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On Ukraine’s Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 2)

On Ukraine’s Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 2)This is the second part of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Republic of Singapore (2010-2016) Pavlo Sultansky’s interview with International News Agency “Vector News”. Pavlo Sultansky talks about the security problems in South-East Asia, Singapore's foreign policy, its relations with global and regional players, and about Russian Federation’s failed attempts to persuade Singapore to join its side. In the first part of the conversation, we had talked about Singapore’s "economic miracle", the fight against corruption, and the opportunities for Ukraine in this country.

Read also: On Ukraine’s Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 1)

It is well known that Singapore skillfully balances between the US and China, supports the good-neighborly and mutually beneficial relations with bordering Indonesia and Malaysia. How does the city-state accomplish this? In your opinion, may Singapore develop a tendency of distancing from the United States (following the precedent of the Philippines after R.Duterte's ascending to power in 2016)? What are the principles Singapore establishment is guided by on foreign policy issues?

LKY became a world-caliber statesman not because the stars in the sky lined up favourably for him or he was delivered with a silver spoon in his mouth. Since the very first days of the independent existence of Singapore, he had worked in the team of like-minded party-mates (should not be confused with the loyal persons!). One of such founding fathers of Singapore's foreign policy was the first Minister for Foreign Affairs S.Rajaratnam. He pronounced not a few canonical for decades sayings in the field of promotion and protection of the Republic's national interests. They are miraculously free of both, pathos and feigned seriousness. Judge for yourself: talking about foreign policy principles the minister suggested that Singapore should not behave like a nun that had wandered by accident into red-lights district. Lucid, isn't it?

One of the most distinctive features of Singapore's foreign policy is its high predictability. The city-state's political establishment is committed to the aims and principles of the ASEAN's development as a key pillar of regional (in the Southeast Asia) security architecture. Singapore's leadership appeals to the United States to maintain and further reinforce military-political presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The RS government purposefully and at a particular degree facilitates Americans through the mechanism of Strategic Framework Agreement for a Closer Cooperation Partnership in Defense and Security. The practical side of such interaction has a cornerstone value for Singapore. During his visit to the United States in 1967 then Prime Minister of the Republic LKY noted that relations with the United States served to the island state as a tool for survival. Over the years, by significantly widening the framework and filling the content of the 'partnership' concept, the global city and the global superpower have achieved many mutually beneficial results in various fields. Washington regards Singapore as a hardly substitutive, in fact unique, partner in an increasingly important for the US region. In its turn, Singapore equipped itself, figuratively speaking, with the American "muscles", thus becoming less vulnerable. It is considered all the weightier under the circumstances of the threatening degradation of international judicial institutions.

However, those who are inclined to exaggerate Singapore's pro-Americanism, should recall that in response to repeated attempts by Obama's administration in connection with the proclaimed "Asia pivot" to give the RS a title of Washington's strategic ally, Singaporeans steadily repeated the thesis about remarkably substantial partnership between the two countries, but not at all of the alliance type. Moreover, the expert community tends to trust information on Singapore's rejection in 2003 of the major non-NATO ally status.

It can be averred that tiny-global Singapore has taught both heavyweights - China and the United States - that it independently defines a grade of engagement in relationships with each of them, as well as with the rest of the world. Singapore almost inexplicably manages to avoid subordination on the geopolitical arena, although not boasting about this achievement.

In general, it is not complicated to define Singapore's position towards the both powers proceeding from the numerous regular statements of the city-state's leaders. The RS strongly requests both Washington and Beijing to avoid confrontation in the Southeast Asia and globally. As a matter of fact, meeting of the US and China leaders D.Trump and Xi Jinping in Florida this April perfectly certified their ability to dialogue which is entirely in conformity with Singapore's expectations.

The history of relations of Singapore with its immediate neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia, taking into account their incommensurability in terms of number of population and size of territory, is worth, at least, separate elucidation. Omitting lots of significant points, off and on quite controversial, Singaporeans' ability to leave the past behind and eventually inducing neighbors to behave like-wisely should be noted. You may ask how arduous was the beginning of bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia? Yeah, tricky enough! On August 9, 1965 the Parliament of the Malaysian Federation voted to expel Singapore. Also in 1965, two Indonesian marine commandos blew up a bomb in the MacDonald's House on the main street of Singapore, killing three and injuring 33 visitors. Jakarta made unsuccessful efforts to rescue its "heroes". In 1968, the terrorists were executed. Yet today, the son of the Indonesian President studies at one of Singapore's universities.

Certainly, for cosmopolitan Singapore maneuvering between the two predominantly Muslim states is not easy. Well, and for whom it is easy nowadays? However, last December Singaporean and Malaysian prime ministers signed the agreement on laying high-speed railway between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The train will cover the distance of 350 kilometres within 90 minutes. Isn't it an example of strategic cooperation?

