As we observe our 52nd year of independence on Wednesday, three developments these last two weeks give us some cheer as well as a sense of déjà vu. But there is hope.
The expulsion of Dr Huang Jing has restored my faith that Singapore will be hard-headed when it comes to our national interest vis-à-vis foreign powers. So, well done, the Home Affairs Ministry and government.
The country which the expelled Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy academic was said to have been working for was not named. But any idiot will naturally narrow the field down to just two countries: the US or China. (Japan or Taiwan? Nah.) The academic’s links to institutions in the two powers vying for world influence, particularly in Asia, are extensive – Harvard, Stanford, Brookings Institution, Sichuan, Fudan. He has also moved in elite crème de la crème circles in G7 type countries. He was right up there, a man of influence, certainly (which made me wonder why he had to be so mean to that cab-driver with his $1 tip, well, one never knows what lurks in one’s twisted mind).
US or China?
I would say China. CIA spy? Not impossible, of course, but unlikely. Hope I’m not wrong. If I’m, I will start to believe that Donald Trump is the best US president ever. But why China?
Now why would Washington want to “influence” us? US-Singapore relations have never been better – politically, economically, socially, militarily. Why would the US risk spoiling an almost special relationship for some extra and nebulous advantage? They have long known our positions on most issues – and lived with them all these years.
China has probably much more work to do to catch up in the soft power, soft but deep and lasting relationship game. If you ask me, I would frankly say Singaporeans are more attracted to the US because of what its ideals represent, Trump notwithstanding – human rights, freedom, open society, etc – than the CCP-controlled Internet-hammering Middle Kingdom. Just how many parents have been sending their children to study in China, where even the VPN is constantly under attack?
Hence, good riddance to Dr Huang. He can exercise his petulant arrogance and hurl his $1 tip at some poor struggling cab-driver elsewhere.
But as we approach National Day, some dark clouds are also gathering.
With so many real challenges to deal with – the messy MRT, economy, healthcare/ageing population, leadership transition, jobs, education – we seem to be spending so much time trying to “deal” with Singaporeans whose loyalty to the country has never been in doubt.
I remember Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once mentioning that he would rather spend time solving problems than be distracted by the task of “fixing” the opposition (which can be translated to mean people who disagree with him or are just not on the same wavelength as his, politically speaking).
This is what he said at the 2006 National Day Rally speech: “Right now we have Low Thia Khiang, Chiam See Tong, Steve Chia. We can deal with them. Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 Opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time thinking what’s the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters votes, how can I solve this week’s problem and forget about next year’s challenges?”
Well, Low and company are now facing a court hearing on their “problems” at Aljunied-Hougang. I wish them well. I believe them when they said that they will go to court with a “clear conscience” and that they did not enter politics to enrich themselves. So do many other Singaporeans. The WP MPs would have their chance to tell their side of the story and hopefully clear themselves once and for all.
The most important issue out of the AHTC saga is not, as a number of observers seem to suggest, that we should revert to the old system of the HDB taking care of municipal functions. It is that the Workers Party has been given the mandate by voters to take care of the management of the mega town council – and should be given every unhindered, repeat, unhindered opportunity to learn and to do the job well. Running a town council should not become an administrative trap or minefield to get rid of the Opposition. I should think not.
And, finally, we come to Li Shengwu, the son of Lee Hsien Yang and grandson of Lee Kuan Yew.
Perhaps he has been impetuous. He has his own set of ideals, as most young people do and he truly feels Singapore should change. We agree with him 100 per cent here. He is not alone. Perhaps he is angry. And why not? His father and mother have been under attack. Perhaps too, he wants to be pro-active and a player, that is, become an influencer to advance his views on issues. I would say welcome. As an articulate grandson of LKY, he has every right to do so.
Leave him – and the WP – alone.
We are all Singaporeans.
“This is my country, this is my flag
This is my future, this is my life
This is my family, these are my friends
We are Singapore, Singaporeans”
Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.