Does Goh knows his international relations 101?

8 Aug

Singapore Senior Minister, MR Goh Chok Tong was quoted at the inaugural Asia-Middle East Media Roundtable that this is currently a good time for the former to expand its trade and cultural relations in the Middle East (instead of viewing it as a place for sourcing energy and exploiting its oil-fields).

It appears that the Senior Minister has quite forgotten that the Middle East is not just Qatar , Abu Dhabi (which was mentioned in a Channel News Asia article) or even Israel, which Singapore has close relations with. Based on that report, Economic crisis an opportunity for Asia, Mideast to grow ties‘, Mr Goh Chok Tong has forgotten the Middle East is a region with complex geopolitical issues.

In Iraq for example, we are witnessing an illegal invasion  (under international law) which has caused an atrocious number of displacements, sectorian unrests, deaths and property to destruction, conveniently termed as ‘collateral damage’ by the US forces. That the Singapore government sees itself fit to be part of the coalition is therefore morally questionable.

In 2006, the war in Lebanon waged by Hizbollah and Israel generated the same kind of quagmire while leaving behind a trail of unexploded cluster munitions. Singapore has refused to attend the international conference  on such weapons nor signed and ratified the treaty to ban them.

Lets not forget the military campaign and continuing economic blockade in Gaza (2 years but who’s counting) as well as the illegal building of settlements and Separation Wall in West Bank by Israel which the Singapore government has turned a blind eye to.

How about the its muted response to the Iranian’s rage and street protest in the recent Presidential elections which saw a large-scale crackdown on activists and journalists?

Even if we can look beyond these specific human rights atrocities, which occurred within the last few years (with the exception of the Occupied Territories) can Singapore justify its ongoing relationships with repressive regimes the likes of Saudi Arabia or Egypt where the former’s denigratory treatment of women and secretive executions; and the latter’s crackdown on the opposition is notoriously well-documented?

This business whereby states sees itself as equals (or normatively speaking, at least) in building  trade or cultural relationships with other states is part of international relations. Nothing unusual about it. However, that should not come at the expense of ignoring blatant human rights violations which are often clearly in contravene of international human rights laws.

Even if one can begrudgingly look beyond these issues and argue that Singapore has little capacity to influence the Middle East, it cannot say of the same with regards to the Burmese military regime.

To add insult to injury, Mr Goh Chok Tong said in the CNA article that Aung San Suu Kyi is part of the problem because she sees herself as part of the government. One could infer from his statement that the lady is not a legitimate representative of Burma despite her party’s electoral victories more than two decades ago but was denied of coming into power because of the generals. The country’s vast resources has since been pillaged by overseas corporations including Singaporean-based investors while ASEAN advocates a nonchalance attitude towards large-scale injustices ranging from the suppression of the Saffron uprising to Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrests and sham trial; and the ongoing killing, imprisonment and torture of Burmese activists

Even his suggestion to Aung San Suu Kyi in terms of offering concessions is illogical. It is precisely the Western sanctions (not including the oil corporations) that is limiting the junta’s ability to gain revenue in oppressing its people. Normalising trade with Burma is very likely to give the military more resources and justification to continue its illegitimate rule as it enhances its repressive practices (think China or even Singapore).

International relations is far from perfect or fair  in many circumstances. That however does not justify state practices that are at odds with our shared and broad sense of human morality.  Some atrocities cannot be simply explained by jingoistic language such as following a ‘roadmap to democracy’ or realism. In the conducting of foreign affairs, is it morally justified for a state to focus on trade issues while ignoring the other equally if not, more important areas such as human rights norms or laws on war? What is one’s moral obligations towards others  besides one’s own countrymen? Should one care about foreign affair and international relations even if it appears to be the domain of the state?


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