S’pore identity strong enough to withstand foreign pressures: Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan

WASHINGTON – Singapore is taking appropriate precautions against the possibility of foreign influence operations within its society, but its strong sense of identity will be a bulwark against such pressures, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Wednesday.

He was responding to a question from CNN International anchor Christiane Amanpour on how seriously the Singapore Government takes reports that China is trying to influence ethnic Chinese populations across South-east Asia, including in Singapore.

“It is something which we need to be aware of. It is something which we take appropriate precautions on,” he said.

“But my fundamental point is this – I trust Singaporeans. 

“We know our identity, and most importantly, we understand what our long-term national interests are. It is not to be anybody’s vassal state or proxy.”

He said Singapore negotiates a path between the United States and China and is unapologetic about pursuing its own national interests.

“The way we navigate this nexus between the United States and China is to be straight with both of them. We tell them we have our own long-term national interests.”

“Both of you are critical to our long-term national interests,” said the minister, referring to the US and China. “I do not have the luxury of saying sweet nothings in Beijing and sweet nothings in Washington. We play a constructive, honest broker role.”

The Singapore identity transcends ethnic or linguistic identities, Dr Balakrishnan noted.

“Singapore is a young city state, multiracial, multilingual. We are not Chinese, we are not Indians, we are not Malays, we are certainly not Americans,” he said.

“I am confident that there is a very strong sense of a Singapore identity. We may speak different languages, have different colours. But if you come to Singapore …. you will realise there is a strong sense of identity.”

And the fact that Singaporeans can speak different languages and connect well with people in other countries is an asset, he said. 

“Cultural pride, linguistic proficiency, being able to understand, and to appreciate, opportunities, both in the West and East, in India and in Europe, is a strategic advantage for us. 

“The fact that we understand, and therefore, some people may think they have opportunities to influence us, that is baked into our cultural DNA.”

Asked how Singapore negotiated as the US and China competed for influence in the Asia-Pacific, Dr Balakrishnan said the city state was well intertwined with both.