Foreign Minister K Shanmugam gave his first comments on allegations that Singapore had spied on its neighbours, saying at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum on Friday that "the Indonesians and Malaysians know that we won't do anything to harm their interests".
He said that on intelligence matters, the Singapore Government will not confirm or deny any specific reports even if they are untrue, because the ensuing back-and-forth would be "never-ending".
"You cannot say, this is 5 per cent true or 95 per cent true, that we work with the Americans, Australians, Malaysians and Indonesians on this aspect of counter-terrorism but not this aspect. Never-ending. The point is that the Indonesians and Malaysians know that we won't do anything to harm their interests," he said.
Asked by moderator, ST editor Warren Fernandez, if the allegations that were published in an Australian newspaper this week would harm Singapore's bilateral ties with Indonesia and Malaysia, Mr Shanmugam said that it should not, as "what we do is known to all of us." The pressure of domestic politicking around the allegations would be stronger in Malaysia and Indonesia, but "that is not new and we just have to deal with it", he added.
In the 90 minute dialogue, Mr Shanmugam was also asked about tensions over China's new air defence identification zone that covers disputed territory with Japan, as well as its ongoing terroritorial disputes in the South China Sea with Asean countries.
He said that all the major players in the ongoing disputes - China, Japan and the United States namely - face pressures of nationalism, and these stand in the way of a resolution.
"In the public arena, China bashing is very fashionable in the US, it's going to require the administration to be able to move beyond that. It's going to require China to be able to handle its own politics. A lot of people think China doesn't have politics but that's untrue. China has a huge amount of politics. Five hundred million netizens are pushing and putting pressure on the leadership. It's going to require Japan to be able to look beyond the purely nationalistic considerations and local domestic considerations."
True resolutions to the territorial disputes would take time and probably would not happen in his lifetime, said Mr Shanmugam, adding that he hopes only that they would not escalate into military action.
As for what Asean can do to resolve the territorial disputes in the South China Sea between some of its member states and China, Mr Shanmugam said that "we must not kid ourselves that these fundamental national sovereignty issues can be dealt with at multi-national forums." But he emphasised that peace and stability in the region is the bedrock of Singapore's, and Asean's prosperity, and that recent developments reflect worrying trends.