Nine of Singapore’s armored personnel carriers (APCs) were quietly making its way from Taiwan to Singapore. For some strange reasons, the ship they were on stopped at Hong Kong. That’s when things got really interesting really fast.
That sparked off much discussion online about China-Singapore relationship. Is this move because China is super buay song with Singapore?
And what better way to understand what’s happening here than from picking the brains of
resident grass-cutter ambassador-at-large and former permanent secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Bilahari Kausikan?
Just in case you’re not following him on Facebook, or if you’ve missed reading his comments here, we’ve lifted some of the more ‘colourful’ ones here.
Someone said that this move is because China is showing its displeasure at Singapore for holding military exercises in Taiwan. To that, Ambassador Bilahari said:
“Open displeasure is meant to intimidate Singaporeans because they have realised that with or without LKY the government cannot be intimidated. They are trying to intimidate Singaporeans in order to get Singaporeans to pressure the government.”
Another person said this incident is because China is unhappy with Singapore speaking up on the South China Sea issue. She wondered if China would leave us alone if we had kept quiet. Ambassador Bilahari disagreed:
“Of course not. If we had stayed quiet on an issue of such importance they would have asked for more: that we speak out in support of their position and play the role Cambodia plays for them in ASEAN (even Laos is not as bad). They know we are far more credible than Cambodia internationally and thus want us to be their mouthpiece. Of course, we do on occasion support them when it is in our interests, for example on Hong Kong and the Western Regions project at Chongqing that we undertook at Xi Jinping’s request. But we cannot be just their mouthpiece which is fundamentally what they want and what they mean when they refer to us, despite our constant denials, as a ‘Chinese country’. If we do that our credibility with the US, Japan, India, Australia among others would be entirely destroyed and we have important interests with these countries too.”
Ambassador Bilahari went on to explain that it is important that the way we interact with China is consistent with the way we interact with any other countries:
“Our government is not rash but the considerations are not just relations with China. If we allow ourselves to be intimidated by Beijing what do you think our immediate neighbours will think?”
But surely it’s not easy to remain so principled when dealing with such a huge power. Especially since we are such a small country. To do that, we would need a certain “bad-boy” streak. Or as Ambassador Bilahari put it:
“I am well known among the pandas as very KL or whatever the equivalent is in Mandarin!”
“No skill involved just indifference to death.”
This incident reminds us that we cannot take our relationships with other nations for granted. Thankfully, it seems that there are enough people who have this “indifference to death” working to advance Singapore’s interests abroad.