Singapore Government Press Release, Media Relations Division, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, MITA Building, 140 Hill Street, 2nd Storey, Singapore 179369

Tel: 6837-9666







A Different World 

1.             I welcome all delegates to the fourth Shangri-La Dialogue. The world has changed significantly since the first Dialogue in 2002.  The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had galvanised all countries in a global war against terrorism.  Faced with a common threat, all felt instinctively the solidarity of a shared humanity.

2.             The US led a coalition of nations to mobilise a swift response. In Afghanistan, the coalition overthrew the Taleban regime, and are helping an elected Afghan government to restore normal conditions.  In Iraq, the swift and decisive military campaign that ended Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror was followed by a difficult period of reconstruction and insurgency.  However, the situation changed fundamentally for the better in January, when 8 million Iraqis defied death threats to vote in their first ever free elections.

3.             The insurgents, Baathists and Al Qaeda-linked terrorists are no longer fighting an occupying US force, but an elected Iraqi government.  They are now targeting and killing Iraqi Shiites. But Shiite leaders have been careful not to retaliate lest they trigger off an internecine Shiite-Sunni war. Shiite leaders know that they have democratic power within their grasp. They are willing to share power with the Sunnis by settling the constitution and holding a second round of elections in which the Sunnis are likely to participate. Hence although security remains a problem in Iraq, it is clear to all, including Sunni Iraqis, that the insurgents cannot win.  Iraq is now on the path towards a better and safer future, and the outlook for the Middle East has improved. 

4.             Between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there is renewed hope of progress. The death of Yasser Arafat has opened a window of opportunity which if not grasped by both sides, may pass.  Syria is withdrawing its army from Lebanon, which has witnessed an unprecedented show of ‘people power’, and just held parliamentary elections. Saudi Arabia has begun to experiment with low-level municipal elections.  In Egypt, President Mubarak has promised steps towards democracy.  However, it is too early to tell whether elections will lead to more open and progressive societies, or whether they will strengthen radical and fundamentalist groups which will come into conflict with the incumbent regimes and destabilise the region. 

5.             Globally, another worrying development is the fraying of the unity of countries that came together in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Together, the US and Europe form a vital core of global political stability.  But a deep rift has emerged between the two sides of the North Atlantic alliance, arising from fundamental differences over unilateralism and the pre-emptive use of force.  9/11 left Americans with a profound sense of vulnerability, and a determination never to let it happen again. They have few inhibitions about wielding their military might against security threats, actual or potential. But many Europeans are uncomfortable with a world in which the US is the sole hyperpower. For them, the defining moment of the contemporary era is the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.  Among these Europeans, 11/9 resonates more deeply than 9/11.  11/9 led to the peaceful breakup of the Soviet empire, which has diminished the relevance of NATO to Europe. So these Europeans find the security threats less pressing, and prefer to deal with problems through diplomacy, foreign aid and multilateral institutions. These differences in US and European world views represent a major change in world politics.     

6.             In Asia too, there have been major security and strategic developments. We have made progress in fighting extremist terrorism, but the threat remains. The emergence of China and India is changing the strategic landscape, and requiring creative responses by all players to achieve a new stable balance. And potential trouble spots continue to need attention. These Asian security issues are the focus of my speech tonight.

Renewing a Common Resolve Against Terrorism

7.             The toppling of the Taleban in Afghanistan has destroyed Al-Qaeda’s base and disrupted its command and control structure. Since 9/11, nearly two-thirds of Al-Qaeda’s original core leadership have been killed or captured.  But, as one analyst put it, “Al-Qaeda is more lethal as an ideology than as an organisation.”[1] This radical ideology continues to attract many individuals and groups round the world. Its war cry is Jihad against the infidels and a Caliphate uniting all Muslims worldwide.

8.             In Southeast Asia, governments have disrupted the operational capacity of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a regional terrorist group affiliated to Al-Qaeda.  A number of key JI leaders have been captured, as have the perpetrators of the Bali, Jakarta Marriot and Australian embassy bombings.  But like Al-Qaeda itself, the JI is morphing into a loose web of dispersed individuals and small groups, highly resistant to penetration and detection. It is also tapping into other like-minded groups in Indonesia to provide manpower and support for its terrorist activities. So, while the JI may be weakened, it remains highly dangerous.

9.             Why has it been so difficult to slay this multi-headed hydra? It is partly because some dangerous leaders remain on the loose. But a more basic problem is that the underlying infrastructure supporting terrorism remains intact.  For example, the JI has used some madrasahs (religious schools) in the region as platforms to talent spot, recruit, indoctrinate and train new generations of fighters. Some of these madrasahs have been closed, but others continue to operate.  And in the Southern Philippines, the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continues to host JI training facilities in its camps, as it has done since the 1990s.

