'Sour grapes': Bilahari Kausikan applauds STB's 'Swift' deal, says S'pore can't hold back if neighbours 'slow'

He did not use any Taylor Swift puns.

Fiona Tan | March 01, 2024, 07:48 PM



"Sour grapes," Bilahari Kausikan said in a Facebook post on Mar. 1, 2024.

The former Ministry of Foreign Affairs permanent secretary and current Middle East Institute chairman was seemingly responding to other Southeast Asian countries and their public outcries to Singapore's deal with American pop star Taylor Swift.

Southeast Asia tour (Taylor's version)

In case you did not know, Singapore is the only Southeast Asian country where Swift will be performing during her global Eras Tour.

The Singapore government said it is supporting Swift's six shows in Singapore through a grant, but did not go into the specifics.

In a media statement on Feb. 28, Joey Salceda, a representative of Albay province in the Philippine House of Representatives, criticised Singapore over a supposed deal preventing Swift from performing elsewhere in Southeast Asia, saying that's not "what good neighbours do" and claimed that Singapore "hurt" the Philippines.

Bilahari: Other Southeast Asian countries "slow" and "inefficient"

"Sour grapes," Bilahari said in a post after Salceda's remarks.

"Whenever I hear calls for Singapore to be more 'sensitive' to others in Southeast Asia, it really means be as inefficient as they are."

Noting that Singapore is a small city-state, Bilahari said we cannot afford to be inefficient, but have to be better, faster and more creative than the competition instead.

He added: "What’s to have stopped any Southeast Asian country from negotiating an exclusivity deal with her if they had thought of it?"

Bilahari further lambasted the detractors, "The point is they did not think of even inviting her to perform in their countries until they found out she was performing in Singapore."

"So are we supposed to hold ourselves back just because some of our neighbours are slow? And do you think she would have agreed to even perform in Singapore if our infrastructure, connectivity and security was not world-class?"

Since Swift has many fans in Southeast Asia, Bilahari said Singapore's deal with Swift "will be worth millions more than what was paid to secure exclusive rights" and commended the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) for securing the deal quickly and creatively.

Salceda: Singapore's grants at the "expense of neighboring countries"

Salceda asked the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to ask the Singaporean ambassador to the Philippines about a supposed exclusivity deal between Singapore and Swift, the Inquirer reported.

Salceda referred to Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin's claim that the Singapore government "financially supported" Swift's concerts.

What the Thai PM said

Srettha said on Feb. 16 that the global concert promoter Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) told him on Feb. 12 that the Singapore government is offering up to S$4 million (US$3 million) in subsidies for each of Swift's concerts, if she agreed not to perform elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

STB and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) cleared the air on Feb. 20 and said in a joint statement that they worked with the producer of Swift’s concert, AEG Presents, for Swift to perform in Singapore and the shows are supported through a grant.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong revealed to Mothership how Singapore closed the deal with Swift.

He said he and a team from MCCY, SportsSG and Kallang Alive Sports Management (KASM) met with Swift's promoter in Los Angeles in Feb. 2023, before Swift announced any international dates.

"We saw an opportunity, we negotiated quickly with them, and we closed the deal quite quickly."

Salceda claimed that Singapore's actions were at the "expense of neighbouring countries" and that the Philippines "should not just let things like this pass".

He asked the DFA to formally protest against the supposed grants given by the Singapore government in exchange for Swift not to perform anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

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