Professor Tommy Koh engages audience on range of issues at dialogue session

Law, diplomacy, environment, arts and culture - these were the buzzwords at a dialogue session that members of the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) had with Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-large at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), on Wednesday evening.

More than 200 participants who attended the event sought Prof Koh's opinion on a range of topics from China's newly declared Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) to suggestions for improvements on Singapore's perennial haze problem during the two-hour session.

While Prof Koh coyly said his work in the foreign ministry did not qualify him to field questions on local politics, he maintained his position on Singapore's need for an ombudsman, which is an independent person who represents public interests by investigating complaints of unfairness.

On China's ADIZ, he pointed out how this unilaterally imposed space overlaps the controversial Diaoyu or Senkaku Islands which is claimed by both China and Japan, sending a signal of claimed sovereignty over the islands.

Said Prof Koh, who is also chairman of the Centre for International Law and Special Adviser of the Institute of Policy Studies at NUS: "Both economies are fundamentally complementary, not competitive. There is no reason for China and Japan to be enemies, and every reason for them to be friends."

Organised by NUSS and held at the Kent Ridge Guild House, the light-hearted session, Conversations with Tommy Koh, was peppered with laughter and banter among Prof Koh and the four panellists.They included Ms Chong Siak Ching, chief executive of The National Art Gallery; Mr Gopinath Pillai, Ambassador-at-large at MFA; President of Nature Society (Singapore) Dr Shawn Lum and Associate Professor Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

The view of general manager Daney Lim, 58, summed up the view of many in the audience: "The discussion was very frank, upfront and enlightening."

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