In its dealings with other nations, Singapore has always stuck to the principle of being consistent, honest and reliable, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday at a dialogue organised by the Young Sikh Association.
He was responding to a question on how Singapore should react as South-east Asian countries face increasing pressure to choose sides between China and the United States.
Dr Balakrishnan said "zero-sum game" rivalry between the two giants was unlikely, and all signs so far point to both sides "trying to do business with each other".
Outlining Singapore's position, he said the Republic would not want to be forced to choose between the two countries. Building close and friendly ties with as many countries as possible has been Singapore's foreign policy approach all along, and this is still fundamentally right, he explained.
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He added that Singapore has been and will be consistent in its relations with China and the US.
"Singapore's style is to be consistent and honest and reliable. So I say the same things. And (if) saying the same things sometimes gets me into a slightly warmer soup with either China or the US, so be it," he said. "We're prepared to take short-term penalties in order to maintain our long-term position as honest brokers who say the same thing and can be relied on."
His remarks come just days after Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh rebutted a high-level Chinese official's claim that Singapore has acted against China in recent years and adversely affected bilateral ties.
Reiterating Professor Koh's comments, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore has been an "all-weather friend" to China and is not aligned with or against any major power.
This means that bilateral ties may go "up and down" from time to time, he said. But this was unavoidable if Singapore is to remain relevant, useful and trusted to its friends in the long term, he added.
He cited without going into details how Singapore is often called upon to be a facilitator at international forums, when there is a deadlock between two sides.
This is because Singapore is not only "not big enough to threaten anyone", but is also "trusted, reliable, honest, (and has) good links with everyone".
Dr Balakrishnan was also asked about the challenges Singapore faces from its bigger neighbours.
That Singapore is willing to withstand pressure from "big dragons and eagles" will send an important signal to its neighbours that it will resolutely stand by its principles and interests while not "poking people in the eye", he said.
The theme of the dialogue was about how Singapore can navigate in an uncertain world.
In his remarks at the start of the session, Dr Balakrishnan said there has been a backlash against trade around the world and countries are becoming more protectionist as technology disrupts established ways of doing things.
To remain resilient against this backdrop, he said, Singaporeans must remember that survival depends on a few fundamentals, such as being adaptable by picking up new skills.
He added that he was optimistic as South-east Asia has grown faster than the global average and is a "bright spot" in the world.
He said Singapore has been an exception in an uncertain world, and would continue to be a shining red dot as long as it continues to chart its own path and remains a relevant, trustworthy partner for many other countries.