By The Way

Sneaker diplomacy, Lawrence Wong #poppoppops on TikTok: What politicians are up to this week

The Straits Times looks at what politicians, and the politically related, are up to in this weekly series. PHOTOS: LAWRENCEWONGST/TIKTOK, ALVIN TAN/FACEBOOK, RED DOT UNITED/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times looks at what politicians, and the politically related, are up to in this weekly series.

In this edition, we look at how diplomacy is conducted using sneakers, the new deputy prime minister's tears it up on TikTok, and the growth of one of Singapore's youngest political parties.

Look out for the latest edition of the series every Friday, and check out past ones here.

Scoring new kicks

In the usual world of diplomatic grip-and-grins, being unshod would be a major faux pas. But not in breezy Jakarta.

When Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Alvin Tan met Indonesian Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno on Monday (July 18), he complimented his Indonesian counterpart on his nice kicks, or shoes.

Mr Sandiaga promptly took them off and offered the shoes, made by an Indonesian brand called NAH Project, as a gift to Mr Tan.

Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for Trade and Industry, said: "I thought Pak Sandi's brand new kicks were cool, so he gamely took them off and gave them to me (in addition to a set of Indonesian crafted masks)."

"We are the same size so it's a great fit," he said, ending his post with the hashtag #kicksdiplomacy.

In return, Mr Tan presented him with a laptop bag designed in Singapore by special needs artists from The Art Faculty.

Mr Sandiaga also posted on Facebook, saying that the two leaders discussed a number of bilateral cooperation plans in the tourism and creative economy sectors.

"Mr Alvin apparently had a crush on the local 'NAH Project' shoes I was wearing," he quipped. "I immediately took it off and gave it to him as a sign of friendship."

In a later post, Mr Tan could be seen wearing the sneakers during a meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

"(The shoes) matched the Singapore-designed socks I was wearing from Freshly Pressed Socks, which featured a motif of our HDB flats," said Mr Tan, clearly a student of sartorial diplomacy.

NAH Project's website showed that the sneakers, priced at 425,000 rupiah (S$39), are currently sold out.

The DPM's TikTok chops

Since Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong started becoming more active on TikTok this year, he - and his social media team - has earned plaudits for staying on top of trends on the short-form video platform.

Mr Wong, who is expected to become the next Prime Minister, has posted 42 videos this year. His first video was put up in October 2020.

Most recently, he was featured in three videos at a G-20 meeting in Bali that he attended earlier this week.

The latest video showed sharply-dressed students entering a conference room for a conversation with him about the Forward Singapore exercise he launched last month to refresh Singapore's social compact. It used the #GentleMinions hashtag, which became popular after people around the world started showing up to the latest animated Minions film in suits.

Another showed the finance minister moving his hands to the tune of Korean singer Nayeon's song Pop, another trend this month where TikTok users replicated the moves of the catchy tune.

"Your social media team super on the ball," said one TikTok user on his latest video. Another called him a "man of taste".

Mr Wong's efforts to engage younger Singaporeans have not gone unnoticed.

"The things you need to do to be gen Z's PM. Much appreciated," said a commenter.

Generation Z usually refers to people born from the late 1990s.

But he still trails fellow 4G minister Ong Ye Kung in follower count on TikTok - he has about 50,600 followers, to Mr Ong's 57,800.

@lawrencewongst

Not here as gentleminions, but to have a great chat with our students studying overseas on ForwardSG, the global economy, social compact and more!

♬ original sound - 🌟

Red Dot United turns two

One of Singapore's youngest political parties, Red Dot United (RDU), turned two recently, and has already trained its sights on contesting more seats in the next general election - though it is not due for another three years.

A Facebook post last week (July 13) by its secretary-general Ravi Philemon said that the party has grown in the last two years.

RDU now has a base of about 120 members and volunteers, from 11 members who helped found the party, he said.

Registered in June 2020, the party contested in one GRC in the 2020 General Election. It won about 25 per cent of the votes in Jurong GRC, against a People's Action Party team led by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

A safe seat for the PAP, Jurong GRC was the best-performing result for the ruling party for the second consecutive election.

But this is not stopping RDU from eyeing more nearby constituencies.

"Besides Jurong GRC, we are also walking the ground in Radin Mas SMC (and will also be walking in Tanjong Pagar GRC from August onwards)," said Mr Philemon.

He said the party has done several social and community projects, such as one to distribute refurbished laptops to poor Singaporeans.

"We continue to dream of a democratic Singapore based on justice and equality. And to make that dream real, we have to take on big challenges - the biggest of which is preparing for the next General Election," he added.

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