Singapore thanks champions of its interests abroad

STOLEN passports, murder investigations and evacuating Singaporeans from war-torn areas - these are just some of the issues that Singapore's honorary consuls-general (HCGs) deal with.

Since 1974, 31 HCGs have been appointed in 26 countries.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said that their growing number reflects the evolution of Singapore's interests abroad and the demand for consular services by the city-state's travellers and overseas diaspora.

"If you look at, say, 40 years ago, our interactions with Latin America, Central America... Africa... would have been limited," he told reporters at the 7th Meeting of Singapore Honorary Consuls-General at the Shangri-La Hotel yesterday. "Today, politically and strategically, we have strong linkages with many of the countries in Latin America and Africa simply because... it's a more interconnected world," he said.

He added that the world's "economic power centres" have also shifted, and Singapore's economic interests are now "much greater".

With Singaporeans making more than 25 million overseas trips last year alone and another 200,000 residing abroad, there is also a need for consular services across the globe.

Most HCGs are influential natives of their countries who help to further Singapore's economic, political and strategic interests without receiving payment. They include businessmen, lawyers and engineers. Some accept the positions because of personal affinity with Singapore, and many see it as an honour to be selected.

Three months ago, Singapore's Papua New Guinea HCG, Sir Henry Chow, found himself assisting in a murder investigation and the repatriation of a body.

The Singaporean managing director of Morobe Stationery, Mr Tan Tiam Teng, 69, was found dead in his Lae home with a gash in his neck on Jan 4. He was a friend of Sir Henry. In another incident, Lebanese HCG Joseph Salim Habis took two Singaporeans out of a war zone through his network of contacts (see below).

HCGs "perform very valuable services", said Mr Shanmugam. "You exist and you survive by being connected, and the HCGs help us in that role because... we're simply too small to have embassies on the ground in many, many countries."

This article was first published on April 23, 2015.
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