More informed citizens can help safeguard S'pore


Understanding a country - its history, its politics, its society - is something that its citizens should try to engage in.

This means examining challenges, successes, andeven shortcomings and failures.

In this respect, Mr Bilahari Kausikan's commentary ("Foreign policy is no laughing matter"; June 8) is a useful reminder of the many things that we Singaporeans can still learn about our country.

He points to common understanding of our circumstances as crucial when conducting domestic debate about foreign policy.

Beyond seeing the circumstances facing Singapore and how they evolve, acquiring a familiarity with our system of government may be just as important.

Singaporeans should learn more about the different roles played by the Parliament, the judiciary and the executive, which consists of the Cabinet, as well as the ministries and agencies it oversees.

Greater availability of information will be helpful in developing shared understanding.

Access to documents surrounding Operation Coldstore or other contentious moments in our history can put to rest questions about narratives that Mr Kausikan worries about.

As the Cold War is over and communism bankrupt as an approach to governance, why not share with Singaporeans the reasons to be confident about the official narrative?

Similarly, more information about the analyses that go into the making of specific policies, along with reports evaluating the performance of government programmes, can help inform the public and build up trust in policies.

More open discussion and debate about contemporary issues, including on foreign policy, can help Singaporeans better grasp nuances and appreciate the situations we face.

The 2013 parliamentary debate over Singapore's Middle East policy Mr Kausikan cites was an opportunity for Singaporeans to gain an insight into how we, as a multi-religious country that includes Muslims, are conscientious in addressing this complicated matter.

This can ease doubts that some Singaporeans may have about these policies. Singapore can ill afford to be ideological and doctrinaire about foreign policy and domestic politics.

More informed and communicative citizens can help to avoid the rise of ossified positions and help safeguard Singapore at a time when there is more domestic and external friction.

Singapore already has existing resources, such as university departments, that can foster the rigorous discussion central to understanding foreign policy and politics.

Here, nationality may mean less than the relevant knowledge that faculty can share and have others respond to - in much the same way that Mr Kausikan provides expert views on the United States and China.

This article was first published on June 16, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.