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AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

The publication of AsiaGlobal Voices summaries does not indicate any endorsement by the Asia Global Institute or AsiaGlobal Online of the opinions expressed in them.
Shocking Case of Domestic Helper Abuse Raises Difficult Questions
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Shocking Case of Domestic Helper Abuse Raises Difficult Questions

Giam Meng Tuck, editor and commentator, in Lianhe Zaobao (February 28, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Sherwin Huang)

Shocking Case of Domestic Helper Abuse Raises Difficult Questions

The torture and murder of a Myanmar domestic helper, Piang Ngaih Don, was so appalling that Singapore’s attorney general himself directed prosecutors to press for the highest possible charge against the employer. Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam expressed “complete abhorrence” over the inhumane crime.

The 40-year-old defendant Gaiyathiri Murugayan admitted to torturing the victim for nine months. Why was the abuse not discovered in time?

Under existing regulations, doctors must check the health of domestic workers regularly. This is a chance to report signs of domestic abuse. Yet, past cases have a common feature: The abuse was not found out or swiftly reported by neighbors. This indifference raises questions about Singaporean society.

Domestic workers have left their families and hometowns to work for low wages. On top of this, they may end up ultimately sacrificing their mind, body or even their life. Whether they can be protected and whether they can get justice after being victimized depends not only on effective law enforcement and justice but on our social conscience. No matter how strict the legal framework is, it cannot prevent "ordinary people" from committing extraordinary inhumane crimes.

The Ministry of Manpower is now reviewing the supervision of domestic workers. It is looking at how to improve the notification system for when doctors conduct routine health examinations of domestic workers. Setting up a more effective reporting mechanism is a priority, which requires greater public awareness and better education of society.

Singapore’s wealth and economy are the envy of neighboring countries. The development of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines remain far behind. Singaporeans must express greater sympathy for all domestic workers so as not to be labelled as "rich but not benevolent".


Stakeholder Capitalism As A Governance Model
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Stakeholder Capitalism As A Governance Model

Goh Choon Kang, former journalist and member of the Singapore Parliament from 1984 to 1997, in Lianhe Zaobao (February 17, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Pascal Bitz/World Economic Forum)

Stakeholder Capitalism As A Governance Model

Stakeholder capitalism was a concept advocated by Klaus Schwab when he founded the World Economic Forum in 1971. Shareholder capitalism emphasizes that companies should serve the interests of shareholders, while stakeholder capitalism believes that companies have an obligation to all stakeholders. Shareholder capitalism has been proven extremely harmful, particularly in the US, which has seen widening inequality, intensification of social conflicts, and the control of political parties by powerful interests.

There are still a few countries in the world such as the Nordic countries, New Zealand and Singapore, which are worthy of recognition. Among these countries, Schwab has highlighted Singapore as model of stakeholder government. Schwab’s praise for Singapore spans its public housing construction, education, health and digitalization initiatives.

He has, however, also emphasized that Singapore’s model may be difficult to replicate in other countries with larger or poorer populations. Yet, pragmatic and stakeholder-driven policy making, common in New Zealand and Denmark, are still worthy of recognition. Ultimately, the government should take care of the interests and welfare of all stakeholders.

Schwab may also feel that in this globalized world, Singapore’s commitment to multilateralism is beneficial. This commitment is illustrated through Singapore’s active promotion of the economic integration of the ASEAN region and the country’s participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) trade agreements. Furthermore. the Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the crucial role this region will play in the global economic recovery.


Because Of The Pandemic, People Have Tough Decisions To Make
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Because Of The Pandemic, People Have Tough Decisions To Make

Tay Boon Suat, consultant and member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, in Lianhe Zaobao (January 29, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Because Of The Pandemic, People Have Tough Decisions To Make

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only created the biggest economic crisis Singapore has ever faced, but it has also severely affected the lives of all Singaporeans. Under this new normal, citizens have several decisions to make.

