'I felt a sense of liberation from an unhappy marriage'

'I felt a sense of liberation from an unhappy marriage'
Professor Tommy Koh, chairman of the governing board of the Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore.
PHOTO: Tommy Koh

When Professor Tommy Koh heard from friends that Singapore had separated from Malaysia, he turned on the radio with mounting excitement.

"I felt a sense of liberation from an unhappy marriage," he said. "I was determined to do whatever I could to ensure the success of independent Singapore."

Singaporeans were divided, but Prof Koh, 77, now Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was all for separation.

"I had opposed the merger because I did not think it would work. I championed the view that an independent Singapore would survive."

He said recognition of Singapore's independence was not slow to come: "Malaysia was the first country to recognise us. In the next few days, our independence was recognised by more and more countries."

"As we had not prepared for independence, the few people at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were learning on the job. Our founding Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam and his small team did very well under the circumstances."

Even though many felt Singapore had no future except as part of Malaysia, Prof Koh was not worried.

"I was not afraid because I had always believed in the cause of an independent Singapore," he said.

"I was, of course, aware of the formidable challenges that faced our new country. At the same time, I was quietly confident that the people and leaders of Singapore would rise to the occasion, and that a bright future lay ahead of us."

This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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