As noted above, not the orchid petals covered bumpy roads of the Singapore-Indonesia relations. Factually, not many of us are aware of that it was one of the former Indonesian presidents B.J.Habibi who nicknamed modern Singapore when talking to a group of young people in financially critical for his region and the world 1998. Pointing at the map, he explained awkwardness of comparing gigantic Indonesia having 211 million population with Singapore depicted as a "little red dot" at the world political map. Years later, Habibie returned to what had been said, stressing that a free conversation with young Indonesians did not mean insulting remarks about the neighboring state. On the contrary, he tried to make Singapore an inspiration to his young compatriots in view of the threat of economic disaster looming in his country. Now, no matter where the truth lies. Really meaningful was the surprising enthusiasm with which Singaporean society picked up the "red dot" phrase. Without exaggeration, Singaporeans found attractive the remark dropped by the Indonesian leader.

Is it correct to consider President of the Philippines R.Duterte capable of influencing the fundamentals of Singapore's foreign policy? Apparently not. One can make the most astounding conclusions out of avalanche of Philippine leader's statements on foreign policy. But it is unlikely they would motivate Singapore's politicians to recklessly defame Americans, or to flirt with China in order to achieve short-term goals. Let me remind you: in Singapore they learnt to measure the consequences by decades.

Summing up, noteworthy is: Singapore does not possess any secret tool that enables the nation to be a welcome partner of almost all states and economies, as they say, "from North to South Korea". Before promoting themselves anywhere, Singaporeans have created on their own territory the most comfortable conditions for life, business, education, work, R&D activity, nutrition, and God knows what else. It is true, that by density of surveillance cameras and number of whistleblowers the city-state probably leaves behind any other country. Nonetheless, at the end it turns out that everyone is eager to keep friendly and cooperative ties with Singapore.

Sunspots, (as every diligent student knows) really exist, but seemingly nobody is willing to give up the Sun because of them.

76% of Singapore's population is made up of ethnic Chinese. Given the increasing political and economic power of China, is Singapore likely to become a "little China", as some experts assume?

Let us guess how many Australians have British roots. Probably, almost every second person there may track down to not so distant relatives in the United Kingdom. The natural question is: how much grounded is the hypothesis for Great Britain "to acquire" Australia, or for the Green Continent being transformed into a clone of the former metropole? Better quit entertaining yourself with fiction, and get back to the case of Singapore. Well, there are no pro-Beijing parties or any China-oriented political groups in the country. Of course, if you wish, you can speculate in a futuristic context about the fate of the island decades later. However, even the founding father of modern Singapore LKY refrained from such putative endeavour. In his "Hard truths to keep Singapore going" when asked about the distant future of his country, he agreed with the predictability of development trends for certain "traditional" countries and yet demonstrated uncharacteristic confusion and uncertainty in relation to the city-state.

Firmly denying the possibility for Singapore to turn into a "little China", I cannot but mention the desire of many in China to acquire features and reputation of Singapore. It is pertinent to recall that as a result of the meeting between Deng Xiaoping, the creator of China's breakaway from poverty to prosperity, with Lee Kuan Yew in November 1978, the China modernization mastermind’s standpoints acquired certain "Singaporean" features. However, it did not add ideological affinity to either sides. And while one can often hear among the Chinese, and not only, about the RS as a part and parcel of the so-called Greater China, Singapore, on its part, tirelessly holds its line as if not noticing such infringements. For example, Beijing military capabilities' build-up in the South China Sea meets sharp criticism from the Singaporean side. Chinese attempts to weaken cohesion of the ASEAN also encounter resolute rebuff of Singapore.

It is not redundant to recall that the flow of immigrants to Singapore from China originated mainly from its southern provinces, where they spoke different from the northern dialects, in fact - languages. Presently, in ethnically Chinese families quite often you won't hear Mandarin (official Chinese language) in day-to-day life, but Cantonese, Hokkien or Teochew. While calling China their ancestors' homeland,modern Singaporeans mostly have in mind a terrain, whichonce upon a time their grandparents emigrated from, and not the PRC at all. One need to have too much imagination to conceive Singapore's political drift towards China.

What can you tell about the defence sector of Singapore? Particularly about the national Armed Forces and military strategy.

Appropriations for defence purposes look more than respectable in Singapore's national budget. The Republic's defence expenditures approximately equal similar combined budgets of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, and in 2015 surpassed $10 billion. Since the beginning of Moscow aggression against Ukraine, funds allocated for defence has increased. Since the Russian Federation being a member of the Nuclear Club and a permanent member of the UN Security Council sets countless examples of cynical infringement of the fundamental principles of international law in regard to the smaller and more vulnerable Ukrainian State, Singapore considers it as a warning for its security. Then Foreign Minister of the RS K Shanmugam addressed the Parliament with a special statement immediately after the annexation of Crimea. The local society embraced with understanding the government's measures to strengthen the state's defence capabilities.

