Ho Ching should reduce or even stop her Facebook posting on international matters, given her position as the wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and chief executive officer (CEO) of Singaporean sovereign wealth firm Temasek.
Ho is an avid Facebook poster. Sometimes her Facebook posts are more frequent than the tweets of US President Donald Trump, who tweets often. Many of her posts are informative, some are entertaining. However, some of her Facebook posts on foreign affairs risk potential diplomatic repercussions.
On April 21 for instance, she posted an article of the National Post, a Canadian newspaper, with the headline, “Worried about offending Trump, ‘flaky’ Trudeau ‘humiliated’ fellow leaders during TPP trade talks: former Aussie PM”.
Ho posted that article without comment, so her opinions on it are not known. However, some diplomats in Canada, Australia and the US may possibly be offended by this article. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump and Malcolm Turnbull, the former Australian Prime Minister in question, can read her Facebook. What if they, rightly or wrongly, associate that article with her or Prime Minister Lee, who participated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks?
Already, at least one of Ho’s Facebook posts have sparked international controversy, namely her posts on Taiwan.
On April 11, Ho posted on her Facebook a report that Taiwan was donating face masks to Singapore to help Singaporeans cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, to which she added the comment, “Errrr…”
Many Taiwanese netizens perceived her comment negatively and flooded her Facebook with posts scolding her. Subsequently, she posted a video of a Taiwan talk show which defended her “Errr” remark, but criticized Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen and former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui.
On April 15, Ho posted on her Facebook, “I don’t agree with some of the stuff in the video with its clearly biased domestic political fights…. I owe the President of Taiwan a personal apology, and hope to make amends in calmer times. Meanwhile, my apologies to her.”
Besides Taiwan, some of Ho’s posts risk offending the Chinese government. Recently tensions between Beijing and Taiwan have increased with Trump taking a harsher line towards China and moving closer to Taiwan. Amidst such a complicated international situation, the last thing Singapore needs is to offend both Taiwan and China.
On June 28, 2018, Ho Ching posted a Straits Times article with the headline, “Singaporeans should be aware of China’s ‘influence operations’ to manipulate them, says retired diplomat Bilahari.”
Former Singapore diplomat Kausikan Bilahari is known for his anti-China views. Although Ho made no comment on that Facebook post, Chinese leaders may possibly believe, rightly or wrongly, that she and maybe her husband share Bilahari’s views.
Also on June 28, 2018, Ho posted an article in Business Insider, a US business news website owned by a German publishing firm Axel Springer, headlined, “How China tried to shut down Australian media coverage of its debt-trap diplomacy in the Pacific.”
On December 23, 2017, Ho posted an article of The Diplomat, a Washington-headquartered publication, headlined, “What’s Really Behind Chinese Assertiveness in the South China Sea?”
On June 25, 2018, Ho posted a Bloomberg article headlined, “Australians trust Xi more than Trump, survey says.”
Singapore Prime Minister Lee already has a challenging job trying to balance relations with China and the US. He has stated Singapore does not want to choose between the two superpowers. By posting that Bloomberg article, Ho risks complicating the Singapore government’s efforts to maintain good relations with Xi and Trump.
Ho has met senior Chinese leaders. For example, she met Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan during his visit to Singapore in November 2018, in the presence of Prime Minister Lee and other Singapore ministers. Does Ho realize Chinese leaders like Wang can read her Facebook posts?
Ho has responded to criticism of her Facebook activities. On April 20, she posted her reply, which is reproduced with all its spelling errors and abbreviations –
“Hey, hc, these folks who don’t allow people to post contrarian views on their sites? They think yours truly shouldn’t post so much on FB bcos:
a) yours truky is married to abc;
b) yours is ceo of xyz
I couldn’t help but be so tickled.
Folks who blocked others from posting contrarians views on their sites, while they try to mouth the slogan of free speech – they now want to deprive yours truly from posting on my own FB page?
Awwww …. that’s pretty rich, don’t you think?”
With due respect, Madam Ho, your Facebook posts matter, because you are married to your country’s Prime Minister and you are CEO of Temasek, a Singapore sovereign wealth firm with a S$313 billion (US$231 billion) portfolio as at March 31, 2019. If the Temasek CEO’s Facebook posts offend government officials and captains of industry in countries like China and the US, Temasek’s investment activities in these countries risk being affected.
If Ho was an ordinary citizen, in the name of free speech, she is entitled to post whatever she wants on social media. If she kept her Facebook private among a closed circle of friends, there would be no problem with her expressing her views freely on Facebook. However, spies, diplomats and leaders of countries like China, the US, Australia and Canada can read Ho’s Facebook posts.
The public opinions of a national leader’s spouse can possibly be seen as those of the leader. Kwa Geok Choo, the late wife of Singapore’s late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, may have privately expressed her thoughts on foreign leaders to her husband, but was reticent in public. The British Royal Family and Japanese Imperial Family may hold political opinions, but keep them private because they are supposed to be politically neutral.
Ho began her Facebook post on April 20 with laughter, “Heehee heehee heeheehee!”
A Singapore woman told me that post made Ho sound “like some airhead teenager.”
The 67-year old CEO of a major Singapore firm should exercise more decorum in public statements.
Toh Han Shih is a Singaporean writer in Hong Kong. The opinions expressed in this article are his own. /TISG