Continue policy of pragmatism and prudence

Few can fault Professor Kishore Mahbubani's statement that small states should exercise care and prudence in punching way above their weight.

As veteran diplomat Bilahari Kausikan highlighted in his response to the don's article, Singapore's diplomats are well aware of power asymmetries in their policy assessments and recommendations (Singapore cannot be cowed by size; July 3).

They do not seek to be naysayers for the sake of being naysayers.

Hence, it was neither smart nor wise of Prof Mahbubani to compare apples with oranges by juxtaposing Qatar's predicament with the flak that China gave Singapore over its position on the South China Sea to press home his point that small states should behave like small states.

Qatar's neighbours have accused it of supporting terrorist groups, among other serious charges. But all Singapore has done is repeatedly call on all claimants to resolve their differences according to international law, in tandem with Asean's position.

Unsurprisingly, China chose to see things differently for a variety of reasons.

Regretably, Prof Mahbubani seems to implicitly condone Beijing's response by suggesting even more circumspection from our diplomats in their dealings with China.

Would he have changed his tune, had China not overreacted against our little island?

After all, one can just as easily argue that Singapore had "mishandled" the Michael Fay incident - when Prof Mahbubani was the head of our Foreign Service - based simply on America's bellicose reaction to our decision to turn down a request by the then United States President Bill Clinton for a full commute of the vandal's caning sentence.

Alas, ex-post facto analyses based on hindsight should not be taken too seriously.

Our relations with America have gone from strength to strength since the Fay caning, after several years of chill.

We continue to engage with China on a variety of win-win projects that have huge potential to raise our bilateral ties to new heights, in keeping with the times.

May our diplomats continue to uphold Singapore's interests with calmness, pragmatism and prudence - always with the big picture and long view in mind, and most certainly not as a tame poodle.

Toh Cheng Seong

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