[Notes] Bilahari: Singapore Is Not An Island


As I stand here speaking to you, at least three different things are occuring simultaneously: first, wha I think; second, what I say to convey what I think which, whether because of the limitations of language or by design, will not always be the same as what I think: deception and self-deception are intrinsic parts of human nature; and thrid, what you hear and understand of what I had intended to convey, which is again not necessarily the same thing.

Adam Smith: The learned ignore the evidence of their senses to preserve the coherence of the ideas of their imagination.

Looking around the world, it seems obvious that the collision of 18th century political philosophy with 21st century communications and other technologies is creating a global crisis of governance.

The rising new powers provide no real intellectual alternative. They are rising precisely because they were the best pupils of the old order.

LKY: Small island states are a political joke.

If we succeed, it is only becuase Singapore as a country is successful. Singapore's success invests our ideas and actions with credibility.

Small countries will always have fewer options than large countries, but rich small countries have more options than poor small countries, and that titls the scales in our favour.

1971, ASEAN promoted a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neturality (ZOPEAN). 1995, SEA Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) was established as a component of ZOPEAN.

Major powers used ASEAN-led platforms like the East Asia Summit as a secondary means of ordering their relationships with each other and other countries in the region, it is not because of ASEAN's strategic weight but because ASEAN lacks strategic weight. ASEAN is central because it it occasionally useful without ever becoming harmful.

Many years ago, Singapore MOFA commissioned a study on how Singapore could continue to have a close relationships with China after LKY's network of personal contacts with CHinese leaders was no longer available. After lengthy consideration, the conclusion was have more LKYs! This was not very exactly helpful.

UMNO is increasingly relying on religion to legitimate itself.

I have come to the sad conclusion that it is almost impossible for big countries to understand how small countries think.

ASEAN and China need nothing less than a genuine process of partnership in which there is a duty of care to ensure one partner's dream does not become the other's nightmare.

SEA wad defined strategically rather by any notion of conventional geography or by any intrinsic characteristic of the region.

The very term "Assoication of Southeast Asia Nations" (ASEAN) was coined by an American scholar Russel H Fifiled who, cognisant of the liabilities and limitations of SEATO, suggested in a 1963 Council on Foreign Relations study.

Cambodia was nevertheless the greatest diplomatic success of ASEAN's first quarter century.

If SEA and ASEAN had always been defined relationally rather than intrinscially, the end of the Cold War, posed a deceptively simple but fundamental question: what was to be ASEAN's post-Cold War raison d'etre?

If ASEAN has been able to successfully initiative certain process, it is essentially because it was convenient for the major powers to acquiesce in or attempt to jarness ASEAN's endeavours to their own ends.

ASEAN is still very much an elite construct; still remote from the lives of the majority of the peoples of ASEAN member states.

The past is not an autonomous reality waiting to be discovered. History is always in a process of being interpreted and reinterpreted: not only because new facts are constantly coming to light, bu because intellectual fashions change, because political needs changes, and because young academics in search of tenure or perhaps just notoriety cannot resist the temptation to come up with novel interpretations whether the facts warrant reintrepretation or not.

Chinese nationalism must be outwardly directed lest awkward questions be asked internally about the CPC itself.

UN SG is a post of great prestige but almost no power.

UN's most important currency: international legitimacy.

All things considered, I thought that the Cold War conflicts that I witnessed, and in a minor way partcipated in, at the UN during the 1980s were far more honest than that of the post-Cold War UN.

Are UK and France Permanent Members because they are really major powers, or do we out of diplomatic politesse still accord them the title because they cling to Permanent Membership?

As for Russia's intervention in Ukraine issue, UN Security Council was convened in an emergency session. Predictably, it achieved nothing. As a Permanent Member, Russia holds a veto. US and EU know this. Arguably, the very reason they convened the Security Council was precisely that it would achieve nothing: it was a low-cost gesture to preserve some semblance of amour propre.

When great powers reach agreements, they generally try to make someone else pay the price.

Small states should never assume that they are intrinsically relevant to the international system and in particular to the major powers. To small states, relevance is an artefact created by human endeavour and haveing been created, must be maintained by human endeavour.

A quarter of a century has passed since the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War ended. Yet we still have no better way to describe and present era than by reference to the past and still call our times the "post-Cold War". We live in an age without definition.

Xi's speech at Davos defensing globalisation was as much an admission that there is no real alternative to the current order and a tacit confession of nervousness at what that might imply for China.

A 19th century French politician once quipped: "There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader."