There is so much news over the past few weeks, you can easily name the top few: 38 Oxley, SMRT breakdowns, PM Lee at G20. But there’s one piece of very significant news, very relevant to Singapore and one that gives rich learning for us… this one was overlooked and no one was interested.
This is the issue of Saudi against Qatar.
In early June 2017, Saudai Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain all announced that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar. Part of the actions include suspending air, land and sea travel to and from the country. This essentially shuts off Qatar’s borders, imprisoning the state.
Why? The move came after Riyadh accused Qatar of backing radical Islamist groups such as ISIS. Libya, Yemen and the Maldives joined in the diplomatic boycott.
What are the consequences to Qatar? Although a rich country, it will suffer because it relies heavily on its neighbours for trade and travel in and out of the region. It imports most of its food through its land border with Saudi. People are now stockpiling perishable goods.
Now, a small wealthy country that is suffering diplomatic assault by its neighbours. Does that situation sound familiar?
Is anyone going to rush to their aid? To calm tensions and urge for discussion? Perhaps the United States? After all, the U.S has housed the headquarters United States Central Command – a setup that manages all military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East. All US led air fights operate out of Qatar’s Al Udeid Airbase. In total there are some 11,000 U.S military personnel in the country. Shouldn’t this at least persuade the U.S. to help its host?
Not only did they do little to help, President Trump’s Tweet during the period of time. He appeared to embrace Saudi’s decision and suggest their actions were a result of Trump’s own recent rhetoric on terrorism.
What would happen if Malaysia and Indonesia did the same to us? What would happen if our sea, land and air routes are closed for some silly reason? Like Qatar, we depend on these routes for survival – any closure of these would spell certain death for Singapore.
Just like Qatar, we allow the United States use of our resources for their military operations. Our leadership has also had dinner at the White House and shook hands with Trump of late. Does this mean that they’ll rush to our aid if this ever were to happen? As the sorry case of Qatar has shown, we better not harbour such illusions of this ever happening.
But this doesn’t mean that we ought to “behave like a small country”, like one particular academic had suggested. There is no need to bend over backwards, cater to every little pressure from larger countries, whether in the region or without. Doing so would be unconscientious for Singapore and Singaporeans.
We have been able to punch above our weight because we did not act our size. We did not limit ourselves with our borders and we did not peg our fates to our neighbours and the region. Very early in the formation years of modern Singapore, we’ve learnt to fish from shores far beyond ours. To establish diplomatic ties and trading partners from across oceans.
Today we must defend what we have built. Whatever happened in Qatar could very well happen to us. We may be wealthy, but with borders closed and neighbours estranged, Singaporeans will suffer.
How can we prevent such a situation from ever happening? What can we do if it it really does happen? Is there any other party we can call to the mediation table if it does?
These are weighty questions and worth a thought or two.