Foreign Relations in a World of Tectonic Change
By Leong Mun Wai
After SM Teo’s speech, it is 0-3 for the speeches of the three cabinet members based on the substantiality criterion. We are also reminded that our foreign policies are also moving in the wrong direction besides our domestic policies.
First and foremost, our foreign service must appreciate that globalisation in its original form which took place from the collapse of the Soviet Union to now is “dead”. SM Teo seemed to suggest that our diplomats were still trying to work towards maintaining the current global system.
Globalisation is dead because the social and economic disruptions caused by it would take at least a generation to resolve. And part of the resolution is to tax the global capital that has been moving around the world freely and reaped the benefits of globalisation at the expense of the domestic job losses. That is not going to happen soon given the powerful lobby of the global financiers.
Our government is exceptional in its role as a super-promoter of globalisation. While other countries suffered job losses because industries moved out, we actually invited foreigners to come in and take over our jobs. And while other countries are thinking of how to tax global capital, we cut taxes (personal taxes, estate duty, no tax on interest income etc.) to attract the capital with open arms. These have seriously undermined our socio-economic fabric and work ethic.
Perhaps we (foreign service) should be telling the world we appreciate the current wave of anti-globalisation and help to come up with ideas to rectify the problems of globalisation.
We should also go one step further to shake off our image of a neo-mercantile nation, defined as a nation that only cares about trade and making a profit out from the accumulation of profit (gold, trade surplus or foreign reserves) was the ultimate motive. Adam Smith wrote a whole book, “The Wealth of Nations” to reject mercantilism and established productivity as the centre of the economic structure. Smith said that the real wealth of the nation is not trade surplus or reserves but the production capacity of the nation (and hence by inference, the skills and productivity of strong citizens).
A productive nation will trade with other nations and through providing real goods and services build mutually beneficial relationships with its neighbours and the world. In our foreign relations we should position ourself as a productive nation and strengthen our relations especially with Malaysia and Indonesia who are our two most important neighbours (which was also mentioned by SM Teo).
We should extend the advantage of our abundance in capital and potentially enterprising citizens to an external wing. But this must be led by the private sector and not the government. Of course, we will need to strengthen our local companies and industries first. This will be discussed later after the speeches of the next three ministers.
Once we have established ourselves as a productive nation we can move towards a foreign policy of neutrality and we do not need to take sides between the US and China, the two giants fighting for hegemony, anymore. This will give us more room to manoeuvre for our survival.
The approach above is how we can see Singapore become really resilient in a changing external world (in fact a world of tectonic change) not more of the same as communicated by SM Teo.
我们还应该再迈出一步，摆脱我们的新重商主义国家形象 － 这是一个只关心贸易并从中牟利的国家。利润（黄金，贸易盈余或外汇储备）的积累是最终动机。亚当·史密斯（Adam Smith）写了一本书《国富论》，反对重商主义，并将生产力确立为经济结构的中心。史密斯说，国家的真正财富不是贸易盈余或储备，而是国家的生产能力（因此可以推论，坚强公民的技能和生产力才是国家真正的财富）。
The author of the above article writes in his own capacity with his views and opinion only to himself and are in no way a representation of the Party.