Parliament 2014: What Singapore needs to hold its own

SINGAPORE - Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam Tuesday spelt out the factors that are crucial if Singapore is to hold its own and survive among bigger neighbours.

These are: be successful economically, have a strong defence force, maintain strong ties with its neighbours and be backed by a strong network of international partners.

He made the point in his reply to MPs who had asked how Singapore should deal with its bigger neighbours who may have become more nationalistic and view ties with the Republic as an abang- adik (big brother-small brother) relationship.

The issue, Mr Shanmugam added, is not new.

"As we go forward, we must fully expect that others who progress will indeed seek to move us and move our policies towards their direction."

Amid this situation, Singapore's defence has to be "top rate", he said. "If we cannot protect ourselves, nothing else matters."

Also, it is important for Singapore to strengthen bilateral ties with countries in the region and multilaterally, through groupings like ASEAN, to "help move everyone along" on diplomatic issues.

He noted that every country will use all the advantages it has, including size and military might, in negotiations to pursue its interests.

As for Singapore, he said: "We have been able to hold our own, punch well above our weight, simply because we have been faster, skilful and successful. If we were not successful, we would not be having this debate here."

Singapore had pardoned and released 45 Indonesian saboteurs linked to bombings during the Confrontation.

But it could not do the same for the two marines who bombed MacDonald House because civilians were killed and injured.

Doing so would have set a precedent for Singapore's relationships with bigger countries, said Mr Shanmugam.

"That precedent will be that we will or we should do what a bigger country asks us and pressures us to do, even when we have been grievously hurt.

"That is a different concept of sovereignty and that is not good for us, which we cannot accept."

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