Singapore—Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam spoke up on the issue of foreign influence and the taking of money from outsiders in Parliament on Monday, November 4, saying, “We, in this House, should stand against that.”
Mr Shanmugam was answering a question from Nominated MP Walter Theseira, about evaluating the risk of foreign influence.
The Straits Times (ST) reports that the Home Affairs and Law Minister said that Singaporeans should interact with foreigners in order to have a broader understanding of current events and to even have deeper relationships with them, whether in politics, academia or business.
But this does not include receiving funding from foreigners or allowing them to influence operations.
Professor Theseira had said that in evaluating the risk of foreign influence, a person’s behaviour and deeds should be looked at more, and “perhaps less at whether they, for example, receive foreign funding or employ foreigners in sensitive positions”.
He added, “if we are too quick to judge on these matters, we may deter Singaporeans from engaging in foreign exchanges, and that’s going to be very important for us as a globalised society”.
The Nominated MP asked this in the context of the concerns the Home Affairs and Law Minister had stated in October at a forum on Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures, organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
Mr Shanmugam answered, “Politics in Singapore should be for Singaporeans,” which is why political parties and Members of Parliament are forbidden from receiving donations from foreigners, as they represent Singaporeans.
He added that it is important to identify the risks, therefore.
“It is no answer to say, we should not prevent Singaporeans from engaging with international opinions.
There’s nothing to prevent politicians, political parties from engaging with foreign parties. But you cannot take money from them. So you need to identify what it is you’re speaking about.”
The Home Affairs and Law Minister emphasized that foreigners should not be allowed to influence the political processes in Singapore, and that foreign influence needs to be kept away from the country’s political environment.
“We have crafted a series of laws over the years, and I think Singaporeans accept that.”
Mr Shanmugam gave examples of unwelcome foreign interference, such as when Hank Hendrickson, an American diplomat, was removed from the country as he had been encouraging Singaporean lawyers to join opposition groups and challenge the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which happened in the 1980s.
The Home Affairs and Law Minister said, “We all meet with foreign diplomats, there’s nothing wrong with it. But when a foreign diplomat engages Singaporeans and encourages them to form a political (party) and run (for elections), that crosses well beyond what diplomats are entitled to do.”
Mr Shanmugam also cited examples of how foreigners have influenced Singaporean media as what happened with the Eastern Sun and Singapore Herald newspapers, which are no longer in operation.
The Eastern Sun, he said, “was an attempt by Communist China to capture and manipulate the local media, ultimately, to influence public opinion and create political situations favourable to their own interests.”
Regarding the Singapore Herald, Mr Shanmugam said, “Singapore’s intelligence agencies concluded that American intelligence had a significant role in these operations, and that this was foreign influence operation.”
When the Minister was later asked how the county can protect itself from foreign influences, he clarified that not all foreign influences needed to be avoided.
“We seek to deal with, for example, foreign influences that seek to disrupt our society, weaken our country and affect our foreign policy. This cannot come as a surprise. Every country seeks to protect itself.”/ TISG