So as we already know. former permanent secretaries for foreign affairs Kishore Mahbubani and Bilahari Kausikan got into a war of words last week over how small states, like Singapore, should behave in the international arena.

Kishore subsequently sent a note to media editors, stating that: 

“I wrote this article as I believe that some of our senior officials have been imprudent in their public statements. As a result, there have been some serious mishaps in our external relations…..”

Kishore also clarified that his comments were not an attack on PM Lee Hsien Loong. 

Now, moving on to independent scholar and political observer Derek da Cunha, who recounted the an incident at a conference in 1994 where Kishore apologised to the audience after he was lampooned for criticising Western powers. Kishore was invited to the conference as a speaker.

Derek da Cunha quipped that he had been to hundreds of conference, but never had he ever encountered a speaker who made such a craven apology. He also noted that Kishore had also consistently talked down the West in his speeches and writings over the past two decades.

Here’s the Facebook post.

A few days back, Professor Kishore Mahbubani had said that some Singapore “senior officials have been imprudent in their…

Posted by Derek da Cunha on Saturday, July 8, 2017


And here’s the post in full in case you can’t see it:

A few days back, Professor Kishore Mahbubani had said that some Singapore “senior officials have been imprudent in their public statements”.

I remember the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1994, where the then Ambassador Mahbubani gave a speech at a plenary session. (For those not in the know, such IISS conferences draw hundreds of participants who are the who’s who from the international relations, strategic studies and defence & security establishments – both scholars and practitioners alike. Many are influential.) In his speech, Mahbubani was highly critical of the Western European countries’ response to the war in Bosnia. In effect, he said their response was one of “strategic incoherence”. (A summarised version of his speech can be found in The New York Times op-ed of Oct. 1, 1994, “You May Not Like It, Europe, But This Asian Medicine Could Help”.)

During the Q&A, the speech drew a highly negative reaction from the assembled audience. The renowned American military strategist, Edward Luttwak, made the first intervention. As I remember it, he said words to the effect, that the IISS had over the years been disinclined to invite a Soviet ambassador to speak, but that it had now invited an ambassador from “that S&M country”. “S&M” meant sado-masochistic, and was an allusion to the caning in Singapore a few months earlier of American teenager, Michael Fay, for vandalism and the international furore that generated. Luttwak then said that the only good thing about Singapore was that “the trains run on time”. (From the standpoint of 2017, that now seems like a funny remark, given the relative regular incidence of train delays on the MRT.)

After Luttwak spoke, things simply went downhill. Essentially, the heavily Western audience were telling Mahbubani that they would not take lessons on European matters from someone like him. After about a dozen questions/comments, Mahbubani, who looked thoroughly shell-shocked, publicly bemoaned the fact that he did not receive a single “friendly question”. If that wasn’t enough, he then apologised to the audience. He said: “I am sorry I brought up the issue of Bosnia.”

I have been to hundreds of conferences but never have I ever once encountered a speaker make such a craven apology.

Other than myself, the only other Singaporean in the audience was Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who at that stage was still a civil servant with the MAS. (Ambassador/Professor Chan Heng Chee arrived at Vancouver for the conference only the next day.)

Over the past two decades, Mahbubani’s standard theme in his speeches and writings has been to talk up Asia and to talk down the West, specifically Europe. That, of course, is entirely his prerogative.

The irony of it all.

That is all.

The end.

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