Singapore Table of Contents

Governing Precepts and Goals

Minister for Foreign Affairs Suppiah Dhanabalan described the governing precepts of the country's foreign policy in 1981 as a willingness to be friends with all who sought friendship, to trade with any state regardless of ideology, to remain nonaligned, and to continue to cooperate closely with Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN) members. These precepts, while consistent with the thrust of foreign policy from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, failed to account for the basic role that the survival of the nation played in determining foreign policy goals. A primary foreign policy consideration until the mid1980s , survival became an issue because of Singapore's size and location and Indonesia's Confrontation ( Konfrontasi) campaign against Malaysia in the 1960s. It was further linked to the concept of the "global city" first proposed in 1972 by then Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs Sinnathamby Rajaratnam. This concept suggested that Singapore's survival depended on its ability to create a continuing demand for its services in the world market. By implementing a policy of international self-assertion, Singapore would shift from a reliance on entrepôt trade and shipping to export-oriented industries.

The focus on survival was evidenced in Singapore's reaction to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978. Of the many issues surrounding the event, one of particular interest to Singapore was Vietnam's blatant disregard for the sovereignty of a small nation. Singapore's decision to draw international attention to the situation was based, in part, on the need for international recognition of its own sovereignty. Following the invasion, Singapore heightened its international profile by expanding diplomatic representation abroad and attending international forums. Singapore was a member of ASEAN, the Nonaligned Movement ( NAM), the Asian Development Bank ( ADB), the Group of 77, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization ( INTELSAT), and the United Nations and its affiliated organizations.

With the passing of the first generation of leaders in the late 1980s, foreign policy was shaped less by the old fears produced by the events of the 1960s and 1970s and more by the experience of regional stability that prevailed during the formative years of the new guard or second generation of leaders. The self-assertion of a decade earlier was no longer required, and Singapore could afford to be less abrasive in its foreign policy style. Foreign policy objectives in the late 1980s were far more subtle than simple survival.

In March 1989, Singapore announced that it was charting a new course of "economic diplomacy" to meet future international challenges. It sought expanded economic ties with China, the Soviet Union, several Eastern European nations, and the three nations of Indochina: Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In a speech to Parliament on March 17, 1989, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wong Kan Seng announced that Singapore was hoping to reverse its previous staunchly anticommunist posture and normalize relations with several communist countries to promote more compatible relationships based on mutual economic interests.

Foreign policy also had to accommodate the views of predominantly Islamic neighbors who were viewed by Singapore's leaders as possible threats to its existence. As a gesture toward its neighbors and in recognition of its own regional roots, Singapore maintained its membership in the Nonaligned Movement, although it consistently rejected neutrality as a foreign policy option. Singapore's leaders had reasoned that avoiding entanglements with the great powers would leave Singapore far too vulnerable to threats from regional neighbors, as Indonesia's Confrontation campaign had demonstrated. Neutrality also was perceived to be inconsistent with the Total Defence style of defensive vigilance that the PAP attempted to instill in the citizenry following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. The guiding concept of Total Defence was known as national integration and was meant to unify a population made up of immigrants and a mix of racial groups into a people with the "human will" to be "unconquerable."

Foreign policy, therefore, stressed maintaining a balance of power in the region. Singapore promoted the regional involvement of all great powers because it feared aggravating a neighbor by relying on any one power. Although it would have preferred relying upon the United States to guarantee its security, such dependence would not have been tolerated by the other ASEAN states. Singapore also remained suspicious of the ability of the United States to pursue a consistent foreign policy following its withdrawal from Vietnam.

Retaining its developing nation status was another foreign policy goal of the 1980s. The 1989, however, Singapore lost the concession enjoyed under the United States government's Generalized System of Preferences ( GSP) on imports from developing countries and the ability to borrow from the World Bank and the ADB at concessional rates.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress