Singaporeans must put their own national interests first, amid attempts by external forces to influence countries in the region, including Singapore, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.
"We want to be relevant to the world and helpful to powers, big or small, but we do not want to choose sides or be asked to choose sides, or to be put in positions that bring short-term benefits but compromise the larger collective good," he said.
Speaking at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (SCCCI) annual National Day dinner, Dr Ng said Singapore and the world are entering a period of great uncertainty and turbulence driven by a sharper ideological divide between the United States and China.
He cited how the US and China have stated publicly the positions their governments and militaries have taken up towards each other.
For instance, Dr Ng said the US has branded China as a "revisionist power", describing it as "a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbours while militarising features in the South China Sea", among other things.
He pointed out that China, in its own defence White Paper, noted that "the US has severely undermined the regional strategic balance and the strategic security interests of regional countries", among other things.
NOT CHOOSING SIDES
We want to be relevant to the world and helpful to powers, big or small, but we do not want to choose sides or be asked to choose sides, or to be put in positions that bring short-term benefits but compromise the larger collective good.
DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN
NATIONAL INTERESTS COME FIRST
In our highly connected world, these external forces can affect countries in this region too, including Singapore. When that happens - and it will happen - we must put our own national interests first.
Speaking to about 560 people, including business leaders, Members of Parliament and diplomats, Dr Ng said these are strong and clear words from both sides. "You, as businessmen... fully appreciate what happens when top management outlines your strategy to your units - it gets translated to ground actions. Sometimes slower, other times quicker, but eventually it will filter down to the last unit," he added.
On what Singapore should do, Dr Ng said that being a small country, it should not overestimate its ability to influence, let alone control, global affairs.
Amid new pressures, Singaporeans must keep their own identity, independence and interest foremost in all their dealings, said Dr Ng.
On what such pressures were, he cited Eastern Europe, where smaller countries such as the Baltic states have had to respond to external influences to divide their societies and shape their internal systems, even during elections.
"In our highly connected world, these external forces can affect countries in this region too, including Singapore. When that happens - and it will happen - we must put our own national interests first," he added.
Other than that, Dr Ng said, Singapore also has to maintain stability and security. "We cannot help others if we ourselves are divided."
Commemoration of Singapore's bicentennial year serves as a reminder that the country and the region are no strangers to big-power contests, said Dr Ng, with external forces - over the past 700 years - periodically fighting proxy battles in the region, often at the expense of countries here. "The US-China rivalry can have that same potential impact on Singapore and this region," he added.
But Singapore has excellent relations with both the US and China, said Dr Ng, adding that the Republic holds firmly to the view that the US' presence in this region has contributed to stability and allowed Asia to prosper. And it also firmly believes that the peaceful rise of China benefits the world.
He thanked the SCCCI for its support of national defence, especially for national service, from the start in 1967, when the first two batches of recruits were enlisted.
The SCCCI had given each of the recruits a medallion, which had the words "jing zhong bao guo" inscribed in Chinese, meaning "loyalty to the country".
The SCCCI also raised funds - about $1.39 million - in support of national defence in 1968.
"These early efforts by the chamber laid the foundation for a strong SAF today. And this chamber continues to give strong support to national defence," Dr Ng said.
"Against fake news and disinformation campaigns on social media that seek to divide Singaporeans, the SCCCI's efforts in helping to forge a cohesive society... will become more salient than ever."