Singapore must stand up and be counted……what does it mean?

July 12, 2017

To me….at least. This means Singapore is going to stay the course when it comes to the art of realpolitik. It also means our foreign policy is unlikely to go thru any changes and this would probably mean, we are likely to get another round of bashing from China again.

I do apologise for my pessimistic assessment….It seems I am an incorrigible sufferer of not being able to call a spade anything except a spade. I could well have been an incomplete education that contribute to my lack of vocabulary.

You know…it all well and fine to try again if you fail….by all means. You should give it another go.

But at some point of reckoning….one would do well to ask – might this all be reinforcing failure instead of a smart way to gainfully make progress?

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‘Recently Kishore Mahbubani wrote a thought provoking article where he advocated a more studied and cautious approach towards Singapore’s foreign policy. He went on to underscore how Qatar’s troubles showed that small states should always behave like small states and be wary of getting entangled in affairs beyond their borders. To me this was an enlightened piece unlike his other sharings that I much prefer to describe in polite terms as going down as well as expired dated cod liver oil.

But hardly before Mahbubani’s thesis had an opportunity to been given the benefit of a fair hearing…..perculiar people who I’ve never heard of before started to shout him down. These erudite lot started to wax lyrical about Singapore’s glorious past, punching above one’s weight category along with extolling how Singapore did not get to where it is today by playing second fiddle or being a lap dog to anyone blah blah blah blah….it was full of bluster signifying very little except maybe how to use so many words to say very little.

But there is one glaring flaw in their argument – they don’t seem to understand that jingoism and runaway train nationalism has nothing whatsoever to do the art of realpolitik. Neither do they seem to appreciate the magnitude of Singapore’s recent failure to deftly navigate the complexity of China’s rising geoeconomic and sphere of influence when it comes to impasses like the SCS.

That is why I don’t take what these perculiar folk have to say seriously…after all how seriously can you take people who still seem to talk big after getting their teeth kicked in by the Chinaman…that I shall leave to you, the perceptive reader to conclude.

This should prompt us to ask – can small countries thrive despite their inherent constraints and having to accommodate the interest of bigger states? Certainly is the answer. Prussia did so despite being landlocked under Federick. So did pint sized Austria under Metternich.

But my point is they didn’t do it alone. Neither were those improbable feats pulled off with just jingoism and promoting feel good dogma and lexicons either…if anything it involved diabolically intelligent moves that by all accounts required the highest quality of cerebral fitness. Federick for instance would not have been able to effect his strategic break out into Lower Saxony and stopped the trade blockade of Prussia had he not been able to persuade the British to bankroll his strategy and provide vital naval and logistical support to the combined armies of Hanover and the contingents of Hessen-Kassel, Brunswick and Prussia. Metternich would have been lapsed into the history books as an obscure diplomat of just another small poor excuse of a sovereign state had he not skillfully leveraged on the combined forces of larger states such as Saxony, Britain and for a time even France itself to allow Austria to insert itself as a ballast to skillfully balance the many competing interest of larger nations in Napoleonic Europe.

All this should prompt the perceptive reader to ask – who is Singapore’s allies? Are they all alligned to Singapore’s regional agenda. The obvious answer is the US, Japan, India and to a very limited extent Australia. The problem as I see it is the leader of the pack. The US under the Trump administration doesn’t seem very interested in Asia.

I may be wrong in my assessment. But from what little I have been able to beacon out from the Trump administration so far – US policy in the Pacific can at best be described as dangerously distracted by the North Korean crisis and dyslexic to everything else to the point of rendering it a liability to Singapore’s foreign policy. And that is not just any problem…it’s a very big problem.

Against this uncertain backdrop, its best to sit it out while the elephants fight…..there is no shame in coming to terms with one’s smallness and even less shame in keeping silent and if possible playing dead even. But there is great shame in not knowing the difference between whether it is worthwhile trying again if one fails and reinforcing failure.

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