2 'fighters for Singapore' to share views in dialogue

Mr Choo (above) and Prof Koh will anchor a dialogue at The Arts House on Friday.
Mr Choo (above) and Prof Koh will anchor a dialogue at The Arts House on Friday.
Mr Choo and Prof Koh (above) will anchor a dialogue at The Arts House on Friday.
Mr Choo and Prof Koh (above) will anchor a dialogue at The Arts House on Friday.

Ambassador-at-Large and ex-chief of defence force to discuss how S'pore relates to the world

Defence and diplomacy are two sides of the same coin, according to Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh.

"We are fighters for Singapore, though not in a violent way," he said, referring to himself and former chief of defence force Winston Choo.

Both men will anchor a dialogue on how Singapore relates to the rest of the world at The Arts House on Friday.

It is the fourth in a series of six dialogues in the EDB-ST Pioneering The Future series, which taps the brains of the Republic's pioneers for tips on how to make the most of future opportunities.

It is being hosted by the EDB Society - an association of past and present officers of the Economic Development Board - and moderated by The Straits Times' editor- at-large Han Fook Kwang.

In an interview with The Straits Times ahead of the forum, Professor Koh, 77, noted how deftly Mr Choo forged friendships with the chiefs of armed forces elsewhere in the region such that "we could just call these chiefs to resolve issues".

"Now, this doesn't apply any more," he added.

Mr Choo, a 74-year-old retired army general, was 33 when he became chief of the Republic's armed forces in 1974.

This followed tours of duty during the undeclared war with Indonesia, known as the Confrontation, in the mid-1960s, and also after he served as aide-de-camp to Singapore's first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, from 1965 to 1966.

Prof Koh will discuss the extent to which Singapore's place in the world has diminished since the death of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, whose opinions on current affairs were sought by other world leaders.

He will also share little-known anecdotes, such as the diplomatic coup he pulled off when he arranged for Mr Lee to address the United States Congress on Oct 9, 1985.

Prof Koh, who was then Singapore's ambassador to the US, took three months to lobby those in Congress for that, amid doubts from his colleagues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the end, he said, the many friends he made in the US government helped him secure the podium for Mr Lee.

Mr Choo, a professional soldier who retired in 1992 after 18 years at the helm, will also field questions from readers. With some people questioning whether Singapore is spending too much on defence, he said the nation's generous commitment to the sector is "an expression of how serious we are about it".

He added: "Technologically, we are between five and 10 years ahead of our neighbours."

Still, he stressed, technological prowess cannot replace "boots on the ground", and so he will touch on how the profile of the armed forces here has changed since the 1960s.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline '2 'fighters for S'pore' to share views in dialogue'. Print Edition | Subscribe