First, businesses. The government has allocated nearly funds to rescue companies, restructure bank loans, and provide additional credit financing. This is only a short-term fix and companies must ultimately rely on their own abilities to survive. If the situation deteriorates, more than half of local retail companies may collapse within six months. The lack of foreign tourists, high rent and operating expenses are additional pressures. In this era of the Internet of Things, business owners will need to decide how to adapt and transform to survive. The pressure created by the pandemic can be seen as a good opportunity for business owners to change their way of operating.

Second, family financial planning. According to a recent survey, Singaporeans’ basic financial planning performance worsened in 2020 from the previous year. Passive income fell while the amount of borrowing from relatives and friends has risen. The number of people having difficulties in repaying their mortgages has also increased. Restrictions on international travel, however, mean that households are spending less on expensive habits such as taking holidays abroad.

Educating children on the nature of money and making wise financial decisions should be the main goal of Singaporeans today particularly as young people are facing adversity. College students may be unemployed after graduation, and those currently working could be laid off. Everyone will need to be prepared be ready to enter new fields of work at any time.

How the government, companies and citizens make these decisions amid the challenges of the pandemic will ultimately determine Singapore’s future.


The Past, Present and Future of Hawker Culture
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
The Past, Present and Future of Hawker Culture

Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry for Sustainability and the Environment and Ministry for Transport, in Lianhe Zaobao (January 16, 2021) 

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: David Berkowitz)

The Past, Present and Future of Hawker Culture

Having a meal at a hawker centre is a simple pleasure for many Singaporeans. The first hawker centre was built in the 1970s to house mobile hawkers so that they could do business in a more hygienic environment. With the development of Singapore, the number of hawker centers has increased, and the quality has also improved. Singapore now has more than 110 hawker centers, which are an undeniable part of the country’s rich historical and cultural heritage. To satisfy demand, seven new hawker centers have been constructed since 2015, and 10 more are expected to be completed by 2027.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought challenges to the industry with many hawkers suffering a sharp decline in business due to office workers working at home and the absence of foreign tourists. To help hawkers, who are frontline heroes, through this difficult year, the government has provided assistance by reducing rent and offering subsidies. In addition, many center operators have worked closely with hawkers to introduce food delivery services. 

After the Covid-19 crisis, it will be important to provide hawkers with the necessary support to ensure that they can successfully adapt to the new normal. To achieve this goal, hawkers, trade associations, organization representatives and customers should engage in dialogue to gain an in-depth understanding of the concerns of all parties and work together to find solutions. While hawker culture has already successfully been included in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, all Singaporeans should play a part in maintaining local hawker culture and support these businesses in the future.


Demonstrate the Safety of the Covid-19 Vaccines
Friday, March 5, 2021
Demonstrate the Safety of the Covid-19 Vaccines

Goh Choon Kang, former journalist and member of the Singapore Parliament from 1984 to 1997, in Lianhe Zaobao (December 16, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: eldar nurkovic / Shutterstock.com)

Demonstrate the Safety of the Covid-19 Vaccines

The unprecedented speed at which Covid-19 vaccines have been developed has made many people question their safety and reliability with rumors and conspiracy theories widely circulating online. This highlights the need to demonstrate scientifically the effectiveness of the vaccines without political interference.

Some experts still have some doubts about the vaccine due to limited data and uncertainty over side effects. When an external panel of experts from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted on the emergency use of Pfizer's vaccine, 17 people voted in favor but four opposed and one abstained. The same cautious attitudes can be found around the world. In Singapore, a survey showed that only 48 percent of the respondents would be willing to receive a vaccination as soon as possible while another poll found that nearly 20 percent do not want to be vaccinated.

To reassure the public, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that he and his cabinet would receive the vaccination in public. The government should do more to increase its publicity efforts and proactively persuade people to get vaccinated. Experts in the US believe that, to control the epidemic, around 70 percent of people need to be vaccinated. Nevertheless, it is still a wise decision not to make vaccination compulsory. The World Health Organization opposes mandatory universal vaccination.

Ultimately, it is unrealistic to expect that the pandemic will be fully controlled as soon as the vaccine is available. Singaporeans must continue to pay attention to personal hygiene, maintain social distancing, and wear masks.


