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SINGAPORE'S success - whether externally or domestically - depends on its people's ability to stay united politically and socially, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday. This is because a failed state cannot have an effective foreign policy, he stressed.
Said Mr Lee: "It doesn't mean that there is no domestic politics or there is no political opposition. It means that citizens vote in open fair elections for whom they wish to run the government, and that we have an opposition that will understand Singapore's fundamental interests in the world, and will not seek to undermine Singapore's fundamental interests - either to court foreign support or to gain political ground."
He noted that Singapore has had such opposition parties, and singled out opposition veteran Chiam See Tong, now retired, as an example. Mr Lee said that no matter Mr Chiam's policy disagreements, he always closed ranks and stood up for Singapore when travelling overseas as an official or parliamentary delegate.
"That is really the norm which should prevail in politics in Singapore," said Mr Lee at the annual S Rajaratnam Lecture series held at the Raffles City Convention Centre on Friday. In his hour-long speech laying out Singapore's foreign policy, he took pains to stress that Singapore's domestic issues were inextricably tied to its effectiveness in external affairs.
"Political stability is important for us to maintain a clear direction and a clear understanding of our national interests, and to pursue that consistently over a long period. If we can do that, it can compensate for our lack of heft," he said, in a reference to Singapore's immutables - its small size and its being resource-scarce in an uncertain world.
He noted that in countries where the politics is fractious, foreign policy often shifts along with changing political winds - raising issues of reliability.
"Worst of all, it makes it easier for others to take advantage of you, because there is uncertainty and they will wait you out, knowing that your government is a lame duck and will not last," he said. Beyond political unity, Mr Lee also emphasised that citizens must stay united regardless of race, language and religion, and see the world through Singaporean eyes. "For us, a national identity will always be a work in progress," he said.
Delving into Singapore's foreign policy stance, Mr Lee said: "Our foreign policy is a balance between realism and idealism. We know we have to take the world as it is and not as we would wish it to be - but we believe that we can and must defend ourselves and advance our interests."
He said that Singapore, despite its lack of size, has refused to accept the aphorism that "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must".
"(We) have refused to accept this as our fate. We are determined to be masters of our own destiny."
In addition to staying united as a people, Singapore charts its own course by being an active and constructive player internationally, having common cause with its neighbours and enhancing cooperation in Southeast Asia. Mr Lee noted that others hold the Republic in high regard, and find it an interesting example from which ideas can be gleaned; This is especially because it has succeeded in finding solutions to problems such as housing, health care and water supply. But the prime minister also reminded the 800 people in attendance that Singaporeans must remain humble and never let their successes go to their heads.
"Never believe that we are superior to others or that we know better than others how to solve their problems ... We don't pretend to be a city on a hill, or a light unto nations, holding ourselves out as an example which every other country ought to follow," he said, and stressed the need for Singapore to understand its place in the world.
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