Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Maliki: Be careful not to be drawn into conflicts in Middle East

Dr Maliki said while some conflicts are historical and longstanding, others are driven by regional political rivalries.
Dr Maliki said while some conflicts are historical and longstanding, others are driven by regional political rivalries.
FOREIGN MINISTER VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN
FOREIGN MINISTER VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN

Conflicts in the Middle East may be far away, but they resonate with many in South-east Asia, including Singaporeans, said Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman.

But there is a risk of Singaporeans, especially the Muslim community, being drawn into the narrative of sectarian strife, given the geopolitical complexities involved, he added.

He asked Singaporeans to be careful, saying that while some conflicts are historical and longstanding, others are driven by current regional political rivalries.

"Singaporeans have always displayed tolerance for all religions and should continue to do so... We should be careful not to be drawn into these conflicts that are exploiting religion for political ends," he said in response to MPs' questions during the debate on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' (MFA) budget.

Dr Maliki noted that one longstanding conflict is the Israeli-Palestinian one.

DON'T GET CAUGHT UP

The conflicts in the Middle East have their roots going back thousands of years. They are ethnic and pseudo-religious sectarian conflicts superimposed with regional rivalry.

It is important that Singaporeans do not get caught up in these conflicts, which really have nothing to do with us, and in fact have nothing to do with religion. Religion has just been used, abused as a vehicle to further political ends.

FOREIGN MINISTER VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, on Middle East conflicts and how they might resonate with Singaporeans, during yesterday's debate on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs budget

Singapore's hope is for both sides to reach an agreement so that Israel and Palestine can live side by side in peace and security, he said.

He stressed: "Singapore's position on this has been consistent. We support the rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland."

Singapore has voted for several Palestinian-related resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly, and has also provided aid, such as a $5 million assistance package, for Palestinians to rebuild their lives and develop their economy.

"As a friend to Israel and Palestine, we urge both sides to engage in direct negotiations and to refrain from taking any unilateral actions to change the status quo, including through acts of violence," he said.

Turning to other conflicts, Dr Maliki said the situation in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq is also of deep concern, given the humanitarian toll and the threat posed by terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Singapore welcomes the efforts mediated by the United Nations to seek a political solution to the conflicts, but recognises that the process will not be easy because of geopolitical complexities, he added.

He said the leadership role of the United States and other major powers will be critical in pushing the negotiating process forward.

Singapore and Middle Eastern countries share a common goal of combating religious extremism, he added.

He said he had met religious scholars in the Middle East who "categorically reject violence in the name of Islam", and invited them to visit Singapore to share their experiences.

Singaporean students pursuing Islamic education in the Middle East also play an important role as they can apply what they learnt there to the multiracial and multi-religious context here, he added.

Dr Maliki also cautioned against viewing the entire region through the same lens, adding that there are still economic opportunities there. Singapore will continue to cooperate with the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran and Egypt, he said.

Charissa Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'Maliki: Be careful not to be drawn into conflicts in Middle East'. Print Edition | Subscribe