SINGAPORE - Former Senior Minister S Jayakumar launched a memoir covering his 31 years in politics on Wednesday.
Titled Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu: A Singapore Memoir, the 224-page volume chronicles his early life and his career as a law academic and dean before cycling through his stint in politics.
The memoir draws its title from Professor Jayakumar's philosophy as Foreign Affairs Minister, a post he held from 1994 to 2004 and which, of all his portfolios, most defined his political legacy.
At the launch of the book at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Wednesday, Prof Jayakumar said that one of the lessons that he hopes emerges from his memoir is that Singapore should "never be deterred by the fact that we are a small country - we can still play a role on the world stage".
Both this book, and his previous one in 2011, Diplomacy: A Singapore Experience, reveal in detail how Singapore has used a combination of support for international law, coalition-building with other like-minded states, and a resolve not to be pushed around by bigger nations, to maintain a seat at the global table.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was guest-of-honour at the launch, said that the book was "more than a nostalgic personal memoir, but reminds us of the harsh reality of international affairs, especially for a small country with little clout vis-a-vis big players".
"As a small country, Singapore always has to fight to be at the table. Things have gone well for us for so long that people sometimes do not realise that we can still easily be turfed off and become an item on the menu, and this has not happened only because of the quiet and unremitting efforts of Jaya and others like him."
Calling Prof Jayakumar a "mentor and old friend", PM Lee said that the former Senior Minister "played a major role in all the important constitutional and legislative changes in the last three decades".
Prof Jayakumar entered politics in 1980 and held portfolios including Foreign Affairs, Law, Home Affairs and Labour. He was also Deputy Prime Minister from 2004 to 2009.
He retired from politics at the 2011 General Election, passing on his Bedok ward in East Coast GRC to Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say.
His book is divided into three sections. In part one, he recalls his early years as a boy in post-war Singapore, a student in Raffles Institution and his decision to enter law. In the second part, his three decades in politics is covered, from controversial decisions like instituting Group Representation Constituencies in 1988 to dramatic moments like the Hotel New World collapse in 1986.
In the third part, he reflects on the challenges that lie ahead for Singapore, expressing optimism that the younger generation have a sense of what makes Singapore special, and will work to protect it.
Prof Jayakumar dedicated his book to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, "who made possible the Singapore Story", he wrote. The memoir ends with a moving exchange of e-mails between Prof Jayakumar and Mr Lee in 2011, after they both retired from Cabinet.
Be At The Table is published by The Straits Times Press and is available at leading bookstores at $27.82 (GST inclusive) from May 7.
The book can also be ordered from the Straits Times Press Online Bookstore at www.stpressbooks.com.sg from May 7 onwards.
Prof Jayakumar is donating his royalties from the book to MFA's adopted charity The Rainbow Centre, which helps children with special needs.