Section 2
Defence and International Security

Section 3
Linking Bridges and Strengthening Ties

Section 4
Building on the Economic Miracle

Section 5
A Healthy Nation, A Thriving Land

Section 6
Housing a Nation: Changing Times, Changin Needs

Section 7
Sports and Culture: The Finer Things in Life

Section 8
Education for All on Different Paths

Section 9
The Next Decade


Linking Bridges and Strengthening Ties


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3.1 Strengthening Regional Ties for Regional Peace
3.2 Bilateral Ties with Our Neighbours
3.3 Do you know? Solving bilateral dispute diplomatically
– Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh
3.4 Do you know? Sixth Member of ASEAN - Brunei Darussalam
3.5 Extra-Regional Cooperation
3.6 Tackling the Indochina Concern
3.7 The Gulf Region
3.8 Fostering Ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
3.9 Continuing Bilateral Relations

Strengthening Regional Ties for Regional Peace

The most significant event in 1975 was the sudden collapse of Cambodia and South Vietnam, followed by a swift takeover of Laos by the Pathet Lao. For several years, the new governments in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos will be busy with repair and rehabilitation. After a while, we may resume trade and buy agricultural products from them as we used to before the war disrupted supplies. We want a constructive relationship with these new governments of Indo-China.

An era ended when the American Congress washed their hands of regimes dependent on American military and economic aid for survival. A new balance will gradually emerge. The shape of this regional balance will depend on the bigger framework between the big powers in this part of the world. No country wants to be involved in a tussle between any two of the big powers. Greater cooperation and cohesion in ASEAN will be good for all member countries. Then, separately and together, we must keep valuable economic links with the industrialized countries of the West and Japan, and increase our economic links with China and the Third World, with the Soviet Union and the Comecon countries.

ASEAN countries can together create a better climate of confidence in the ASEAN region as a whole.

-Extract of PM Lee’s Eve of National Day Message, 8th Aug 1975

Following the collapse of the governments of South Vietnam and Cambodia, the swift takeover of Laos by Pathet Lao, all happening in 1975, and the withdrawal of American military forces from Indochina in the following year, the security and economic pattern in Southeast Asia was rapidly transforming. Singapore and its neighbours adopted a common understanding and approach, one of constructive engagement with their Indochinese counterparts. Singapore’s foreign policy was thus geared towards maintaining good ties with its neighbours, with the aim of promoting peace in the region.

Source: Photos that Changed the World, 2006
Iconic photographs taken on the final days of Saigon.

1) A Vietcong ‘revenge squad’ captain, who had executed dozens of unarmed civilians earlier that same day, getting shot at point-blank range by South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan.

2) Escaping from a cloud of napalm smoke just behind them, a group of South Vietnamese children from the village of Trang Bang outside of Saigon ran down an empty road. The children’s mouths were opened in screams of pains. The naked girl was nine-year-old Kim Phuc who had been severely burned on her back.

3) South Vietnamese and American civilians scrambling to board a CIA Air America helicopter on the rooftop of the CIA apartment building. They were to be airlifted to Navy ships waiting off the coast during the U.S. evacuation of Saigon, April 1975. 

In February 1976, the first ASEAN Summit was convened in Bali. The Summit was attended by the Heads of Government and Prime Ministers of the five member countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Collectively, and in response to the emerging security environment in the region, the leaders charted out the Declaration of ASEAN Concord. At this forum, consensus was also drawn to establish a permanent ASEAN Secretariat and to intensify intra-ASEAN consultations through the “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia” (TAC). The latter facilitated ASEAN cooperation in many years to come.
On top of security issues, the ASEAN leaders also called for greater economic collaboration within the region. Several areas were identified for action such as:

  1. cooperation on basic commodities, particularly food and energy;
  2. the establishment of large-scale ASEAN industrial plants to meet regional requirements of essential commodities;
  3. the expansion of trade among member states;
  4. the establishment of preferential trading arrangements as a long-term objective;
  5. joint efforts to improve access to markets outside ASEAN; and
  6. a joint approach to international commodity problems and other global economic issues.

The Bali Summit demonstrated that the leaders of ASEAN had the determination to forge a meaningful consensus on policies and programmes for the region.

Source: ASEAN – The First 20 Years, 1987
First ASEAN Summit in Bali, 23-25 February 1976.
From left: PM Lee Kuan Yew, Malaysian PM Datuk Hussein Onn, Indonesian President Suharto, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos and Thai PM Kukrit Pramoj.

