Megaphone diplomacy not a good approach to China affairs

Although Mr Bilahari Kausikan is now a private individual, when he spoke at the conference on Chinese public diplomacy, he was doing so as a former permanent secretary and a retired diplomat with, apparently, still ongoing connections with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Public needs education on what is happening in region; July 6).

Did he get approval to speak as if he were an authority on the issue for the Singapore Government?

Or was it a matter of pure academic freedom or entitlement?

Proclaiming China's shenanigans to the world, even if he had full access to government research papers, is not really a diplomatically clever approach.

I hope the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is not one with Mr Bilahari's geopolitical strategies and megaphone diplomacy.

Diplomacy is still a good approach. It would be better for the MFA to send a diplomatic note to China on the matter.

True, there is no need for Singapore to be struthious. But neither is it necessary to be hawkish or strident. There is no need for small states to always act like extremely poisonous shrimps.

It seems unwise to shame China in a forum co-hosted by American-based organisations in front of an international audience.

It is also true that we should educate Singaporeans, but that was not the goal of that forum, neither is it the role of a private individual. I am sure it is not the Government's intention to let former ambassadors be its proxy voice or lead its thinking and decision-making on managing its China relations. It also should not rely on private individuals to educate Singaporeans on the dangers of China's influence.

Is China's attempt at influencing Singaporeans more invidious than American, British, Japanese or Australian attempts at influencing Singaporeans to their thinking? What is the purpose of splitting hairs?

Lim Ang Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2018, with the headline 'Megaphone diplomacy not a good approach to China affairs'. Print Edition | Subscribe