Minister cites past examples of foreign meddling

A 1988 file photo of workers who drove past the US Embassy in Hill Street in 18 buses which carried banners and placards telling the US to keep out of Singapore's affairs. A file photo of editorial staff at the Singapore Herald, which was shut down i
A file photo of editorial staff at the Singapore Herald, which was shut down in the 1970s after it was revealed that it had taken foreign funding, including from a Malaysian politician. ST FILE PHOTO
A 1988 file photo of workers who drove past the US Embassy in Hill Street in 18 buses which carried banners and placards telling the US to keep out of Singapore's affairs. A file photo of editorial staff at the Singapore Herald, which was shut down i
A 1988 file photo of workers who drove past the US Embassy in Hill Street in 18 buses which carried banners and placards telling the US to keep out of Singapore's affairs. ST FILE PHOTO

Active interference by one state in the affairs of another is an age-old problem that goes back centuries, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

But now, the Internet age has allowed countries to destabilise others without the need for conventional warfare, through the use of hostile information campaigns, he added.

Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking at the Conference on Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures, gave several historical examples of how foreign interference has destabilised states.

CHINA'S WARRING STATES PERIOD

Led by General Yue Yi, the state of Yan conquered most of the state of Qi in 284BC. But five years later, Yan's king died.

Tian Dan, a general from the conquered state, bribed Yan officials to spread rumours that Yue Yi wanted to become the new king.

Yue Yi was forced to flee for his life, and Tian Dan subsequently recaptured Qi's former territory.

ROME AND GREECE

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Greek politicians appealed to the Roman authorities to adjudicate conflicts in a bid to destroy their domestic opponents and court favour with the rising superpower.

Years later, the Achaean League - a confederation of Greek city-states - emerged. But some Achaean politicians started lobbying Rome to prop up pro-Roman allies in Greek states. When Sparta wanted to secede from the league, these groups appealed to Rome to intervene.

Over time, Greek independence became diluted and the Greeks eventually fell to Roman rule.

SINGAPORE HERALD AND EASTERN SUN NEWSPAPERS

In the 1970s, two newspapers shut down after it was revealed that they had taken foreign funding.

The Singapore Herald pushed an anti-government line and also published articles against national service. It took money from overseas sources, including a Malay-sian politician.

The Eastern Sun was shut down after it was found to have worked with a news agency of communist China and received money from it.

In the words of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, that funding meant the paper "would not oppose the People's Republic of China on major issues and would remain neutral on minor ones".

THE HENDRICKSON AFFAIR

In the late 1980s, American diplomat Hank Hendrickson encouraged a group of Singaporean lawyers to enter opposition politics, contesting elections against the People's Action Party.

One of them was then Law Society president Francis Seow, who was assured of refuge in the United States if he ran into difficulties with the Singapore Government.

Mr Hendrickson was eventually expelled from Singapore after he was found to have meddled in domestic politics.

2016 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

In the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, a foreign troll factory conducted a disinforma-tion campaign on various social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook.

These companies were slow to acknowledge the problem and rectify issues. For example, it was only in late 2017 that Facebook publicly acknowledged there had been foreign interference on its platform leading up to the election.

It estimated that between 2015 and 2017, about 126 million people received content from this troll factory and its associated accounts.

THE HUANG JING INCIDENT

In 2017, Singapore expelled an academic at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Dr Huang Jing was in contact with foreign intelligence groups and agents, and used his position at the school to engage prominent and influential Singaporeans.

He also tried to influence senior public officials in Singapore and change its foreign policy, as well as recruit others to help him. Dr Huang is an American citizen who is originally from China.

Linette Lai

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2019, with the headline Minister cites past examples of foreign meddling. Subscribe