The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Means Win-Win Cooperation
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Means Win-Win Cooperation

Felinka Zhou Fan, director of a corporate advisory service company, in Lianhe Zaobao (December 2, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Prachatai)

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Means Win-Win Cooperation

Leaders of 15 Asia-Pacific nations have signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which represents roughly 30 percent of the world’s GDP and population.

Amid a more and more complex backdrop where Covid-19 continues to affect global economic activity, the signing of RCEP represents the determination of these countries to develop free trade, multilateralism and regional economic integration. For international investors outside the RCEP, entering into agreements with any country in the RCEP will be equivalent to entering the entire regional market, which will not only significantly enhance the commercial attractiveness of the region but also help stimulate the recovery of the global economy.

According to the RCEP agreement, at least 92 percent of the tariffs on traded goods will be eliminated between member states. Singapore’s exports to other member states will also enjoy additional preferential treatment. This will reduce tariff costs for businesses and increase profit margins. Meanwhile at least 65 percent of service industries will be fully opened, increasing the ratio of foreign shareholding.

Before the signing of RCEP, economic interactions between China and ASEAN member states, especially Singapore, were already relatively close. Singapore's attractive business environment helped attract many Chinese companies to invest and develop in Singapore, with more than 7,500 Chinese enterprises registered. Chinese enterprises have also accelerated their entry into the ASEAN market in recent years. This has been somewhat imbalanced, however.

Through the implementation of RCEP, achieving multilateral and win-win cooperation will be even more achievable. Meanwhile the relationship between China and ASEAN will be more balanced and all members of RCEP will be able to achieve common development within a harmonious ecosystem.


Cooperate To Develop Sustainable Transportation
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Cooperate To Develop Sustainable Transportation

Aw Kah Peng, Chairman, Shell Companies in Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (December 24, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Jason Goh/Pixabay)

Cooperate To Develop Sustainable Transportation

The future of Singapore's transportation sector will depend upon innovation and sustainability. Over the next 50 years, a major challenge facing Singapore will be how to provide clean, economical and reliable energy.

Singapore’s governance advantages include a focus on long-term planning. In 2020, the government launched a sustainable transportation vision, which included the phasing out of all internal combustion engine cars by 2040. The enhanced vehicle emission reduction tax plan implemented from January 1, 2021, will further narrow the price gap between electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles.

The government also announced a three-year incentive to encourage consumers to purchase electric vehicles. They plan to expand the electric vehicle charging network to 28,000 charging stations by 2030. In addition to electric vehicles, hydrogen and liquefied natural gas are also designated as important sources of future energy to meet the needs of heavy vehicles.

To popularize electric vehicles, Singapore requires the corresponding infrastructure, including a robust national power grid. The government must also continue to control vehicle growth through measures such as quotas and land-use restrictions, while increasing the use of car-sharing services. In addition, the government should use data and digital technology to expand and improve the public transportation system, while encouraging more people to abandon private cars. This would support the government's goal of ensuring that by 2030 80 percent of Singapore households will be within a 10-minute walk to a subway train station.

As Singapore intensifies its efforts to promote low-carbon and sustainable transportation, the government should establish an energy ecosystem, formulate corresponding regulations to meet specific needs, and work to reshape the commuter experience. Most important is the need for the government, industry, and consumers to work together to identify trends that meet society’s changing needs.


Vaccine Multilateralism is the Best Way forward
Monday, January 25, 2021
Vaccine Multilateralism is the Best Way forward

Goh Choon Kang, former journalist and member of the Singapore Parliament from 1984 to 199, in Lianhe Zaobao (December 30, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Lisa Ferdinando/ US Department of Defense)

Vaccine Multilateralism is the Best Way forward

With Switzerland, Singapore co-chairs the Friends of the COVAX Facility initiative. COVAX is the Global Coronavirus Vaccine Global Access, a multilateral mechanism led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure the fair global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. So far, 190 countries and economies have signed up, and nearly two billion vaccine doses have been obtained. The US and Russia have not joined.

Singapore has supported this initiative from the very beginning, contributing US$5 million (S$6.64 million) in December. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has encouraged countries to focus on establishing partnerships to promote vaccine multilateralism as this is essential for coordinating international response plans. Singapore looks forward to cooperating with the European Commission and like-minded countries, as well the WHO and other partners, not only in developing vaccines but also in distributing them to all countries fairly and quickly.

The emergence of vaccine multilateralism is a response to vaccine nationalism. The People's Vaccine Alliance (a coalition of organizations and activists, coordinated by Oxfam and UNAIDS, aimed at campaigning for a “people’s vaccine” for Covid-19 that would be freely available to everyone everywhere as a global common good) has warned that rich countries are hoarding excessive amounts of vaccines, several times more than their citizens. The population of wealthy countries accounts for only 14 percent of the world's population yet they now have 53 percent of the most promising vaccines, with Canada, the US and the UK holding the most doses. Meanwhile, in the world’s 67 poorest countries, only 10 percent of the population are expected to be vaccinated before the end of 2021.

Covid-19 is a common enemy of mankind and only when the entire population of the world is immune can everyone be safe. The facts show that vaccine multilateralism is the best way forward.


What if There is No V-Shaped Recovery?
Monday, November 9, 2020
What if There is No V-Shaped Recovery?

Hu Min, electronics industry employee, in Lianhe Zaobao (November 7, 2020)  

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: foam)

What if There is No V-Shaped Recovery?

After 162 years, Robinsons has announced that it will close its last two department stores, representing yet another notable retail-sector victim of the pandemic. Many are questioning when the situation will begin to improve. From constant mask wearing to restricted movement, it is not yet clear when this “new normal” will end.

The term “new normal” was originally used to in to describe the US economy failing to experience a rapid V-shaped recovery after the global financial crisis. Instead, there would be a prolonged period of weak growth and stagflation. Today’s global growth outlook is also struggling to recover due to Covid-19 which not only continues to challenge public health systems but also inflict serious damage to the global trading system.

It is therefore vital to respond to this crisis in accordance with both local conditions and national conditions. China successfully controlled the virus within eight months by taking this approach. While Singapore made some early mistakes, the situation is also now improving. It has been important for businesses to proactively adjust their operations – for example, by introducing flexible working to all staff and finding innovative solutions to new problems. A good example would be companies in the troubled tourism and aviation industry launching novelty services, such as Singapore Airlines offering inflight meal experiences on the tarmac.

In this new normal, and perhaps without a V-shaped recovery to look forward to, it will be essential to develop new skills and be ready to adapt to changes. Only through continually adapting and adjusting, can Singapore and Singaporeans hope to make the most of opportunities when the situation improves.


Support Students in Science and Technology
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Support Students in Science and Technology

Phua Kok Khoo, Fellow of the American Physical Society and visiting professor in the physics departments of both National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), in Lianhe Zaobao (October 17, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: jdn2001cn0/Pixabay)

Support Students in Science and Technology

Singapore holds great ambitions to strengthen its higher-education sector and become a center of culture and learning. 

One approach is to follow the British and American route, which is to focus on cultivating elite talent. Another approach emphasizes the widening of education to develop talent in science and technology and other fields. The embodiment of elitism in Singapore has been to provide top talents for national governance, including politics, science, technology, education and so on. In this regard, Singapore needs to work harder, both at home and abroad, while constantly reflecting on its own capabilities.

In relation to the field of science, while Singapore has not yet had any Nobel Prize winners, its achievements in technology are still remarkable. For example, it has many fellows in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Nevertheless, the government should place greater emphasis on improving Singapore’s science capabilities. In addition, Singapore’s universities should provide greater support in academic research and support the pursuit of more outstanding objectives such as becoming a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the US or a fellow of the Royal Society in the UK.

The government should consider adjusting the direction of training in higher education. Singapore has cultivated many outstanding talents for governance and even the military. Singapore, however, should also support students in developing their academic expertise, particularly in science and technology. After all, this is also an important area for national development.


