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Friday, March 15, 2013

How Arrogance and Militarism Endanger Singapore's Security

"Can bilateral relations qualitatively improve when the PAP and BN governments continue to engage in overt and covert forms of communal politics at the domestic and bilateral levels? Paradoxically, Singapore and Malaysia each construct their national identity in critical opposition to each other. In accordance with this inverted logic. Malaysia’s ethnic-based affirmative action policies have been projected by the PAP government as diametrically different to Singapore's supposedly meritocratic and multiracial society. Yet, as postulated in Chapter 3, the nation-building paradigms of the authoritarian states of Singapore and Malaysia possess more similarities than is acknowledged by the PAP and BN leadership.

To what extent are the deep-seated bilateral tensions between these neighbouring states a function of their asymmetrical status in the international arena? Singapore is generally considered a small power in contrast to Malaysia’s status as a middle-power (Ping, 2005). Womack (2006) has observed that smaller states are prone to paranoia and over—attention to the complexities in bilateral relations, while the larger state is inclined to make errors due to insufficient attention... Paranoia, dysfunctionality, errors of over-attention and under-attention — these are recurring themes in this study of Singapore-Malaysia relations...

The Singapore government is commonly perceived as arrogant, self-serving, calculative and inclined to look down on the less affluent neighbouring countries. Leifer has perceptively observed that

there has been a recurrent tendency on the part of some of its political leaders to address the region in a didactic manner which has been resented... Such resentments tend to be stored up so that when an episode of some tension arises . .. the measure of fury directed at Singapore has seemed to be out of all proportion to the presumed offense (2003: 23—24)

... Emboldened by its close security relations with Washington, the PAP leadership remains prone to aggressive posturing and is 'inclined towards games of chicken and bluff' (Deck, 1999: 254), at times pulling back just on the brink of a serious confrontation with neighbouring countries. During periods of diplomatic tension with neighbouring countries, the PAP government has often been unwilling to compromise or make concessions, lest it is seen as susceptible to caving in to pressure. This aggressive posturing, a classic Lee Kuan Yew trait, is ironic in view of the city-state's reliance on its neighbours...

The Singapore government's reluctance in signing an extradition treaty with Indonesia without expediently packaging it to [many conditions] have reinforced perceptions of the city-state as calculative, exploitative and unethical. Temasek and its stable of GLCs have been viewed suspiciously by neighbouring countries as being driven by an agenda of controlling strategic sectors in the region...

Singapore’s relations with states in the Asia-Pacific region have also been tenuous. Complaining of Singapore’s ‘arrogance’ and air of superiority’, the former PRC ambassador to Singapore, Chen Bioluin, accused Singaporeans of lauding their English language skills and global outlook over Chinese mainlanders. Moreover, the PAP government's characteristic pattern of janus-faced diplomacy — close relations with Washington and Taiwan whilst maintaining cordial relations with China —has not been overlooked by policy-makers in Beijing. Lee Kuan Yew’s racist reference to Australians as the ‘white trash of Asia’ has not been forgotten by Australian policy-makers and media. For example, the Australian media has seen fit to periodically remind the public of Lee’s unflattering view of Australians. In particular, the execution of repentant small-time Australian drug courier Nguyen Tuong Van in December 2005, despite pleas from the Australian government, the EU, Vatican, Amnesty International and other anti-capital punishment campaigners, while convicted drug barons and their associates have been allowed to enter the city-state and set up businesses, have exposed the Singapore government to criticisms of double standards and hypocrisy...

More than 40 years after merger and Konfrontasi, Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP leadership continue to view Singapore’s closest neighbours as the country‘s primary security threat. In response to this perceived security threat, the city-state has built and maintained a defence capability that is unrivalled in Southeast Asia. Paradoxically, Singapore’s formidable security apparatus has generated regional insecurities and reinforced its 'regional other’ image. Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee’s caution in 1978 against arming the republic to the teeth’ in order to prevent ‘an arms race in our part of the vorld (Huxley, 2000: 67) appears to have been ignored by Lee Kuan Yew and the technocratic PAP leadership. While Singapore’s sophisticated military industrial complex may have greatly assisted the SAF in its operational capabilities and in broadening its technological base, it has also contributed to a regional arms race and deepened the insecurity of the city-state. Problematically, this spiralling arms race between neighbouring states in Southeast Asia has not only enhanced regional insecurities but channelled vital state funds away from social services such as education and health.

In the long term, Singapore’s current military edge will narrow as neighbouring economics industrialise and ascend the technological ladder. This scenario has occurred in the Middle East, where Israel’s garrison state policies have fuelled a regional arms race and heightened regional instability. Ironically, Singapore’s economic success has allowed it to acquire formidable hard power capabilities which have eroded its soft power capabilities. The PAP leadership’s preoccupation with hard power has been at the expense of developing an independent foreign and security policy that is regionally centred."

--- Singapore in the Malay World: Building and Breaching Regional Bridges / Lily Zubaidah Rahim (2010)
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