According to the Global Militarization Index, the relevant expenditures ranked Singapore number 2 in the world. Noteworthy, the RS is the only country among the top ten of the rating, which does not conduct combat operations and in the relatively recent past was not engaged in wars.

Compulsory military service (in the Singapore Armed Forces) for males starts from 18 years. Without delays or exceptions. For certain persons an alternative service is allowed by law. Although a number of active personnel accounts for little more than 70 thousand, increasing steadily year by year, approximately 1,3 million reserve personnel can be mobilized immediately when necessary. Armed Forces’ readiness is secured through various measures, including regular retraining for reservists until they are 50 years (for officers) old.

There must be not many of us who know about the language of command in the Singapore Armed Forces. It is Malay! Singapore is almost totally English-speaking. However, along with English, Chinese (Mandarin), Malay and Tamil have official status too. From the very first days of independence, Malaysia was classified an enemy number one for Singapore which was expelled from the Federation not on its own will. To some extent, this was the reason for Malay language in the Army. Actually, even the national anthem is sung in Malay.

Building of the Armed Forces emerged among the most problematic tasks in the initial period of independent development. Singapore leadership appealed to many states searching for the one that was able and willing to assist in this matter. In the end, a number of countries declined collaboration with Singapore, but Israel whose instructors ultimately created an efficient military organization of an Israeli model that Singaporeans sincerely appreciate until now.

Since there is a lot of accessible information about the Armed Forces of the RS, I'd rather draw attention to some interesting, in my opinion, details. In particular, in recent years, the Ministry of Defence of the Republic exerted purposeful efforts to encourage voluntary movement and approximate legal status of hundreds of compatriots to the Mindef servicemen, if they are ready to work professionally to the benefit of their motherland. Remaining in the civil sector, they may be engaged by the government to perform specific tasks while being legally protected. For instance, relevant employers are obliged to provide volunteers with salaries until they carry required missions.

Obligatory character of military service not only for the citizens of the Republic, but also for all male permanent residents of the country who reached conscription age, is its peculiar feature. By the way, after completion of mandatory service this category individuals are entitled to obtain citizenship.

The situation with ethnic Malays is a sensitive issue. Only in the late 1970s, they became subject to enrolment for service in the Army. Psychological constraints that may be caused by the necessity to fight against their own tribesmen were taken into account. I may be wrong concerning details, but in general, the current access rules in the Singapore Armed Forces anticipate information leakage and, inter alia, prevent conflicts of various origin.

The state's military strategy is based determinately on advanced defence principle, whereas under land offence by potential enemy the Singapore Armed Forces has no space for internal maneuvers, retreat and organization of resistance. Therefore, in case of military threats the following components of the Singapore's defence efforts are scheduled - of course, in an emergency - for immediate implementation: deployment of special units on the territories of neighbouring states, conducting of high-precision crushing strikes on the enemy's HQs, disabling its communication network, and ensuring command of the sea and the air. Constantly affirming its commitment to restraint and dialogue with its neighbours, Singapore has been consistently strengthening its Armed Forces. At the same time, internationally, they created the reputation of an extremely admired nation, in particular, as a supplier of oil products (among the top-3 in the world), the financial centre (surpassed Switzerland already), international seaport (busiest container port globally), etc. According to Singaporeans and relevant experts, no single country would benefit - at least at this stage - from threatening Singapore with military means.

Terrorist organizations, cyber criminals, other international culprits is a different story. Metropolis' authority have spared no effort or money to fight successfully against them. Perhaps, it may be observed that Singapore's neighbours are discontented by such approach, which brings tension into relationship between the sides.
On Ukraine’s Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 2)

Few years later Singapore will possess new hectares of reclaimed territory due to one more artificially created island


What interests does Russia pursue and how solid is Russia's position in Singapore? In your opinion, how can the Russian Federation's position there be weakened?

The degrading empire, which Russia undoubtedly is, has about the same interests everywhere, namely: to win everyone over by any means in order to be reckoned with. Someones are blackmailed or suppressed, by military means inclusive, others are bought by flattering or/and favours, or - simply and unpretentiously - cash. What is entirely ruled out in the Kremlin's foreign policy is a sincere desire for cooperation on equal terms. "Greatness" does not permit that, including in relations with Singapore.

In 2014, diplomats from Russia frequented the MFAs of the countries of their residence, seeking consent for establishment of any form of naval bases for their "kuznetsovs" (Kuznetsov is the notorious flagship of the Russian Navy). Allegedly, pragmatic Singaporeans, who aren't deprived of the sense of humour, enquired in response about the presence of Moscow's 7th Fleet in the Pacific Ocean.

