Parliament: MFA stepping up efforts to counter disinformation, explain foreign policy


Fake news can become a tool of foreign policy, used by states and other actors to engage in disinformation campaigns in Singapore to influence how citizens think, Nominated MP Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad said yesterday.

Such actions can erode the trust between people and the Government, he told Parliament.

Responding to Mr Mohamed Irshad's concerns, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Tan Wu Meng said Singapore has been stepping up its outreach to Singaporeans, including students, to explain the fundamental principles of the Republic's foreign policy and its vulnerabilities as a small country.

"To mitigate the risks of Singaporeans being distracted, divided and deceived by fake news and online falsehoods, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) must establish ourselves as the authoritative source of information on Singapore's foreign policy," Dr Tan said.

Speaking during the debate on the MFA's budget, Dr Tan said the ministry has enhanced its public engagement, through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, to "establish MFA as an essential source for the public to verify facts and news".

Given the evolving regional and global dynamics, Singapore's foreign policy can be successful only with the support and understanding of Singaporeans, he added.


"Even as we look outward, our foreign policy is ultimately centred on firstly, serving the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans; and secondly, buttressing our domestic resilience," Dr Tan noted.

The threat of citizens being in-fluenced by foreign entities was also raised by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

He said: "The advances in information technology have made Singaporeans far more media savvy, and exposed us to the crowded marketplace of competing viewpoints and disinformation. But we must also be aware that this also raises the risk of us being influenced by foreign entities who are using these new tools, including in the political arena."

He added: "As I have said repeatedly in this House, diplomacy begins at home. Divisions at home, within the shores of Singapore, will paralyse our foreign policy."

During the debate, Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked about the MFA's steps to address the needs of Singaporeans who are increasingly well-travelled, as well as those living abroad.

Dr Tan said the ministry's consular work has increased in volume and complexity. Last year, there were several major natural disasters overseas, such as the earthquake in Lombok, Indonesia, in August, he noted. To assist Singaporeans stranded there, the MFA deployed a crisis response team.

Among various measures, the MFA also launched a "Be Informed & Be Safe" initiative to provide safe travel information through various platforms, such as the new MFA website and social media.

"MFA will continue to do our best to assist Singaporeans who get into difficult situations overseas," said Dr Tan, as he advised Singaporeans to purchase travel insurance when travelling to have financial protection against emergencies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2019, with the headline 'MFA stepping up efforts to counter disinformation, explain foreign policy'. Print Edition | Subscribe