Don’t Blame Foreigners for Unemployment
Friday, September 18, 2020
Don’t Blame Foreigners for Unemployment

Zhan Shaoxiang, financial officer, in Lianhe Zaobao (September 14, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Dickson Phua)

Don’t Blame Foreigners for Unemployment

As Singapore’s economic situation worsens and unemployment rises, the debate over whether government policies allow foreigners to steal jobs from locals has been reignited. But is this true?

First, it is necessary to look at Singapore’s economic environment in comparison to the rest of the world. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many industries are suffering, and layoffs have become inevitable for both foreigners and local. The public, however, has paid too much attention to the number of unemployed locals, overlooking the situation for foreigners.

Second, in response to Covid-19, the Singaporean government has launched a series of measures to assist businesses. This includes an employment subsidy program that supports local workers. Yet there has been no subsidy for wages paid to foreigners

Third, Singapore is an open economy as well as an important financial, service and shipping center. To maintain this international status, it is necessary to recruit talent from all over the world. Foreigners have provided Singapore with knowledge, technology and management expertise, which is now an indispensable asset.

Fourth, the government has spared no effort in attracting multinational companies to Singapore, creating more employment opportunities. It is understandable that many companies will require some employees to be local as they may have a better grasp of the business.

Finally, foreigners consume food, clothing, housing and transportation and also pay taxes. This has promoted the development of the local economy and created income and employment opportunities for locals. Without foreigners, many houses would become vacant and restaurants and cafes would have less business.

The Ministry of Manpower should not interfere too much with a company’s freedom to hire employees. Every worker, whether local or foreign, contributes to Singapore’s economic development. Locals should avoid making excuses for their own problems by blaming the government, foreigners or companies.


At This Turning Point, Take Control of Our Own Destiny
Friday, August 21, 2020
At This Turning Point, Take Control of Our Own Destiny

Goh Choon Kang, former journalist and member of the Singapore Parliament from 1984 to 199, in Lianhe Zaobao (August 19, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office Singapore)

At This Turning Point, Take Control of Our Own Destiny

Looking back on the history of Singapore, the process from colony to independence involved coping with continual challenges against a fate that was constantly evolving. Today’s Singapore is the result of its successful response to surviving these challenges. After the division of Singapore and Malaysia, there was no choice but to find a new way to survive and, if it were not for such a group of visionary political leaders, Singapore’s fate would not be what it is today.

The Covid-19 pandemic is yet another major test facing Singapore and all countries. Some may still not yet grasp the seriousness of the problem and fail to realize that this is a life-and-death challenge – another turning point in Singapore’s destiny. The world now is pinning their hope on a vaccine, which is impossible in the short term. Instead, society should actively seek a way out instead of just waiting anxiously. Singaporeans must take control of their own destiny.

During this global crisis all countries share the common desire to seek a solution. This presents a great opportunity and there exists some prospect for a way out. Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing talked about some of the strategies the government plans to adopt, including signing digital free-trade agreements with other countries and working with like-minded nations such as New Zealand and Chile to promote jointly the global digital economy and establish so-called "green channels". These all require not just hard work and perseverance but also wisdom and foresight. This is why Singapore needs a strong team to govern the country.

 


Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?

Thang Lengleng, Associate Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, National University of Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (June 26, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Code@SG/Infocomm Media Development Authority)

Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?

The government’s establishment of the new Singapore Digital Office (SDO) will encourage electronic payments throughout society. However, ensuring the elderly can keep up with new technologies remains a challenge. Over a decade ago, the government establishment of the Silver Infocomm Initiative (SII) to address this issue.

The elderly are benefiting from a digitized life. According to one 2018 survey, 55 percent of those over 60 used the internet, an increase of 25 percent in just two years. Nevertheless, there will still be some elderly people still excluded from the digital world. Beyond creating new learning opportunities, we must build deeper understanding of the willingness among the elderly to accept new technologies.

Studies have shown that if seniors understand how technologies would be beneficial to them, that they are not too difficult to use, and that their family and friends also recognize the importance of these skills, then they are more likely to accept them. Yet there are not many seniors who are willing to take on new challenges.

It is important to recognize the diversity of elderly people. While education, income and occupation can all affect the willingness of the elderly to accept new technology, it is also a fact that the higher the age, the lower the rate of using new technology. As such, it is necessary to be more attentive to and respect the older age group, who are more likely to be marginalized.