Relations between Singapore and the Russian semi-empire evolved controversially: from genuine hostility to «almostamicability». Economically, the Russian Federation is not particularly interesting for the city-state. Statistics reveal that clearly by informing impartially that Russia's traditional exports to Singapore are the raw materials and minerals. At the same time, the Singaporean business finds a wider range of what could be sold or re-sold to the Russians. Singaporeans also enjoy not bad earnings through Russians' medical tourism. Concerning relatively new areas, the Singapore side is interested in prospects of Vladivostok airport management. Singaporeans look with increased attention at the developments in the Arctic, anticipating impressive returns from the future development of natural deposits in the North where the role of the Russian Federation is still significant. They even gained observer status in the Arctic Council. Being the world's largest manufacturer and supplier of offshore drilling rigs, as well as the country that have experience of icebreakers construction Singapore seeks to join the upcoming developments in the Arctic.

The proportion of bilateral trade for each country does not exceed one percent of the total turnover ($5.8 billion in 2015). The state of affairs with mutual investments is not much different from the situation with trade. For many years in a row at the intergovernmental commission meetings, the Moscow side calls to establish the Free Trade Zone (not area!) between the two countries. I wonder why “area” in English is interpreted as “zone” in Russian, while its meaning is closer to “space”. By the way, we put it similarly... Moreover, Russians assert that Singapore is ready to proceed with discussion of FTA with the semi-mythical EAEC (Eurasian Economic Community).

The number of Singapore residents who fled from Russia, according to unofficial sources, accounts for several thousands. The Russian Orthodox Church with affiliated Sunday school operates there, a glossy magazine "Russian Singapore" is published, and the Russian Club functions. The Russian Embassy is constantly mentioned as theirs patron. For several consecutive years the Singapore-Russian business forum was held annually in Singapore, however it faded away after Moscow had launched offences against Ukraine.

By 2018 or half a century since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the RS, two sides are allegedly going to complete negotiations on the aforementioned Agreement. Somehow, in this context, nothing is declared about the practical benefits of the upcoming liberation of trade ties. Most probably, there is nothing to reveal.

It is laborious for Ukraine to resist Moscow and its propagandists in the Southeast Asia given available means. It is worth noting that Russia is working tirelessly against itself in every part of the world, including that one. If in those days of the Soviet empire, along with bribery of politicians, all sorts of promises, spying, blackmailing and provocations, the Soviet Union afforded itself to invest in construction of infrastructure facilities in the satellite states, as well as train specialists, supply arms and equipment almost for free, the current bearer of tiara with a double-headed feathered predator has become much more penny-pinching. Let us remember that Singapore’s pragmatism cannot be deceived even by the craftiest propaganda.

The point is how can we influence the perception of today's Russia by Singaporeans? My reflection in this regard may seem either naive or trivial. They are the following: the country and the economy should day by day become more attractive for business, investment, tourism, recreation and life in general. We should, as they did in Singapore in the very beginning, decisively get rid of judging ourselves from outside. Instead of trying someone's shoes, it is much more useful to keep your own in good condition, especially, when by definition, they can not be changed. So, a couple of protruding nails remove from inside, replace soles for high-quality ones, give them a good shine, in short, make your shoes comfortable and beautiful.

Singaporeans - what is significant, as for me - deem us to be an intellectual nation. At the same time, they unmistakably point to our inability to promote ourselves. All over the world they say: clothes make the man. By modifying the proverb one can put it as follows: footwear make the man. Many of us still remember 70-80th of the last century, when lots of made-in-Singapore, high-quality and cheap household items, audio and video equipment were being shipped to Ukraine. Even earlier, in 60th, Singapore "miracle" started from purchase and distribution of sewing machines among thousands of families, which - in its turn - eased the employment problem, marked the beginning of mass vocational education, paved the way for export of manufactured commodities and attracted foreign investors. Our starting position is far not comparable with Singapore's miserable state in the middle of the XXth century. However, we have to become proficient in wise management of advantages to the benefit of the majority.
On Ukraine’s Opportunities in Singapore - Interview with Pavlo Sultansky (Part 2)

Singapore not only impersonates the information technologies era, but demonstrates respect for culture, tradition, religious beliefs of those to whom the city-state has become their fatherland


Russia should be spoken about truthfully in Singapore rather than confronted. In April 2014, leading Singaporean newspaper The Straits Times published an article about the "russian world" (or russkiy mir) which had devastating impact on the Russia's image in Singapore. Shortly after, the shooting down of Malaysian MH17 over Donbas furnished this image with bloody paint. Sane people - and the vast majority of Singaporeans are suchlike - treat Russia neither as a long-term partner, nor as a place for solid investment.

Realizing all these circumstances, in relationship with Singapore we may certainly achieve excellent results through creating a truly comfortable environment internally.

Yuri Poyta, Vector News
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