According to industry analysts, Singapore is the worst place to be a property developer, the worst place to be a tech start-up, and the worst place to be a software programmer. Add to that growing list, the worst place to be a Track II diplomat or lobbyist.
Singapore has proscribed Dr Huang Jing, a US citizen and top professor at its Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP). He will be summarily expelled, his permanent resident status torn up, and his directorships in several state-linked companies dissolved if he doesn’t resign from them voluntarily. The communique from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) adopts a security narrative: the professor was “an agent of influence of a foreign country”, engaged in subversion and interference in Singapore’s domestic politics.
Of course the security narrative is improbable, implausible, and doesn’t add up. Not even to the world of diplomacy, spycraft, or international relations.
Yet a cursory scan of Dr Huang Jing’s career and publications reveals he is a pro-China “China hand” with a decades-long involvement in Track II diplomacy and lobbying at several policy institutes and think tanks in America and South Korea, and a foreign economics analyst for China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency. Some even openly state his credentials as a key actor in Track II diplomacy and multilateral dialogues. And that’s where the narrative from Singapore Ministry Home Affairs starts to break down entirely.
One thing about being a spy: you can’t be one if you’re recognized as a spy wherever you go.
One thing about being a diplomat or international lobbyist: you can only be one if you’re recognized as such wherever you go.
And it’s clear from historical record that Dr Huang Jing is a China analyst involved in lobbying and track II diplomacy.
Track II diplomacy, in a nutshell, is diplomacy conducted by unofficial, informal, or non-governmental actors and agents. That is, diplomacy conducted between non-diplomats. No war hawks or peace doves, just scientific, cultural, and economic analysts and lobbyists from each side speaking freely on a wide range of issues – something that cannot take place within formal diplomacy. No formal negotiations, whatever views proposed are seen as not necessarily the official stand of respective governments.
Track II diplomacy was “invented” as a way to resolve crises. Since then, it was further developed as a way to normalise relations and improve mutual understanding through regular dialogue. And yes, to ultimately persuade governments to adjust various policies and policy directions. Very openly acknowledged and studied in the literature and various institutes conducting Track II Diplomacy as lobbying. Whether or not such lobbying is successful depends on how convincing the lobbyist’s arguments are, vis-a-vis the arguments of other lobbyists.
Put crudely, Track II diplomacy is all about lobbying. Of course it’s Dr Huang’s key skill set and very clearly stated in his CV and previous appointments. When the government of Singapore luridly accused Dr Huang Jing of being a foreign agent who “engaged prominent and influential Singaporeans… to influence their opinions in favour of that country… recruited others in aid of his operations”, were they accusing Dr Huang of being a lobbyist and Track II diplomacy actor working in a public policy institute?