Experts, ground-level contact equally important for ties

The Chinese national flag flies outside a hotel in central Beijing, China, on May 15, 2019.
The Chinese national flag flies outside a hotel in central Beijing, China, on May 15, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Lee Teck Chuan and Dr Thomas Lee Hock Seng are both right in advocating for a panel of Chinese experts (Urgent for S'pore to develop pool of China experts, May 21) and people-to-people contact at the ground level (S'pore needs to have ground-level contact for closer China ties, May 23).

One cannot calculate the direction of a country simply based on what its current population is thinking and doing.

There is a need to study its historical episodes, conventional ways of thoughts and actions, political and economic policies, as well as former leadership, in order to muster a more comprehensive grasp of how that influence might affect its current governmental strategies.

This is especially true in the case of China, where many traditions are still highly valued and deeply rooted even as modernisation unfolds at lightning speed.

On the other hand, one cannot discount the value of people-to-people interactions as the power of citizen exchanges is one to be reckoned with.

Without solid public support, no bilateral relations can realise their potential to the fullest.

Moreover, citizen diplomacy can be critical in greasing the wheels of diplomacy when government-to-government communication breaks down.

The work of experts is necessary as they examine history and trends, collect and analyse evidence-based data, develop trade and economic models between countries, and transfer theory into practice by making policy recommendations to a country's decision-makers.

Likewise, Track II diplomacy offers an additional route for facilitating dialogues, exchanges and conflict resolution.

Neither is a substitute for the other but can be highly beneficial in fostering country-to-country relations when deployed in their complementary capacities.

Lily Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2019, with the headline 'Experts, ground-level contact equally important for ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe