should deal with the matrix of equations objectively and fairly.

We need to observe how the global dynamics are developing, and reorient our focus correspondingly from time to time.

A case in point is the rise of China and India. We need more diplomats and policy think-tanks specialising in the affairs of these two nations to help us optimise the opportunities generated by them, and solve new bilateral problems that may be brought about.

Albert Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Staying neutral in foreign policy becoming more challenging'. Print Edition | Subscribe