By: B Goode
I am never a fan of Bilahari Kausikan. Nor am I a fan of his former BFF now turned academic nemesis, Kishore Mahbubani. If you trawled their past statements, you’d understand why. They were like a couple of old foggers stuck in an ideological timewarp. What made them more unappealing was their penchant to panic at the slightest event that seemed to threaten their comfort zones. When Brexit happened, they said it would be the end of the world. When Trump happened, they too said it would be the end of the world. They are your typical doom and gloom merchants.
The worst part was that when what they predicted to happen didn’t happen, they pretended that nothing had happened. I know, too many ‘happen’. I promise that will be the last time I use the word happen.
Oops! I did it again…
Speaking of which, if LKY was Britney Spears, Bilahari and Kishore would be the first in line to buy her concert tickets and would know the words to the song `I’m a slave 4 U’. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they both had LKY posters in their bedrooms.
But between the two, at least Kishore showed some effort to adapt LKY’s philosophy to the modern world. But not Bilahari. No sirree. He had no qualms in using LKY’s name like other people would use Hitler’s name to trigger Godwin’s law.
“LKY would never have done that!” End of argument.
Bilahari latest gripe was with Kishore’s assertion that small states like Singapore, must behave like small states. I don’t see anything wrong with Kishore’s argument. But not to Bilahari. His counterargument was, as expected, to invoke LKY’s name:
“LKY would never have done that!” End of argument.
But really? Why then did LKY asked his children to learn Bahasa? Why did LKY made strenuous efforts to be in the good books of Suharto even to the extent of refusing to establish diplomatic ties with China before Indonesia had done so? Because he realized that Singapore’s fortune was tied closely to the benevolence of its gigantic southern neighbor. To put it simply, Singapore would not be able to prosper if Indonesia had not allowed it to do so. Just like how Qatar is now suffering because its gigantic neighbor Saudi Arabia is being belligerent towards it.
And after Singapore had normalized its relations with China, LKY lost no time in placating that humongous country. And LKY travelled around the world making friends with the powerful nations of the world; the US where he had special bonds with political giants like Kissinger and Ford, the UK, Germany and even the then Soviet Union with Gorbachev.
Why would LKY do all that? Because that’s what small states do. Small states must first realize that they are small to begin with and behave like small states by not antagonizing the bigger, more powerful nations. And one way of doing that is by making friends with them. And how do you make friends? Go ask Bilahari. He is after all the roving ambassador where making friends is supposed to be his specialty and what he is paid millions for.
Bilahari must realize that we are no longer in the seventies when bellbottoms were the fad and disco music ruled the airwaves, and when his worldview was formed and unfortunately stuck at. Back then, the big nations at least had a modicum of respect for international laws and gentlemanly rule of conduct. Now we have Trump as POTUS who wants to build a wall with Mexico; and China that is land, or shall we say, sea grabbing the whole of South China Sea. You want to act tough with them? Try it and you shall see how long you’ll survive.
It is not that we didn’t try. When we made a big hoohaa with Indonesia regarding the haze issue, demanding that Indonesia release the details of the companies that were burning the Riau forest despite Indonesia’s polite objection, Indonesia reacted by giving tax amnesty to the billions of dollars stashed by Indonesians in Singapore banks. As a result, close to US$20 billion was repatriated back causing panic to Singapore’s financial circle. It was sort of a reminder by the Indonesian: “Please know your place and don’t play with fire.”
And when PM Lee said something about South China Sea rankling China to no end, our terrex tanks were detained in Hong Kong.
It is not to say that small nations like Singapore must always offer our ass to the big nations to do whatever they like. It is that we should not encroach into their interests unless it affects our own sovereignty. If say one day China came and wanted to claim Pulau Tekong, of course we would fight to the bitter end. But since China wanted to claim the Spratlys and some other islands that had got nothing to do with us, why should we bother? We are a small nation and small nations don’t go around provoking the more powerful countries like a village idiot poking the backsides of the village elders. You will get lynched.
So Bilahari wants Singapore to act like one of the big boys. My advice to him is that when attending functions and parties during his rounds as the roving diplomat, stay off the cocktails.