China spy in Singapore?

August 6, 2017

Q: Recently a senior academic from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), Professor Huang Jing, has been identified as “an agent of influence of a foreign country,” so says the Ministry of Home Affairs.

According to the MHA, Prof Huang.

“knowingly interacted with intelligence organisations and agents of the foreign country, and cooperated with them to influence the Singapore Government’s foreign policy and public opinion in Singapore,”

What is your take concerning this development?

A: I would be very surprised if a superpower like China did not at least try to influence both the instructional and directional trajectory of prevailing thoughtware amongst the intelligentsia in Singapore.

This is a strategy as old as the hills. It is not new.

Q: So you don’t see anything wrong about this?

A: Understand this. Understand it clearly. This is a strategy as old as the hills…it is not new. There is no right or wrong in realpolitik. No such thing even as ethics or morality when it comes to how the game should be played at this level. Only the means to supply victory is key. I think one would have to be completely evacuated of all sense of reality to even suggest for one moment this is something that is only confined to China. Truth is every country and even corporations are actively engaged to some degree in this sort of clandestine operations to influence the prevailing stream of public consciousness only because that just happens to be one of the most effective way to extend their sphere of influence.

Q: Are you suggesting Singapore should do the same thing?

A: Let me reiterate. I would be very surprised if a country like Singapore who always aspire to punch above its weight category, did not at least try to influence both the instructional and directional trajectory of prevailing thoughtware amongst the intelligentsia in those countries that may have a preponderant effect on her geopolitical and geoeconomic agenda.

Q: Why is this method of gaining influence so effective?

A: First of all it’s very cost effective. Secondly since the thinking classes is really so very small in any country. But their sphere of influence is yet so large and disproportionate to the relative smallness of their size. It makes a lot of sense to garner the support of these thinkers.

This is hardly a new story.

Q: You keep alluding to the fact this is not a new story. But I don’t see any cloak and dagger clandestine operations being mounted in let’s say the US or EU to garner such support using clandestine methods.

A: Well that is because in the US, lobbyist have become such an entrenched features in the US political landscape that they don’t even have to hide either their motivation or their means for that matter to accomplish their goal.

The Jewish and farmers lobby and even Calvin Klein regularly bend the public’s brain without anyone even batting an eyelid.

Q: Calvin Klein?

A: Why not! After all when one frames the entire argument on merely the capacity to influence and what influencers hope to accomplish. I can very well argue Calvin Klein is trying to bend my perception of reality by suggesting that all I have to do to get a six pack is to buy their super expensive range of men’s underwear. I mean don’t I have a right to walk Orchard road without being inundated subliminally with under garment propaganda?

So the summary goes like this. Where do we draw the line on the power to influence along with how far influencers can really go before they cross the line and become subversive?

Because I can argue by the fact the government of the day owns all the apparatus of mass assimilation from the radio to TV to even net related portals. Aren’t they exerting influence of a kind and type? Aren’t they influencers or at least trying to be so?

So we have to be very circumspect when it comes to these sort of allegations.

Personally, I think this whole idea of trying to demonize China is not very smart. I don’t agree with how this matter has been handled by the MHA as all it would do is send a very negative message to the political elite in China.

Q: How do you think the Chinese will react to this incident?

A: I think they will respond accordingly. In the past going from the Terrex case and the humiliating non invite of Mini Lee to the OBOR forum. This clearly shows the Chinese are not going to take this lying down.

Q: How do you think Singapore should respond to this Chinese attempt to influence the intelligentsia?

A: First of all I don’t think it’s that easy to exert an influence of the intelligentsia of any country. After all they’re thinking folk. They’re not farmers like me who are just browsing brochures of tractors and combine harvesters all the time. These people read prodigiously. They are acquainted with all the aspects of the argument at a very intricate and detailed level. So it’s not easy.

Again we have to be very careful how we choose to frame this question. Because if we choose to paraphrase it too narrowly, then anyone who supports China is automatically seen as a spy, Manchurian candidate or necessary allied to them. If that sort of binary outlook prevails, then a mindless McCarthism can only take root and that would in the long run just bracket the entire discussion along with kill the entire narrative of meaningful Sino- Singaporean relations.

Recently Kishore Mahbuni wrote what I considered to be a very thoughtful piece on how best to manage Singapore and China relations. And a couple of big wigs came down on him like a ton of bricks just because it suggested some departure from certain ways of thinking.

Now he and countless others are too scared to write anything else.

How do you stop the cat from jumping on a stove. Turn it on. But that would also mean other cats will not jump on it either.

I don’t think that’s a very intelligent way to make meaningful progress on such a jugular subject like how best to move on with the China and Singapore relationship.

Q: What do would an intelligent way look like to your understanding of the Singapore and China relationship?

A: I think to answer that question one has to move beyond the binary assumption of you are with me or against me mindset. Currently the whole premise of the China Singapore relationship is predicated on either supporting the US as the preeminent power in the Pacific and working to maintain its primacy or going with the assumption that China will eventually exert such a powerful gravity over trade and commerce regionally that it can only supplant the US as the prime force in the region.

In my opinion it is this blinkered calculus that is responsible for many of the frictions that we frequently see between the US and their reliable allies and China and her reliable allies. We see this clash of the titans being played out in the geoeconomic sphere between the TPP and OBOR, the IMF and AIIB and in the Geo political theatre we also see it been played out militarily in the south China seas and the Indian Ocean it could well be said this calculus even leaches into how Singapore and other countries allied to the US crafts its foreign policy towards China and in a sense China has to respond to all these overtures.

At one level of understanding we can certainly say this is all new. But to me it is old dressed as new only because the world has seen this bipolar clash between communism and the so called free world or the USSR and the US – what we are witnessing today is essentially a replay of that construct albeit with certain shifts in the chess board.

So there has to be some cognizance that China is not the USSR. As for the US, it is not what it used to be either. I wouldn’t go so far to say the US is kaput. But it is certainly true to say judging from seriousness of the trauma of their political process. They are certainly not as self confident as they used to be.

These are realities that are very real. I think for too long there has existed a prevailing atttiude both in the minds of policy makers and think tankers that it is possible to somehow put China into a straight jacket and just wish that the status quo would magically perpetuate itself. To me this either a form of fantasy or madness.

China’s economic growth is very real. Her demand for raw material to continue to fuel this level of growth is equally real as well. And to accomplish these goals she has to project beyond her borders. That is also very real as well.

My only concern is all these realities don’t seem to be adequately reflected in how to deal with an emerging China.

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