While the government continues to promote digitalization measures, they have repeatedly stated they will retain non-digital alternatives. In addition to providing assistance to encourage the elderly to learn, the government must also take into account the specific design of products and digital services and embrace the principle of simplicity and ease of use. This can help seniors to embrace the digital transformation.


How Singapore Can Go From Strength to Strength After the Epidemic
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
How Singapore Can Go From Strength to Strength After the Epidemic

Pei Sai Fan, Visiting Professor at the National University of Singapore, Co-Founder of the Lee & Pei Finance Institute, and senior official at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) from 1999 to 2014, in Lianhe Zaobao (June 15, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Kitty Mao)

How Singapore Can Go From Strength to Strength After the Epidemic

Singapore needs innovative thinking to solve the problems caused by the Covid-19-induced economic downturn. There are several key issues:

First, Covid-19 will permanently change some economic activities – for example, accelerating the rise of contactless businesses and services, online education, remote offices, videoconferencing and other online business activities. Second, Covid-19 has accelerated digital globalization. With more people working from home, the separation of labor and the location of the company has become possible. Third, due to the greater autonomy of jobs, human resources will tend to be a managed more horizontally bringing about new social issues that will differ from the traditional company benefits systems relating to welfare and pensions.

Due to restrictions on international travel, Singapore should focus on creating opportunities at home while using this period to build a more solid foundation for Singapore's long-term survival and development.

First, Covid-19 highlights the importance of digital and information migration in human society. Digitalization and informatization can effectively improve the level of social governance and public safety. Second, it also underscores the importance of investing in digital solutions, from high-definition video and reliable information transmission systems to supercomputers and artificial intelligence. These have proven to be critical in addressing the pandemic and furthering research into treatment and a vaccine. Third, Covid-19 highlights the importance of national strategic materials reserves. Singapore must improve this capacity to prepare for further outbreaks. 

In view of this, Singapore should simulate various disaster scenarios and carefully review which strategic industrial supply chains it should develop domestically. This will create job opportunities. Singapore should also focus its attention on strengthening its “new infrastructure" such as 5G infrastructure and new energy vehicles. Ultimately, Singapore should make use of the opportunities brought about by Covid-19 to strengthen the foundations for long-term sustainable development.


Revise Lee Kuan Yew's Old "Big Fish" Analogy
Friday, June 12, 2020
Revise Lee Kuan Yew's Old "Big Fish" Analogy

Han Shengbao, journalist from China now living in Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (June 11, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Revise Lee Kuan Yew's Old "Big Fish" Analogy

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has stated that the United States and China will embark on a road of confrontation that could last for decades, making the long-anticipated “Asian century” more and more precarious. Southeast Asian countries including Singapore are right to be wary of being caught at the intersection of the interests of the major powers.

“In a world where the big fish eat small fish and the small fish eat shrimps, Singapore must become a poisonous shrimp,” Lee Kuan Yew used to say. In Singapore's early days, to survive alongside neighboring countries (small fish) and major world powers (big fish), it strived to build up its capabilities as a “poisonous shrimp”.

After more than 50 years, the "big fish" analogy has been quietly involving. First, this analogy is a product of Cold-War thinking based upon a complex political and security environment. Today, Singapore has abandoned this thinking and holds a cooperative rather than confrontational approach to its relations with neighboring countries.

Second, a new "big fish" – China – has emerged. Singapore has had frequent military dialogues and exchanges with China. Meanwhile, the United State has become increasingly unfriendly, with President Trump turning the United States into a "shark". Prime Minister Lee concluded that the strategic foundation of “American peace” has fundamentally shifted. We are therefore at a critical and historic moment when Singapore must re-examine the "big fish" analogy.

Prime Minister Lee has stated that Asian countries do not want to be forced to choose between the United States and China. His position could not be clearer: Singapore cannot afford to alienate China. Prime Minister Lee also wishes that the US understands that if other countries deepen relations with China, it does not necessarily mean that they are fighting against the United States.