Photo of Vivian Balakrishnan from Mediacorp

In a media interview with American journalist Rachel Martin, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan confirmed that Singapore will maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea and will not break ties with the dictatorship:

The interview was recorded with transcript provided by by North Korea watch agency, KMUW. Rachel Martin asked Minister Vivian Balarishnan if Singapore will be downgrading relations with North Korea as requested by US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, to which the latter dodged the question passing the ball to China:

“MARTIN: Are you prepared to downgrade relations with North Korea as Secretary Tillerson urged yesterday?

BALAKRISHNAN: Well, we don’t have a mission in Pyongyang. Well, there’s a couple of North Korean diplomats in Singapore, so it’s already a very minimal level. And so I don’t see any further de-escalation of that. What we need is for good sense to prevail, for caution to be exercised on all sides. And really, the country with the most leverage on North Korea is China. So it all depends on how much China is willing to do.”

Rachel Martin however was determined to not let the PAP Minister slipped away and pressed on asking if Singapore is ready to cut off diplomacy with North Korea. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan then relented confirming Singapore will maintain relations with North Korea:

“MARTIN: Well, let me ask – you say that your presence in North Korea is minimal or non-existent.

BALAKRISHNAN: Non-existent.

MARTIN: But you do have, officially, a diplomatic relationship with Pyongyang. Would you consider cutting that off as a way to put pressure on them? Or do…

BALAKRISHNAN: Well, Rex hasn’t asked for that. I mean, he’s not asked for a break in diplomatic relations. But he is asking – and we agreed with him – that we will fully comply with the United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

The US journalist then said that reports from the United Nations confirmed that a Singapore company is involved with arms trading with North Korea, to which the Singapore Minister claimed ignorance and vowed to take action:

“MARTIN: The United Nations reported links between a Singapore company and a North Korean firm that was involved in the arms trade. How do you respond to allegations that North Korea may be using Singapore for illicit financial transactions?

BALAKRISHNAN: We will not tolerate that. We will investigate fully all such allegations, and we’ll take the necessary actions.

MARTIN: Are you aware of those allegations? Is it something your government (unintelligible) concerned about?

BALAKRISHNAN: I’m not aware of the specific allegations. But we have always told the United Nations and all other regulators, let us know. We will investigate. We will take action.”

ASEAN useless on South China Seas

The interview then highlighted on the recent April 29th ASEAN meeting, with the US journalist questioning the Singapore Minister why was the South China Seas territory topic not raised at all:

“MARTIN: Let me ask about another controversial topic in your region that Secretary Tillerson addressed yesterday, a Chinese construction of islands in the South China Sea. Just this past week, ASEAN held a meeting – no mention of the South China Sea dispute. Why is that? Has the region, the countries there collectively given up on this issue – ceded it to China?”

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan dodged the question and said that ASEAN is focused on a “code of conduct”, claiming that the code is still work in progress and hence ASEAN is not ready to engage China yet.

You may view the transcript here.