Overthinking It

Comparing Low Thia Khiang’s and Dr Chee Soon Juan’s views on foreign policy

How rare, for the PAP to praise the Workers’ Party for a speech made in Parliament.

But that was exactly what PM Lee Hsien Loong did. In a recent Facebook post, PM Lee said that some opposition MPs had good speeches, and cited WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang’s speech as an example.

By international standards, our Parliament is less dramatic than some others, but the quality of our debate is high….

Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday, March 4, 2017

The moment when you make such a good and sensible speech that the PAP has no choice but to acknowledge and praise.

In his speech, Mr Low noted that the regional landscape in which Singapore was operating in was changing, and asked how we could protect its multiracial and multicultural character of our society.

For most parts of his speech, Mr Low wasn’t actually praising the PAP. But it is clear from Mr Low’s speech that he is very keenly aware of the realities faced by Singapore, and the challenges ahead when we attempt to sail through the fog.

And it is indeed heartening to hear both the PAP and the WP agreeing on the basic tenets of Singapore’s foreign policy – while they might disagree on domestic issues, it is pivotal for all key stakeholders in the country to be aligned when it comes to foreign policy.

Especially in this period of increased uncertainty in the region, and the broader world.

It must also be noted that statements from WP MPs during the Terrex incident were also mostly supportive.

Not opposing for the sake of opposing, and giving credit when it is due. This is the hallmark of a good and responsible opposition party which, first and foremost, has Singapore’s interests at its heart. 

(You will find a clip and an extract of Mr Low’s speech below)

Extract of Low Thia Khiang’s speech: Foreign Policy in the New World Order

It was only half a year ago that the Prime Minister conducted a marathon of diplomatic visits to our closest partners in the region. In three months, he travelled to Laos to meet with Asean leaders and the United States, China, Japan, India and Australia to affirm longstanding ties.

Things were looking up for our relations with these key countries. Our principled foreign policy position has emphasized the international rule of law, commitment to an open economy and freedom of navigation, mutual respect for each other’s independence, and armed neutrality. This seems to have earned us a good deal of legroom as a small, sovereign city-state among large powers. Some even commented that we are punching above our weight in the international arena to influence outcomes for the common good.

Much of our foreign policy achievements are clearly due to our hardworking diplomatic corps, members of whom have been building on the foundation established by our premier statesman, the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. But it is also becoming apparent that the global order is changing. And it is changing rapidly. Even as the Prime Minister continued his diplomatic marathon, when he was visiting Japan in September, a Chinese state-owned newspaper stoked public anger by accusing Singapore for taking sides against China.

I am glad that the issue with the seizure of the Terrex vehicles by Hong Kong Customs were handled with great care by China and Singapore and have come to pass. Nevertheless, the public expressions and discussions resulting from the events do point to some critical challenges to Singapore in this changing global order. The critical challenges pertain to a rising China with the economic and military clout to impose its will on Asia. China may not do so in the near-future, but with the means and its strong position on the South China Sea claims, the potential is there.

Whether we like it or not, China is an important strategic partner. However, even as Singapore invests in new opportunities of bilateral cooperation, especially under China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, we need to be mindful of not becoming too dependent on the Chinese economy.

We have encouraged our businessmen, entrepreneurs and professionals to connect with their Chinese counterparts using deep historical and cultural links.

We saw the complications when Singaporeans doing business and working in China came under public pressure during the events last year. Some Singaporeans were even of the opinion that we should appease China. Singapore not only risks becoming economically vulnerable to any strategic foreign policy shift by China, the multiracial and multicultural character of our society will also come under pressure.

To compound this challenge, the new United States administration pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership a month ago. The US looks set to turn inwards to deal with domestic political conflicts. If the US disengages from Southeast Asia, this will leave a gap, if not a vacuum.

If Asean continues to be divided on the collective response to the South China Sea issue, then the gap left by the US will mean Asean will have to face a strong China by ourselves and divided. This is a grim prospect.

One of the tenets of our foreign policy is hard-nosed pragmatism to survive as a small city-state. I would like to ask the Foreign Minister whether our foreign policy principles need to be updated in view of the changing world order, and if not, how the existing principles would guide us in the volatile and uncertain waters.


Dr Chee Soon Juan’s SDP, on the other hand, shows a starkly different position from the WP when it comes to foreign issues.

If we are to truly maintain our standing as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, then we must gradually move out from…

Posted by Chee Soon Juan 徐顺全 on Friday, January 13, 2017

It is clear that Singapore's relations with China has deteriorated in recent years and LHL's utterances have not helped….

Posted by Chee Soon Juan 徐顺全 on Friday, December 9, 2016

I think most Singaporeans know exactly the kind of politics they want in Parliament (quite evident), and I think I don’t have to say anything more.

That is all.

The end.

1 Comment

  1. Chee Soon Juan did insist on specifics in Singapore’s policy towards China. Low Thia Khiang reminded Parliament of HOW we should conduct foreign policy, but not WHAT.

    As the author, you pointed out the difference between the two leaders’ thoughts. The difference is, SDP had specific policy guidelines. WP did not.

    Insinuating that one party has a ‘better’ foreign policy or knowing what exactly Singaporeans want as politics isn’t very beneficial to the overall national debate.

    Just my two cents.

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