Singapore up to now has not had to think about how its foreign policy might upset the domestic constituency, said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.
But this could change as recent events have shown that sections of the population can be influenced on ethnic or other considerations.
And while the domestic constituency matters in that foreign policy has to be in the people's interest, the considerations of small sections of the population may not necessarily be in the larger, broader interests, he said in his talk to the Singapore Press Club yesterday.
Mr Shanmugam cited as an example an event organised by the World War II History Research Association on Aug 15 to mark the end of the war, that was attended by Ms Sim Ann, Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information. After she left, the association reportedly read out an open letter to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe protesting against his Cabinet's reinterpretation of Japan's pacifist Constitution.
The event was reported by China's Xinhua news agency, which also reported an adviser to the association as saying Mr Abe's statement the day before, in which he echoed apologies for the war made by past leaders, was insincere.
Yet, Singapore's position on this issue is factual and clear, neither pro-Japan nor pro-China.
Mr Shanmugam noted that the association had good links with the Chinese Embassy here.
"Sections of our Chinese population may understandably ask, why are we taking a position that is not more pro-Chinese?" he said. "But sometimes that can be an induced viewpoint from a small section."
He gave as an example China's active outreach programme in Singapore's Special Assistance Plan schools, "bringing our children to China, to teach Chinese history, which is fine with us". However, "if it goes beyond teaching history, then it becomes an issue", he added.
He also noted that in Parliament, questions were already being asked, whenever things happened in Gaza, that try "to paint (the) Government as pro-Israel". Yet, on the Palestinian issue, the Singapore Government is strictly neutral and provides more aid to the Palestinian government than the Malaysian and Indonesian governments combined, he said.
He said ethnic groups other than the Chinese were also capable of being influenced by other countries such as India. "This was quite an issue for us in the 1960s. It became less of an issue in the 70s, 80s, 90s."
However, with the Internet and greater connectivity, it could become an issue again, "and then have an impact on foreign policy".
This article was first published on August 28, 2015.
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