Exhibition on foreign policy at Capitol Piazza features historic diplomatic documents

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at the exhibition on Singapore's foreign policy on Dec 1, 2015.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at the exhibition on Singapore's foreign policy on Dec 1, 2015.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Exhibition on 50 years of Singapore's foreign policy at Capitol Piazza.
Exhibition on 50 years of Singapore's foreign policy at Capitol Piazza.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Exhibition on 50 years of Singapore's foreign policy at Capitol Piazza.
Exhibition on 50 years of Singapore's foreign policy at Capitol Piazza.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Exhibition on 50 years of Singapore's foreign policy at Capitol Piazza.
Exhibition on 50 years of Singapore's foreign policy at Capitol Piazza.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - When Singapore became independent in 1965, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sent coded messages to about 20 countries explaining the separation from Malaysia and seeking support for its nascent sovereignty.

This dispatch, along with replies from several foreign leaders, can now be seen at the Capitol Piazza in an exhibition on Singapore's foreign policy over the past 50 years.

Reproductions of some 200 documents and photographs of the country's diplomatic dealings over five decades are on display outside the entrance of the shopping mall and in its basement shopping area.

Some highlights include the draft press statement from 2000 announcing the start of negotiations on the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which carries the handwritten amendments of then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and then-US President Bill Clinton.

Also on display is a crisis kit bag containing items such as satellite phones, a basic first aid kit, and temporary travel documents.

Such pre-packed bags are used by consular officers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when they go on the ground overseas to assist Singaporeans in distress, such as during the earthquakes in Nepal and Sabah this year.

Other items on display include photos of the goodwill mission in 1965 led by then-Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye to 15 countries over two months, as well as diplomatic gifts exchanged with other nations over the years.

Speaking at the exhibition's launch on Tuesday (Dec 1), Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan paid tribute to pioneers like Mr S. Rajaratnam and the first generation of diplomats who set up the Foreign Ministry despite being "an eclectic group of people who had transferred from different ministries".

The Foreign Service has since expanded to 49 overseas missions, 41 non-resident missions and 31 honorary missions.

Singapore's influence beyond its shores has also grown as a result of diplomats' active and constructive participation in multilateral organisations such as the United Nations.

The country was just last week re-elected to the International Maritime Organisation with the most number of votes among all contesting member states. "Despite our small size, we still count," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan later told reporters he hoped the exhibition is a more accessible way for people to understand the foreign policy challenges and constraints a country like Singapore faces. "It's always very tempting in a brutal world out there for things to be decided on the basis of might or size," he said.

He hoped Singaporeans do not take for granted the ease with which they can travel, study and work overseas, due to the work put in by the country's diplomats.

The exhibition also looks at how Singapore diplomats helped maintain peace in the region, created opportunities for Singaporeans, as well as help and engage Singaporeans overseas.

The exhibition at Capitol Piazza runs until Dec 13. It is open from 10am to 10pm. Admission is free.

ziliang@sph.com.sg