SINGAPORE – The next decade will be critical for Singapore as it adjusts to disruptions in a post-Covid-19 world and finds a niche and optimal role to play in the new normal, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday (Aug 18).
With much at stake in the coming years, the country will need a foreign service manned by the best Singaporeans available, he added, describing them as “tenacious, dedicated individuals with the skills, the commitment and the conviction to do what’s best for Singapore and Singaporeans”.
Dr Balakrishnan was speaking at a virtual dialogue with six Foreign Service scholarship recipients and their parents. Two received the Public Service Commission Scholarship (Foreign Service), while four were awarded the Singapore Government Scholarship (Foreign Service).
He told these future and prospective diplomats that they are in “a most fascinating period in history. You are living through a revolution”.
In broad strokes, he sketched out the various forces at play in the world order which, he said, is “reaching an inflection point”.
Globalisation and economic integration – “the recipe for peace and prosperity and for constructive cooperation amidst nation states” – are now under stress.
Globally, protectionist, nationalist and even xenophobic attitudes have come to the fore, made worse by the digital revolution that has created anxiety and affected middle-class wages as well as jobs across the spectrum, he noted.
In the last few months, these trends have been further aggravated and accelerated by issues such as the rising tensions between the United States and China and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Combined, they have plunged the world into the deepest global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Dr Balakrishnan said. But the upheavals also produce opportunities, he noted.
“The key purpose of our foreign policy is to advance the long-term, enlightened interests of Singapore and Singaporeans, and this means, it begins at home.”
On the domestic front, the economy will need to be restructured, and Singaporeans’ skills will need to be upgraded. Singapore must also strengthen its social compact as it deals with the anticipated volatility and disruption on the economic front, he said.
“Externally, it means maintaining our reputation, trustworthiness… (and) sometimes, to say no to other states – big or small, powerful or not so powerful – and to do so not because we just want to throw a tantrum but because we are upholding our legitimate national rights, and we are conforming with international law.”
Another important area he pinpointed is in serving Singaporeans directly, like when his ministry “embarked on our largest consular operation in our history” earlier this year to bring Singaporeans abroad back home during the pandemic.
“This, in a sense, represents what the privilege of citizenship is – that there are people called Singaporeans, we look out for each other. We leave no one behind,” Dr Balakrishnan said.
As future diplomats in the making, “what is most important for all of you is to be intellectually nimble, cognitively deep and yet, flexible”, he added. “Sometimes, asking the right question is more important than getting the right answer.”
He further told them: “You need both that sense of adventure, that ability to take risks when necessary, the wisdom to know… that simply going on, straight line, business as usual, is not enough.”
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