Neutrality, restraint in global arena can also add to soft power

While I cannot agree more with Mr Jonathan McClory (Soft power: S'pore can afford to be more ambitious; July 25), I believe that greater ambition also brings with it new challenges and conflicts.

Soft power, like trade, has two sides.

While it flows from economic logic that a country increases the exports of what it best delivers, this same logic often feeds trade wars (think about the ongoing Trump-like rhetoric about unfair trade practices).

Likewise, the export of a country's soft power cannot be expected to escape a "soft-power conflict".

An ambitious international posture runs the risk of generating an opinion backlash.

Singapore cannot overstretch itself to be the "firefighter" for international conflict. However, neither should it condemn itself to the quagmire of bilateral disputes.

It is important for us to understand that soft power does not always derive from ambitious agenda and headline-grabbing sound bites.

It is important for us to understand that soft power does not always derive from ambitious agenda and headline-grabbing sound bites. At times, it is a country's ability to hold itself and maintain political comportment that accords it respect and leverage.

At times, it is a country's ability to hold itself and maintain political comportment that accords it respect and leverage.

Take the Trump-Kim Singapore summit as an example.

The choice of Singapore as host lay not in the fact that Singapore was loud or critical on this matter globally.

Instead, it was Singapore's neutrality and composure in the face of this cantankerous conflict that proved more decisive.

In other words, soft power does not always require one to "stand up and talk"; one also has to learn how to "sit down and listen".

It all comes down to the balance of patience, neutrality and restraint.

As Singapore takes on more important roles globally, it should not lose sight of its tradition and principle of international neutrality.

In today's tumultuous and uncertain external environment, a calm and respectful disposition on the global stage may generate more soft power than an ambitious, active one.

Michael Zhou Xizhuang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2018, with the headline 'Neutrality, restraint in global arena can also add to soft power'. Print Edition | Subscribe