Parliament: Singapore must conduct foreign relations as sovereign, independent nation, says Vivian Balakrishnan

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

SINGAPORE - Singapore must conduct its foreign policy as a sovereign, independent nation, even though other countries may put pressure on the Republic, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Monday (Jan 9), addressing questions in Parliament about the Terrex vehicle incident.

"It is natural for other countries to want other parties to act entirely in line with their own national interests," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"However, it is important for us to conduct our foreign policy as a sovereign independent nation, and not be seen as acting at the behest of any other country."

This is essential to Singapore's international credibility, standing and relevance to its foreign partners and friends, he added.

Dr Balakrishnan was responding to Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who asked about how Singapore will conduct its diplomatic relations with China following an incident in November where nine Singapore Armed Forces Terrex infantry carriers on their way back to Singapore from Taiwan were seized in Hong Kong.

The vehicles are still being detained in Hong Kong.

Dr Balakrishnan added that Singapore's relations with China, as well as its interactions with Hong Kong and Taiwan, are "based strictly on our 'one China' policy".

"We have consistently abided by this policy and understandings reached... and we will continue to do so," he said.

He said that leaders in Singapore and China have continued to engage each other, and Singapore is working with China in areas such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade deal.

"Singapore's relations with China, and our relations with other major powers, should not be seen as a zero-sum game. We believe in an interdependence characterised by open, inclusive, regional architecture that promotes collaboration and win-win outcomes."

Workers' Party's chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) later asked if China's economic progress has led to it becoming a "big bully".

In response, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore believes that "a strong China... that is deeply engaged with the rest of the world and economically integrated is one that brings enormous benefits".

"We have to focus on the opportunities, whilst at the same time, recognising that there will be issues to resolve from time to time. Now, this is where we have to learn to take things in our stride," he said.

"This is where we sometimes have to courteously, respectfully differ and remind everyone, big or small - please let Singapore be Singapore."

Dr Balakrishnan also called on Parliament to show solidarity with the Government on its foreign policy strategy.

"Hopefully all members of this House - whether from opposition, or NCMPs (Non-Constituency MPs) or NMPs (Nominated MPs) - stand with the Government," he added.

"This is one of those occasions for us to learn the right lessons, to stand together because ultimately, foreign policy begins at home."

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