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Singapore's ambassador to the United States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri (Source: MFA) and freelance journalist Kirsten Han (Source: Kirsten Han website).

Singapore’s ambassador to US issues rebuttal to article painting Singapore as an authoritarian paradise

Singapore's ambassador to the United States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri wrote a rebuttal piece on Ms Kirsten Han's article which paints Singapore as an authoritarian paradise, where critics of the government are squelched and drug traffickers are hanged.

Ms Han, a freelance journalist and advocate for the abolition of capital punishment in Singapore, wrote an article on 28 March, titled, "What Trump Is Learning From Singapore — and Vice Versa".

She wrote, "Days before winning the election in 2016, Donald Trump stood on a stage and directed an accusation at a tiny country halfway across the world: Singapore, he said, was stealing American jobs."

"Singapore is now on the tip of Mr. Trump’s tongue again — but this time, he’s expressing admiration for its death penalty for drug trafficking. He has reportedly invited government representatives to brief the White House on their approach to drug trafficking, including their use of capital punishment. Mr. Trump seems to believe he can learn a thing or two from Singapore."

"Mr. Trump constantly proclaims that his “America First” policy will prevent the United States from being taken for a ride by other countries, while Singapore denounces foreign interference in its domestic politics. Yet when the occasion suits, both are more than happy to borrow ideas from elsewhere to control their populations. Such opportunism is the hallmark of authoritarians constantly on the lookout for ways to consolidate or expand their power."

"Both governments claim they’re solving urgent problems: to get the opioid crisis in the United States under control, to pre-empt disinformation campaigns that might threaten Singapore’s stability. But neither proposed solution is likely to solve the problem, and might even make things worse."

Responding to this, Mr Mirpuri wrote that Singapore, like many countries, is trying to deal with the spread of falsehoods online, which can undermine democracy and social cohesion, noting the World Economic Forum, which describes Singapore’s public institutions as transparent and efficient.

He stressed that more than 60 international media organizations are accredited in Singapore and debate issues vigorously.

Here is what he wrote in full:

Kirsten Han’s article paints Singapore as an authoritarian paradise, where critics of the government are squelched and drug traffickers are hanged.

However, more than 60 international media organizations are accredited in Singapore, and we debate issues vigorously, online and off.

The New York Times, including Ms. Han’s article, is available in print and online, as are all other online sites, except a few pornographic, jihadist and gambling ones.

Singapore, like many other countries, is trying to deal with the spread of falsehoods online, which can undermine democracy and social cohesion. As a multiethnic, multireligious society, we cannot give bigotry free rein.

We do impose the death penalty on criminals — not drug abusers — who traffic specific drugs above a prescribed amount. Singapore is a major port and financial center, in a region where heroin is produced and drug abuse a major problem. Without strict laws and enforcement, we would long have become a magnet for international drug traffickers.

The World Economic Forum describes Singapore’s public institutions as transparent and efficient. The United States government’s own “World Factbook” characterizes Singapore as remarkably open and corruption free.

Chris Kuan, a regular commenter on finance and current affairs wrote on his Facebook following Mr Mirpuri's article:

Do we all recognize or experience Singapore in the same way? Am referring to the Ambassador to the US said he can not recognize the country Kirsten Han describes in her NYT piece. He was referring to Singapore being open and corrupt free. and was ofcos rebutting Ms Han.

We have different social economic status. We have differing attitudes to the importance of civil liberties. We do not have the same degree of acceptance of wealth disparity. There are different attitudes towards the trade-off of law and order vis a vis the sort of social and legal controls we have. Clearly being economically open is not the same as having an open society. It goes on and on. To say he cannot recognize the country according to how someone else describes it, seems to be a useless argument, particularly from a member of the establishment who enjoyed all the advantages the country confer on his likes but few if any of the disadvantages. It just smack of elitist thinking.

In any case, ambassadors should quit being sensitive to criticism in the foreign press. The more they rebut, the more a supposedly "open" country appears less than what is, and the more its government's motives and intolerance are suspected if any foreign reader pay any attention at all. Most don't give an f.