Following the death of Singapore’s iconic former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March 2015, Singapore’s diplomatic relations with major trading partners have took a turn for the worse. Singapore’s top foreign investment partner, China, has signaled it’s dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s anti-China stance, particularly on the South China Sea issue.
The world’s second superpower explicitly highlighted that it will not tolerate Singapore’s “hypocrisy” in its military ties with Taiwan and the repeated infringements of the “One-China” policy – to which the Singapore government denied. In response, China invested close to S$30 billion in Malaysia and embarked on the “Shenzhen” strategy to create a new trading port in Malacca to compete with Singapore. Diplomatic relations between Singapore and China fell to its all-time low when China detained S$119 million worth of armoured vehicles from the Singapore Armed Force. Singapore authorities organised 3 meetings demanding for an explanation, to which the China government could not be bothered with except delivering the same message through its Foreign Ministry – respect the “One-China” policy.
Over at Indonesia, Jakarta stopped direct Singapore flights supposedly citing “runway works” two weeks ago in early December. However, just 3 days ago on Dec 12, Jakarta commenced direct flights with India instead. Singapore authorities, CAAS, requested for more details from Indonesia, but the neighbour could not be bothered to respond.
Also in December, the Cambodian government charged that Singapore has made falseful declaration of its sand import for years, and that the Singapore government has illegally sourced sand from smugglers. Singapore authorities however feigned ignorance and refuse to respond.
For Philippines and Malaysia, the two openly disagreed with Singapore’s offensive stance against China on the South China Sea approach. Philippines and Malaysia have acceded to China’s request for bilateral settlement over the island disputes, instead of going through Singapore which is the current leader of the Association of South East Asain Nations (ASEAN). At an ASEAN meeting with China, it was reported that Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan walked out of the conference when the ASEAN members refuse to support Singapore as the representative negotiating party for South China Sea dispute.
Singapore has also unwittingly become more isolated as the new United States administration under Donald Trump, choose to remain silent over the detained SAF vehicles and South China Sea issues, when Singapore is supposedly acting on US’s interests. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong blasted US for renegading on the Trans-Pacific Pact (TPP) promise. The Singapore Prime Minister was enraged and vowed to continue the TPP even if US is out, but fellow TPP members – namely Australia, Japan, Canada – reject to follow its lead.
It appears the son of Lee Kuan Yew has not inherited any semblance of diplomacy techniques from his father. Having being brought up in a greenhouse environment, the strawberry Prime Minister was sheltered from political contests through undemocratic election rules created by his father. The esteemed Prime Minister who pays himself S$2.3 million a year – the highest political salary in the world – finds the rough terrain of international diplomacy discomforting and worrying, stemming from the greater ignorance and not knowing what to do with “higher-ups” like China and US – since no one in Singapore has ever been in a higher position than Lee Hsien Loong. The former junior minister who once slapped a senior Minister will likely give China and US a slap this time as his ego outweighs the prospects of the country.