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

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has enhanced its public engagement, through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, and WhatsApp, to "establish MFA as an essential source for the public to verify facts and news".
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has enhanced its public engagement, through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, and WhatsApp, to "establish MFA as an essential source for the public to verify facts and news".PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - 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, said Nominated MP Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad on Friday (March 1).

Such actions have the potential to erode the trust built up over the years between the 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, Telegram, 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 only be successful 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 influenced by foreign entities using digital tools was also raised by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan during the debate.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "The advances in information technology have made Singaporeans far more media-savvy, and has 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. Division at home, within the shores of Singapore, will paralyse our foreign policy.

"We need to continue to strengthen the resilience and the unity of our citizens, and to build a deeper appreciation of the fundamental principles of Singapore's foreign policy and of our vulnerabilities as a small country."

During Friday's debate, Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) also asked about the MFA's steps to address the needs and expectations 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. In 2018, there were several major natural disasters overseas, such as the earthquake in Lombok in August, he noted. To assist Singaporeans who were stranded, the MFA deployed a crisis response team, he said.

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. To have adequate financial protection against unexpected emergencies, Singaporeans should always purchase travel insurance when travelling," Dr Tan said.