Foreign interests should not get involved in Singapore politics: Desmond Lee

Minister Desmond Lee's comments came after Acra rejected an application to register the firm OSEA Pte Ltd.
Minister Desmond Lee's comments came after Acra rejected an application to register the firm OSEA Pte Ltd.

The contest of ideas and views on Singapore's politics and how to run the country should involve Singaporeans alone, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee said yesterday.

That has been a longstanding principle of the Government - one that is supported by Singaporeans from all walks of life, he told reporters at an Early Childhood Development Agency event.

"Foreign interests should not directly or indirectly try to get involved in the politics that affects the lives of Singaporeans because it is our lives at stake... And it is important that Singaporeans be entirely responsible and take responsibility for our destiny," said Mr Lee.

His comments came a day after the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) rejected an application to register the company OSEA Pte Ltd, which was set up to provide editorial services to the website New Naratif, run by historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han.

Acra said allowing the registration would be contrary to Singapore's national interests, and noted that it has links to foreign funding.

OSEA Pte Ltd was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of British-registered company Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA UK), which received a US$75,000 (S$98,000) grant from the Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), said Acra.

It added that FOSI is closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF), led by billionaire investor George Soros.

Mr Lee pointed out that OSF has "a history of involvement in other countries' domestic situation".

He cited how OSF attempted to manipulate views against the Catholic Church on controversial issues affecting the Irish, and also "purported to get involved in the politics of Malaysia".

"In this day and age, particularly where online falsehoods can be a tool of choice to involve yourself in other people's business...(Singaporeans have to) be in charge of our own destiny, and we seek Singaporeans' continued support for this principle," said Mr Lee.

The minister also acknowledged yesterday that some Singaporeans have "evinced a certain unease" about the way Dr Thum was challenged and questioned by Law Minister K. Shanmugam for nearly six hours during the public hearings held by the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods.

But it is important to recognise that this is how the Government builds robust discussions, he said.

In his written submission to the committee, Dr Thum had suggested that Operation Coldstore in 1963 was conducted for political purposes, and there was no evidence that those detained without trial were involved in any conspiracy to subvert the Government.

Mr Lee said that one should expect such statements to be challenged, in terms of the material and documents used to make those claims.

He added: "It cannot be that the Government takes a back seat and allows clear misrepresentations to go out in the public arena. That is something we hope that Singaporeans can understand, and also discern about these facts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2018, with the headline 'Foreign interests should not get involved in S'pore politics: Desmond Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe