“The bigger countries engage Singapore because we do not just tell them what they want to hear,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said at a town hall meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday, July 17, 2017.
“In fact, (the larger countries) try harder to make Singapore take their side precisely because they know that our words mean something.”
Balakrishnan highlighted, in his 25-minute speech, the importance of Singapore remaining as a credible and consistent partner on the international stage.
He also noted that Singapore's "fair and honest" dealings with all parties as a broker has "enabled Singapore to build up trust and goodwill with our partners over the decades.” This was because there is a "sense of strategic predictability."
This credibility has allowed Singapore to play a constructive role in international affairs, including at the United Nations and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean). For instance, Singapore has helped to create platforms for countries with similar interests. In 1992, Singapore helped establish the Forum of Small States (Foss), which now 107 member countries. This figure is more than half the membership of the UN.
“Our credibility has won us a seat at the table, even when our relevance is not immediately obvious. We are not the 20th-largest economy in the world, but we have just come back from the G-20 (summit in Germany), where we were invited,” Balakrishnan said.
He stressed however, that Singapore has to safeguard its international position by building a successful economy and cohesive society. It is imperative that "we make it clear that we always act in Singapore's interests, and not at the behest of other states."
“We must be prepared to speak up, and if necessary, disagree with others, without being gratuitously disagreeable," Balakrishnan added.