S'pore must adapt to survive: Chan Chun Sing

Minister says it must anticipate changes in regional geopolitics and make right moves

Mr Chan speaking to the audience at the launch of a book to mark the 20th anniversary of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, at The Hive in Nanyang Technological University yesterday. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

There is a lesson buried in the past of small countries with long histories, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

They lasted because they could "read the winds and ride the waves" of change in their environment and adjust to keep afloat.

The need to do it deftly is all the more important as Singapore lies in a region where, historically, small countries do not exist for very long, Mr Chan said in a speech at the launch of a book to mark the 20th anniversary of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

He called on the school to continue its work in identifying key regional trends and forces so that Singapore can anticipate the ever- changing nature of geopolitics in South-east Asia and make the right moves. "That is the only way small city states like us can survive to defy the odds of history," he said.

In 1996, Mr Chan was assigned as an army officer to help founding director S R Nathan set up the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, which was renamed the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in 2007.

Unlike the Institute of Policy Studies and ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, RSIS was never a pure academic institution, noted Mr Chan, who is also secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

It is a place where officials from government agencies with international dealings, such as the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can take time off from their day-to-day work and think deeper about their fields, he said.

RSIS therefore produces research by individuals with a solid grounding in policymaking, he added.

He suggested using a simple measure to define RSIS' success - whether it continues to help advance Singapore's interest as an independent, sovereign country.

The book that was launched is titled Forward Engagement: RSIS As A Think Tank Of International Studies And Security In The Asia-Pacific. Edited by RSIS Associate Professor Alan Chong, it has 18 essays contributed by 23 of the think-tank's academics and appointment holders.

Their essays, based on research done in the past 20 years, range from cyber security and religion to Singapore's regional diplomacy.

In one chapter, RSIS professor of security studies Rohan Gunaratna recounts a briefing he gave, during which he told then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew that terrorists were targeting bars and restaurants in the region. Just days later, in 2002, bombs struck popular nightclubs in Bali, killing more than 200 people.

Prof Chong, who also spoke at the launch, said RSIS continues to pride itself as a research entity with close links to policymakers.

"The academic mission is qualified with policy needs in mind... RSIS not only provides research papers to government bodies, it assists them with the clout to convene gatherings of experts from Singapore and abroad to share knowledge and trigger productive debates on a variety of issues," he said.

For instance, RSIS helps to disseminate information on how to counter the radical ideology that terrorists use in their propaganda to recruit fighters.

Forward Engagement is published by World Scientific and available at www.worldscientific.com for $168. It is sold online only.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline S'pore must adapt to survive: Chan Chun Sing. Subscribe