No longer Ambassador-at-Large, Bilahari can now say what he wants against any foreign govts

Bilahari Kausikan did not renew his contract with MFA last month (‘Veteran diplomat Bilahari Kausikan to retire after 37 years of service‘).

No longer holding the official position of Ambassador-at-Large, he can now safely make comments to attack any foreign powers he wants without dragging Singapore into his personal disputes with the foreign governments.

In a keynote speech at a public conference yesterday (28 Jun), he warned Singaporeans of China’s attempts to manipulate them. Singaporeans should be aware of when Beijing is trying to manipulate them, thereby advancing its interests and promoting its influence, he said.

He said that China uses a range of tactics – from legitimate diplomacy to more covert and often illegal deployment of agents of influence and operations – to sway decision makers or public opinion leaders.

“China doesn’t just want you to comply with its wishes, it wants you to… do what it wants without being told,” he said.

A key tactic is to present target countries with oversimplified narratives, “forcing false choices on you and making you choose between them”, he said.

For example, “America is the past and China is the future, so get on the right track”, or that being close to the US makes it difficult to have a close economic relationship with China, he said.

Narratives used against Singapore include “Singapore has no claim in the South China Sea, so why is the Singapore Government taking sides against China?”

Another is that “relations were much better under Mr Lee Kuan Yew because he understood China in a way the present Singapore leadership does not”, he said.

These narratives are powerful because they contain kernels of truth, but are extremely simplistic and gross distortions, or leave out facts, said Mr Kausikan.

China, for example, conveniently neglects to mention that the late Mr Lee stood up to the Communist United Front, he said.

These narratives are spread through social media like WeChat and by word of mouth, and reinforced by actions such as militarisation in the South China Sea and the seizure of Singapore’s Terrex armoured vehicles in 2016.

“When the Chinese try to impose a Chinese identity on Singapore, we must resist, because modern Singapore is based on the idea of being a multiracial country,” he added.

Editor’s note – While Mr Bilahari is longer a civil servant but as past instances have shown, retired civil servants are still wary of how the Singapore government react to their public comments such as when former top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow was compelled to clarify his negative comments about the current crop of ministers.