The Bali Summit was the ASEAN response to the world economic crisis and to the hardening of attitudes on the part of non-communist industrial nations in regard to helping in the economic development of poorer nations. For the first time at Bali and in subsequent meetings, ASEAN nations tackled the more difficult problems of regional economic cooperation. Not only politically and militarily, but even economically, the ASEAN nations are now aware they must become more self-reliant.

Minister for Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam describing the success of the Summit at Asia Society’s “Conference for American Business on ASEAN” held in New York, 4 Oct 1977.

Source: Singapore Foreign Service – The First 40 Years, 2005
The Singapore delegation led by PM Lee arrived at Denpasar airport and was greeted by host Indonesian President Suharto.

Source: ASEAN – The First 20 Years, 1987
The ASEAN Heads of Government in a jovial mood as they posed for photographers during a break in their hectic programme in Bali.

Source: ASEAN – The First 20 Years, 1987
Huge billboard portraits of the ASEAN Heads of Government were painted to commemorate their historic first meeting in 1976.

Bilateral Ties with Our Neighbours

The second decade also saw Singapore warming up bilateral ties with many countries. Visits to and from neighbouring countries became more frequent as our leaders saw the need for bilateral cooperation in commercial and industrial projects.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
President Suharto of Indonesia called on PM Lee at the Istana. President Suharto was on a one-day informal visit to Singapore, 26 November 1976. He was on a stop-over after visiting Japan, China and Vietnam.

Recalling the visit in his memoirs, Minister Mentor Lee said,

Suharto wanted to develop Batam, an island 20km south of Singapore and two-thirds its size, into a second Singapore. He proposed in 1976 that I help Indonesia to develop Batam. The infrastructure was inadequate and it had only a small population of fishermen. He sent his newly appointed adviser on technology, Dr. B.J. Habibie, to see me. I encouraged him to use Singapore as the dynamo, but explained that Batam needed the infrastructure of roads, water, power and telecommunications, and the removal of administrative bottlenecks. If Habibie could get the Indonesian economic and trade ministers to finance this project, I promised to make the passage of goods and people between Batam and Singapore free of red tape so Batam could plug itself into Singapore’s economic power grid.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
President Marcos visits Sembawang Shipyard and Jurong Town, 28 Jan 1976.

President Marcos and PM Lee agreed to implement a bilateral Philippine-Singapore across-the-board 10 per cent reduction of existing tariffs on all products and to promote intra-ASEAN trade. They also agreed to lay a Philippine-Singapore submarine cable. Its completion in January 1978 was a historic step in the expansion of domestic and international communication facilities. Both countries would sign a Maintenance Agreement the same year.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
Thai PM General Kriangsak Chomanan (Third left) accompanied by Communications Minister Ong Teng Cheong (Second left) on a morning tour of the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) container terminal. He was briefed on the Port’s operation by PSA Chairman Howe Yoon Chong (Second right), 27 Feb 1978.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Malaysian PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamad met PM Lee in December 1981. They discussed several bilateral issues such as Malaysia’s claim to Pedra Branca and Singapore’s request for the acquisition of a portion of the Malayan Railway land at Tanjong Pagar Station for an expressway extension.

Do you know?
Solving bilateral dispute diplomatically – Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh

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Do you know?
Sixth Member of ASEAN - Brunei Darussalam

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Extra-Regional Cooperation

In the spirit of regional growth, Singapore took the lead in promoting its neighbours to the EEC in the second decade. In April 1977, Minister for Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam led a group of ASEAN leaders to Brussels for a high-level conference organised by the ASEAN-EEC Joint Study Group with the Bank of International Corporation, on industrial cooperation between ASEAN and the EEC. The conference was successful in bringing together government officials and private businessmen of the two regions and making European industrialists aware of investment opportunities in Singapore and other ASEAN countries.

“This is the first time that ASEAN Ministers, as a group, have been afforded an opportunity to present to an influential cross-section of European-political and economic leaders the case for closer links between the EEC and ASEAN… because we in ASEAN understand political and economic realities the five of us voluntarily and deliberately deflected the vigour of nationalism towards constructive regionalism. And now we seek to move one step further from regionalism – towards inter-regional cooperation to ease the progress towards closer international cooperation. Because we are the only association of its kind in Asia and the EEC the only one of its kind in Europe, I see great potentials in this for giving fresh impetus and possibly a new and more hopeful direction to the international economic system.”

- Extract of speech by S Rajaratnam, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the ASEAN-EEC Conference on Industrial Cooperation held in Brussels, 4 - 6 Apr 1977.

Over the years, ASEAN has established fruitful dialogue relations with the following countries and regional groupings – Australia, Canada, the EEC, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. The scope of ASEAN’s cooperation with these countries in the second decade has widened tremendously, from cooperation in trade to industrial and development cooperation in areas such as technology transfer and technical assistance.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
Minister for Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam leading a 20-man delegation to Brussel, 4-6 Apr 1977.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
Wilhelm Haferkamp, Vice-President and Commissioner for External Relations of the EEC, welcomed by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Rahim Ishak, 6 Dec 1977. He was here with a seven-man delegation on a tour of ASEAN countries.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
The German delegation to the 15th ASEAN Ministerial Conference at DBS Auditorium Shenton Way, 19 Jun 1982.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
Australian PM Malcolm Fraser called on PM Lee at the Istana to discuss Australia’s relationship with ASEAN, 27 May 1977.

Source: The Singapore Foreign Service – The First 40 Years, 2005
The first ministerial meeting of the ASEAN-United States dialogue took place in Washington D.C. The United States affirmed its support for ASEAN and its readiness to expand cooperation in the economic, social and cultural fields. The ASEAN ministers met President Carter and several United States cabinet ministers as well as congressional and business leaders. Senior Minister of State for Finance Goh Chok Tong is seated fifth from the right in the Cabinet Room of the White House, August 1978.

Tackling the Indochina Concern

The collapse of South Vietnam’s forces and the subsequent evacuation of American troops at the outset of the second decade confronted ASEAN governments with very different and unexpected strategic problems in Southeast Asia. An immediate problem for Singapore was that posed by Vietnamese refugees. At one stage there were 7,500 refugees from 54 boats in Singapore waters and 915 refugees on St. John’s Island. Singapore adopted a policy of sending refugee boats on their way with provisions. Through close cooperation with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) all refugees were resettled by October 1975. Refugees sent to St John’s Island were guaranteed resettlement by other countries. An official of the UNHCR said at the time that the situation had been “well handled” by the Singapore authorities.

However, despite Singapore’s success, the influx of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees continued in neighbouring countries putting pressure on their military and economic resources. Foreign Minister S Rajaratnam raised the issue on the surge of “boat people” in July 1979, at a United Nations Meeting on Refugees and Displaced Persons in Southeast Asia in Geneva:

A major and decisive contribution towards the solution of this problem is the immediate halting of the flow of refugees from Vietnam and also from Laos and Kampuchea. If they (Vietnam) can give consideration to this request, and tell us that there will be no more flow of refugees, then we come to a practical solution…
(The refugees’) continued presence not only imposes dangerous political, economic and social strains but contains within it potential for racial conflicts which could tear our societies in Southeast Asia apart.

The efforts paid off in the later part of 1980 when the outflow of refugees started to slow.

The Straits Times, 12 May 1975, Singapore Press Holdings

Source: NAS

Source: NAS
Minister for Home Affairs Chua Sian Chin visited Vietnamese refugees at St John’s Island.

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
Some 270 refugees landed at the beach near the Singapore Swimming Club in Tanjong Rhu. They were later taken in six police vehicles to the Immigration Department Field Headquarters in Robinson Road, escorted by police cars. Picture shows Vietnamese women on their way to the Immigration Department, 17 Dec 1978

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
The Vietnamese boat people eventually leaving Singapore for resettlement in other countries. Picture shows police launch towing the trawler out to open sea, 18 December 1978.

Source: ASEAN - the First 20 years, 1987
The ASEAN governments have often spoken in one voice on matters of international concern. In the picture above, the ASEAN permanent representatives to the United Nations speak at a press conference in New York, July 1981, on ASEAN’s position on the situation in Kampuchea. Seated from left to right are Tan Sri Datuk Zainal Abidin of Malaysia, Mr. Alejandro Yango of the Philippines, Professor Tommy Koh of Singapore, M L Birabhongse Kasemsri of Thailand and Mr. Abdullah Kamil of Indonesia.

Source: ASEAN - the First 20 years, 1987
A graphic newspaper report of the plight of the thousands of Kampuchean people who fled their Vietnamese-occupied homeland for the borders of Thailand.

The ASEAN Heads of Government recognised the new government of Kampuchea headed by Prince Norodom Sihanouk. In May 1976, the Singapore government established diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level. In the joint communiqué, the two governments stated that they were eager to promote friendly relations “on the basis of the friendly principles of equality, mutual respect for national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and of non-interference in the domestic affairs of each country”. In the following year, the Kampuchean Deputy Premier and Foreign Affair Minister, Ieng Sary, visited Singapore. Singapore was the third ASEAN nation to establish diplomatic relations with Democratic Kampuchea after Thailand and Malaysia.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Minister for Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam meeting Deputy Foreign Minister of Democratic Kampuchea Ieng Sary and his delegation at the City Hall, 6 Feb 1980

Source: Singapore 1982, courtesy of NAS
The leaders of the three Cambodian factions: Prince Norodom Sihanouk (centre), Son Sann (left) and Khieu Samphan (right) meeting in Singapore to discuss the formation of a coalition government, September 1981.

The first sign of an attempt to establish friendly ties between Vietnam and the ASEAN states was the visit of the Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Phan Hien to ASEAN countries with an unofficial visit to Singapore in July 1976. An agreement in principle was reached to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries and to exchange technical delegations to discuss further commercial relations. 

Source: Singapore Press Holdings, courtesy of NAS
Vietnamese PM Pham Van Dong’s two-day official visit in mid-October 1978 was only weeks away before his country invaded Kampuchea on 25 December, deposed the Khmer Rouge government and installed a Vietnamese-backed regime.

Source: Ong Teng Cheong Collections, courtesy of NAS
Group photo at HDB rooftop. From second left: Communications Minister Ong Teng Cheong, HDB Chairman Michael Fam, PM Dong, a Vietnamese official and National Development Minister Teh Cheang Wan.

Indeed, in the second decade, Singapore and its ASEAN partners worked hard to maintain regional stability despite the unstable political climate in Indochina. It not only went out of its way to extend humanitarian aid, but it also opened its doors to allow for dialogue and cooperation with the communist governments. In September 1981 Singapore took the lead in hosting the tripartite talks among the leaders of the three Cambodian resistance groups – Norodom Sihanouk, Son Sann and Khieu Samphan – who agreed in principle to form a coalition government. The real breakthrough came, however, when the Cold War ended in the third decade.
…the ASEAN states are, for the first time, giving serious attention to the positive aspects of regionalism as such. One of the reasons was the realization that despite the advent of a communist Indo-China, there had not been the predicted fall of non-communist dominoes.

In my view, the dominoes did not fall because of the existence of ASEAN. After the initial shock of American withdrawal from Vietnam, the ASEAN states recovered their composure and confidence fairly rapidly. No country in ASEAN today thinks that the presence of foreign troops is necessary in the battle to preserve their non-communist status.

Had there been no ASEAN, the consequences could have been different.

Extract of speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam at Asia Society’s “Conference for American Business on ASEAN” held in New York on 4 Oct 1977.


The Gulf Region

The second decade not only saw Singapore further strengthening diplomatic ties with Europe and the United States, it also started expanding missions to the Gulf region, a key source of Singapore’s supply of crude oil. In late 1975, Foreign Minister S Rajaratnam visited Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, the United Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia to establish direct diplomatic relations. The aim was not only to ensure the continued crucial flow of oil but also to encourage Arab investment of their surplus funds in the ASEAN region, including Singapore. In return, Singapore offered to exchange experience and expertise in port development, housing, shipping and banking. The Bahraini and Jordanian Crown Prince visited Singapore in 1977. The growing importance of Saudi Arabia was manifested in November 1977 when the status of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Saudi Arabia was raised to ambassadorial level, with plans to establish a Singapore mission to Saudi Arabia.

Source: Singapore Foreign Service, The First 40 Years, 2005
Foreign Minister Dhanabalan visits the then under construction 25km Bahrain-Oman causeway during his tour to the region in November 1984.

Source: Singapore Foreign Service, The First 40 Years, 2005
The Emir of Kuwait, Jaber III al-Ahmad al-Jaber al Sabah, 1980

Source: Singapore 1980, courtesy of NAS
The Emir of Bahrain, His Highness Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa (second from right) paid a state visit in June 1979.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Minister for Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam having a conversation with Iraqi Trade Minister Hassan Ali at the City Hall, 17 Mar 1980.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs A. Rahim Ishak greets Minister of Information and Culture of Oman, Al Said, 27 Mar1979.

Source: Singapore 1982, courtesy of NAS
Minister for Trade and Industry Goh Chok Tong, who visited Kuwait and Oman in April 1980, signing a trade agreement with Kuwait’s Minister of Commerce and Industry Jassim Khalid Al Marzouk.

“Both Prime Ministers appraised favourably the development of bilateral relations and noted that there existed conditions for the promotion of mutually beneficial relations in many spheres, particularly in the economic and commercial fields. They agreed that more positive and concrete efforts should be made to promote at all levels closer contacts between the two countries. Among the areas reviewed were the exchange of expertise in banking, port development and operations, shipbuilding and housing development. In that connection, the Iranian side agreed to send to Singapore in October 1975 an economic mission comprising representatives of the public and private sectors.”

