S'pore's foreign policy not based on 'diplomatic neutrality' but driven by national interests & principles: Vivian Balakrishnan

Constructive and amicable dialogue is important to understand different positions.

Sulaiman Daud | February 07, 2024, 12:33 PM



Singapore does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, nor is our foreign policy "predicated on maintaining diplomatic neutrality", explained Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Feb. 6.

He was responding in a written reply to Parliamentary questions from Mohd Fahmi Aliman, Member of Parliament (MP) for Marine Parade and the Mayor of South East District.

Relations with China

Fahmi asked whether China's demarches to Singapore following Singapore's congratulatory message to new Taiwan president William Lai had any impact on the diplomatic relations with China.

In response, Vivian referred the Mayor to his previous reply to another MP, Dennis Tan, who asked about China's demarches (diplomatic statements).

Vivian said Singapore reiterated its "One China" policy, and our "strong and deep relations" with China were not affected.

"Diplomatic neutrality"

Fahmi also asked:

"What steps is the Ministry undertaking to safeguard Singapore's diplomatic interests and relationships in regions where China holds significant influence;

And how does Singapore plan to reinforce its commitment to diplomatic neutrality while simultaneously maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan and other nations involved."

Vivian clarified that Singapore does not have "diplomatic ties" with Taiwan.

He added: "We are friends with both sides of the Taiwan Strait and we conduct our relations with the Mainland and Taiwan in a way that is consistent with our 'One China' policy."

Vivian also clarified that contrary to what some may think, Singapore's foreign policy is not all about "diplomatic neutrality".

"Singapore’s foreign policy is not predicated on maintaining 'diplomatic neutrality' but is driven by our national interests and principles," he said.

"In this context, we have pursued wide-ranging and mutually beneficial cooperation with all our international partners, including China, and will continue to do so.

From time to time, countries may disagree with each other given their different interests. When this happens, it is important for there to be constructive and amicable dialogue to understand each other’s positions."

Singapore does not adhere to "diplomatic neutrality" all the time

While Singapore has good relations with a number of countries, this does not mean it remains "neutral" on every single occasion.

In 2022, Singapore imposed sanctions on Russia because its invasion of Ukraine violated sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean explained that Singapore's position on sovereignty has been "clear and consistent" over the years, in that sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected.

Former MFA Permanent Secretary Bilahari Kausikan wrote in a commentary for Mothership that the idea of small countries like Singapore being unable to "take sides" is "pernicious" and smacks of fatalism.

"The norm of international behaviour that is at stake in Ukraine is of existential importance to small countries: that it is wrong for big countries to try to subjugate small countries by naked force and that there will be costs to such aggression.

Is it so difficult to understand why this is crucially important to Singapore? In defending this norm, the only ‘side’ we are taking is our own side, in our own interest."

Singapore acts in its own interests

More recently in Oct. 2023, Singapore voted in the UN in favour of a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, in the midst of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Singapore noted that the UN resolution had "two glaring and significant omissions", namely that the terrorist attacks of Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023 were unjustified and must be condemned, and Israel's right to self-defence must be noted, although it must be carried out in accordance with international law and avoid the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

However, Singapore still supported the resolution as it aligned with our national interests of being an advocate and defender of international law, the UN Charter and the rules-based multilateral system.

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Top image from Vivian Balakrishnan Facebook page.