“Singapore is going into decline”, says one Chen Jiulin in the China Economic Weekly. The report then went on to criticise the Republic of having lost its national mojo. It writes of how we are going through “turbulent times since Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s passing” and how our “ailing economy, missteps in foreign policy and leadership succession issues” are spiralling the the nation into an anxiety vortex.
All that is very rich opinion, considering what Mr. Chen has done.
Chen was formerly the managing director and CEO of SGX listed China Aviation Oil. He was then jailed in Singapore in 2006 for his role in the near-collapse of the corporation.
There is a well established maxim in law that goes “nemo judex in causa sua“, it is one of the fundamental principles governing the rule of law that says that one should not judge in one’s own cause. Yes, the rule of law – it probably doesn’t translate very well into Mandarin, given the irony of the charges in his report.
What Chen has done is precisely this: judged in his own cause.
The Singapore method of governance has set both precedence and confidence for countries seeking fresh ideas in managing a country. It is no secret that the Singapore model has influenced China’s development. “Find out how Singapore has done it, copy them” said one very powerful Chinese President once upon a time.
This country was designed to survive any human leader. Its institutions, policies, directives and statutes are created to enshrine the very values and systems that was the target of Chen’s attack.
His criticisms on Singapore’s eroding pragmatism and foresight can be swiftly dealt with.
The leadership is ideologically agnostic. It does not worship any political system or put blind faith into doctrines. The people at the top are mostly technocrats. They operate on data, they operate on evidence, they find patterns and from these build reasoned decisions. That is the epitome of pragmatism.
The administration works on the principal of “thinking ahead, thinking across and thinking again“. Every reasonable scenario must be forecast, every wisdom consulted. It is ready for a wide variety of scenarios of threats and opportunities, these can be observed in how swift the nation copes with problems when they arise.
The Republic’s choice of global partners remains neutral – both in words and in deed. Chen says that we have been too cozy with thee Americans and not close enough with the Chinese. He may have forgotten the scale of our investment into various projects into China. Or maybe he has overlooked the vast numbers of projects, people and produce being exchanged between the countries. The corporation he used to head, China Aviation Oil was trading successfully in Singapore and continues to do so, this was possible only because of warm relations between us and the Chinese.
So when Chen asks that we should align ourselves with China, we need to question what he means by that.
If it is economical alignment for the benefit of both countries, then yes we most certainly already have done so. If it is co-operation for regional peace, exchanges of culture, knowledge and science – then absolutely, Singapore has always been active in such diplomacy.
But if by “alignment” he means sharing strategic resources, allowing them military access and use of sea, land and air and to always be on their side of the negotiation table, regardless the rule of law – then Singapore and Singaporeans must firmly resist. There is no cost too high in objecting to be any country’s stooge.
The rule of law must always be the basis of how Singapore chooses to act. It must never be the rule of man. Man is falliable and at risk of corruption. Our officials cannot be bought. Our sovereignty is not for sale nor is it easily influenced, not least by the words of a man whom in 2006 was hauled to court, tried and jailed for financial crimes.