Joint Communique issued on the Occasion of the Official Visit of PM Lee Kuan Yew to Iran, 14 - 19 Sep 1975

  Fostering Ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC)

As part of maintaining a policy of friendship towards all major powers, PM Lee, with a 17-member delegation, including Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Finance, visited the PRC for the first time from May 10 – 23 1976. During the meeting with the PRC’s Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Prime Minister Hua Kuo-feng, differences of interests and ideology of the two states were openly discussed. Both parties agreed that the differences in political ideology should not prevent the improvement of cultural, trade and other relations between Singapore and the PRC. Singapore was assured of China’s non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. At the same time, the Singapore delegates reaffirmed the recognition of the “one-China” policy. This eventually led to the conclusion of a trade agreement in December 1979 and June 1980 which paved the way for the establishment of trade offices in both countries.

Source: The Straits Times, 11 May 1975

Source: Singapore Foreign Service, The First 40 Years, 2005
PM Lee and the Singapore delegation on the rooftop of the Peace Hotel during his first visit to China, 13-22 May 1976.

Source: Ong Teng Cheong Collections, courtesy of NAS
PM Lee and Mrs Lee at a welcome ceremony at Tiananmen Square, November 1980.

Source: Ong Teng Cheong Collections, courtesy of NAS

Source: Singapore Foreign Service, The First 40 Years, 2005

Source: Singapore Foreign Service, The First 40 Years, 2005

Series of high level visits to Singapore from China. Clockwise: First Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping visited on 12 Nov 1979; Foreign Minister Huang Hua, 1980; and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, 1981. These, and the reciprocal visits by Singapore leaders, afforded the opportunity for both sides to understand each other’s position on various questions of regional and international significance.

Source: Ong Teng Cheong Collections, courtesy of NAS
PM Lee accompanying Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping at a ceremonial welcome at Paya Lebar Airport, November 1978.

Source: Ong Teng Cheong Collections, courtesy of NAS
Group photograph after tree planting at the Garden of Fame in Jurong Hill Top, November 1978

Source: Singapore Foreign Service, The First 40 Years, 2005
An agreement to establish reciprocal commercial representative offices in Beijing and Singapore was signed in June 1980.

“A most important milestone in the history of our relations with China has been the visit of our Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, to the People's Republic of China in May last year. This visit resulted in renewed friendship, and amongst other things, a deeper understanding of the industrial and commercial policies of both countries. Our Prime Minister's visit was followed by a number of professional, goodwill and trade missions, which were most cordially received by their Chinese counterparts. The Joint Standing Committee of Commerce and Industry of Singapore visited China last December. I now understand that, among others, the Singapore Association of Shipbuilders and Repairers and the Rubber Association of Singapore will be sending trade missions to China later this year. Such visits would undoubtedly help to promote trade cooperation and foster closer relationship.”

Extract of a speech by Senior Minister of State Goh Chok Tong at the dinner in honour of the official trade delegation from the PRC, 23 Sep 1977.


Continuing Bilateral Relations

The second decade saw many goodwill missions from Singapore to various parts of the world and visits by various world leaders to Singapore, thus, further strengthening not only diplomatic and trade links, but also defence ties. As a result, Singapore’s international stature was enhanced and it opened the way for Singapore to play a greater role in international politics in the next decade.

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
Japanese goodwill cultural mission presenting a gift to the Minister for Culture Jek Yeun Thong at City Hall, 15 Mar 1977.

Source: NAS
Crown Prince Harold and Princess Sonja of Norway visit Chinese Garden, 1978.

Source: Singapore 1980, courtesy of NAS
PM Lee with British PM Mrs Margaret Thatcher at No. 10 Downing Street, June 1979. The aim of the four-day official visit was to find out the thinking and policies of the newly-elected British Conservative Government.

Source: NAS
Queen Aishwarya of Nepal visits St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged, 1980

Source: Singapore Foreign Service, The First 40 Years, 2005
Minister for Foreign Affairs S Rajaratnam leads a delegation to Myanmar, 1980

Source: Singapore 1980, courtesy of NAS
PM Lee at the White House meeting with President Ronald Reagan and US Secretary of State George Schultz, 1982. During the meeting, President Reagan, who was a staunch supporter for Taiwan, sought PM Lee’s opinions on sales of new generation aircraft to Taiwan and its implications on US relationship with China.

Source: NAS
President Zia-Ul-Haq of Pakistan, 1982

Source: MOC (now MICA), courtesy of NAS
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Culture S Dhanabalan is having meeting with the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Hungary, Dr Rajos Faluvegi and his delegation, 23 July 1984.
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