Beware of becoming tools of foreign powers, says diplomat Bilahari Kausikan

Ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan speaking at his book launch on June 21, 2017.
Ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan speaking at his book launch on June 21, 2017.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans need to be aware that the manipulation of public opinion has long been used as a tactic by many to pressure governments to change policies, said ambassador-at-large and former permanent secretary of foreign affairs Bilahari Kausikan.

For this reason, it is important they critically evaluate the news they read and develop "clear, independent and balanced judgements", he told about 200 people on Wednesday (June 21) at the launch of his book, Singapore Is Not An Island: Views on Singapore Foreign Policy.

Citing the flood of criticism in the western media about United States President Donald Trump, he said it would lead one to conclude that nothing the US administration has done is right.

For instance, Mr Trump's reaffirmation of the One China policy was depicted as weakness though it has been a stance the US held since 1972, Mr Bilahari said at the event organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

And while acts like the pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership undermines American credibility, it is "factually incorrect to suggest nothing in Mr Trump's administration is right", he added.

For example, Mr Bilahari said it was correct for President Trump to deploy carrier strike groups to and near Korean waters in response to recent North Korean missile tests.

Mr Trump's predecessor Barack Obama had adopted the policy of strategic patience, Mr Bilahari said, calling it "a serious mistake that gave Pyongyang eight years to develop its nuclear and missile capabilities".

These criticisms by the western media and foreign policy establishments are often driven by their inability or unwillingness to come to terms with the election of Mr Trump, he said.

Their motivations may be understandable "but are none of our business," he said, adding that some in Singapore have succumbed to it.

"Rushing to judgement based on unprincipled acceptance of other people's assessments, made for reasons that are irrelevant to Singapore, may lead to wrong policy choices," he said

Singapore as a small country has to work with all governments, he said, regardless of whether their policies suits its preferences.

Former Foreign Minister S Jayakumar, who was the guest of honour at the book launch, urged Singaporeans to take a greater interest in foreign policy.

While people are often vocal about foreign policy, they are not always well-informed and may sometimes become unwitting tools of other countries, he said.

There were also some who have fallen to the temptation of using foreign policy as a tool of partisan politics, he added.

"Not only must we be aware of national interests which lie at the heart of our foreign policy, but we must also not be blind to the fact that other countries will and have mounted rather clever and cunning tactics to influence various segments," he said.

He urged people to be wary of external influences that "don't have the best interests of Singapore at heart".

Singapore Is Not An Island: Views on Singapore Foreign Policy is published by Straits Times Press. Price (with GST): $26