The dialogue session, chaired by Dr. Yeo Lay Hwee, Executive Director (SIIA), is part of a study visit by European journalists to Singapore, organised by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF). The journalists present were: Simon Tisdall (Assistant Editor, The Guardian), Susanne Gelhard (Chief of Landesstudio Berlin, Zweites Deutsches Ferneshen), and Sabine Muscat (Senior Political Correspondent, Financial Times Deutschland).
The journalists on the Visit Programme organised by the Singapore Foundation are here to learn about Singapore’s political system and socio-economic policies from the perspective of leaders in government agencies and businesses based in Singapore.
SIIA members who attended the dialogue session were:
· Ang Ju Dee (Assistant Manager, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS)
· Alan Chan (Chairman, Petroships Pte Ltd)
· Charles Chow (Managing Director, East-West Gateway Pte Ltd)
· Stephen Forshaw (Vice President, Public Affairs, SIA)
· Rolf Gerber (Chief Executive, LGT Bank)
· Koh Soo Boon (Managing Partner, iGlobe Partners)
· Luke Tay (Airport Manager, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS)
· Rueben Wong (Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Dr. Yeo kicked off the dialogue by inviting the journalists to respond to what she painted as a rather “grim” picture coming out from Europe in recent months –with racial riots and violent protests in France, reports of rising economic nationalism and the controversy sparked off by the caricatures of Prophet Mohamad that seemed to suggest increasing divide between Muslims and the West. She asked if the mood in Europe is one of increasing confidence about the future or increasing sense of insecurity. She also noted that there is also general perception here in Southeast Asia that Europe places low priority on its relations with the region.
In response, Mr. Tisdall (The Guardian), with Ms. Muscat’s (Financial Times Deutschland) affirmation, acknowledged Europe’s weakness in foreign policy, given the ongoing challenges of defining a regional identity amidst the enlargement issue. The French and Dutch rejection of the European Constitution is a case in point, whose ratification would otherwise, in Mr. Tisdall’s view, allow Europe to develop a stronger foreign and economic policy. On the general mood, Mr. Tisdall maintained that a dynamic Eastern Europe has contributed to a positive mood in the region. He also cautioned against looking at Europe as one large homogeneous entity, and noted differences between “old” Europe and “new” Europe.
While EU lacks homogeneity and its foreign policy remains biased against Asia, Ms. Muscat noted, however, Germany’s interest, especially in light of positive US-India nuclear negotiations. She also noted that the lack of interest and knowledge seems to be mutual, as people in Southeast Asia also seemed to know little about Europe.
There were some discussions on France’s recent initiative to become a signatory to the Asean Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Dr. Reuben Wong (NUS) interpreted this as an “individual action” rather than on the part of an EU trend, and perhaps reflective of the general lack of progress in the area of common foreign and security policy. He further elaborated how within the ASEAN Regional Forum, in which EU, was supposed to be represented as one entity, there were also manouerves by UK and France to be represented separately.
The rest of the dialogue session saw an orientation of issues closer to home, with regards to the impact of Singapore’s social and economic policies on the citizenry, development of Singapore’s port and airline industries (Mr. Tay (CAAS)), and the ongoing bridge negotiations between Malaysia and Singapore (Dr. Yeo and Mr. Chan (Petroships)).
Ms Gelhard was interested in understanding the reasons behind the seemingly efficient and fast execution of policies in areas such as city planning and infrastructure building. Mr Gerber explained the long-term economic planning and the responsiveness of Singapore’s government to external changes. Singapore’s unique political climate – differing from Europe’s democratic system – allows for the country to quickly adopt and implement economic policies for development and response to crises. Mr. Gerber raised the 2001 Economic Review Committee, of which he was involved, as a telling example of swift governmental action and openness to receive inputs from the private sector.
SIIA Researcher, Mr Gavin Chua, also shared his experience on how top government officials and leaders are genuinely committed to planning and thinking through policies that they sincerely believed are in the long term interests of Singapore.
Discussions then centred on Singapore’s education system and the current outlook of the younger generation. Mr. Chua (SIIA) and Ms. Ju Dee (CAAS) shared their experiences from the position of having received university education abroad, along with Ms. Koh (iGlobe Partners)’s sharing on the Singapore education system. There is a general sense that the education system is too geared towards exams and grades, and not on love for learning.
While acknowledging the genuine commitment of the nation’s leaders towards national development, the session participants agreed there is definite room for creative thinking in the arts and education sectors, as well as a need to heighten keener political awareness in the citizenry beyond bread and butter issues. Economic imperatives while important should not be the only consideration in the building of Singapore.
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