10.        Southern Thailand is another area of concern.  Violence among the Muslim population there has been rising. This is still largely a separatist movement, not linked to Al-Qaeda or JI activities. But recently Al-Qaeda materials were seized in a madrasah in Pattani, and an International Crisis Group (ICG) report noted that “as grievances mount and the conflict escalates, however, there is a possibility that Thai groups could seek outside assistance or that individuals from JI or like-minded organisations could come to help unsolicited.  If such elements enter the fray, we could begin to see ... the transformation of a low-level, ethno-nationalist insurgency into something more resembling a regional jihad.”[2]

11.        One aspect of the terrorism issue is maritime security.  Every year, 50,000 ships carrying 30% of the world’s trade and 50% of the world’s oil pass through the Malacca Straits. At its narrowest, between Raffles Lighthouse and Batu Berhanti in the Singapore Straits, this vital corridor is only 1.2 km wide.[3]   With growing Asian demand for energy, this traffic will only rise. Disruption of this vital artery would have immediate economic and strategic repercussions far beyond Southeast Asia. The threat is real and urgent. We know that terrorists have been studying maritime targets across the region. The recent spate of violent pirate attacks in the Malacca Straits shows up our vulnerabilities only too clearly, but a terrorist attack would be a threat of an altogether different magnitude.

12.        Securing the Malacca Straits will require shared political resolve and effective operations on the ground. The littoral states have primary responsibility for ensuring maritime security, but they need to harness the significant resources of the major user countries, without derogating from their sovereign prerogatives. The users for their part have considerable interest in contributing to this effort, as no country will want to be found wanting should an incident happen.

13.        Beyond effective counter-terrorism operations, ultimately the fate of extremist Islam will have to be decided by Muslims themselves, by reference to their own values and interests.  But one reason why moderate Muslims are reluctant to condemn and disown the extremists is the wide gap that separates the US from the Muslim world. The sources of this Muslim anger are historical and complex, but they have been accentuated in recent years by Muslim perceptions of American unilateralism and hostility to the faith.  In 2000, three-quarters of the people in Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic country, said they were attracted to the US.  By 2003, that had dropped to just 15 percent. 

14.        However, if we were to take a poll in Indonesia today, the percentage seeing the US positively would be considerably higher.  The US response to the Boxing Day tsunami brought swift and effective relief to millions in Aceh.  The generosity of the American government and people, and the unprecedented humanitarian operations by the USS Abraham Lincoln and the hospital ship USNS Mercy touched the hearts and minds of Indonesians deeply, especially the survivors in Aceh. 

15.        But this singular event has not eliminated the antipathy that many Muslims still feel towards the US.  Witness the recent deadly riots in several Muslim countries after a spurious Newsweek report that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Holy Koran down the toilet.  In this region, there were also demonstrations in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.  The US needs to make more use of its “soft power” to win over international opinion, correct misperceptions, and build trust and credibility, especially in the Muslim world. In the long-term this is vital if the US is to prevail over terrorism, and to maintain its position of global leadership. 

Adjusting to a New Asia

The Emergence of China and India

16.        Apart from developments in the war on terror, tectonic shifts are taking place in the strategic landscape in Asia.  China and India are growing faster than nearly any other major economy. Their sheer size and weight will lead to realignments in the region and beyond. 

17.        China’s emergence is the central reality in Asia.  It is already the major trading partner of many Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, and several ASEAN countries.  China is also a fast growing source of tourists, and it is starting to generate investments and employment abroad.  All countries in Asia want to grow these economic ties, and to strengthen their relations with China. For its part, China realizes that it needs to help other nations to benefit from China’s growth, and has been doing so actively and intelligently.  China is aware of the potential disruptions its growth may create, and has affirmed its determination to develop peacefully.  It is assuming responsibilities commensurate with its growing weight, and stepping up to diplomatic and security challenges such as those posed by North Korea. 

18.        Concurrently, India is opening up after half a century of insularity.  Momentum for reform is building and there is a growing sense that the changes taking place are irreversible.  India has revived its “Look East” policy.  Indian companies, once content to stay within their protected home market, are now venturing abroad. Indian interests in the region will grow, and so will Indian influence.  

19.        As India continues to open up its economy, its strategic outlook and perspective on the world will also change.  From being a land power mainly focussed on the subcontinent, it is becoming a regional power with an outward orientation. India is already stepping up economic, military and other exchanges with regional countries.  It has entered into Strategic Partnerships with the US and EU.  At the same time, it is developing relations with China.  As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said recently: “The world is large enough to accommodate the growth and ambitions of both our countries. I don’t look upon our relations with the US as meant to rival China. I look forward to enhanced cooperation with China.”[4]  India will define and advance its own interests, and be neither a permanent ally nor a permanent foe of the other major players.

20.        The emergence of China and India brings tremendous opportunities to all, but also causes major changes to the status quo.  The challenge is to integrate these two rising powers within the evolving regional architecture, while maintaining the balance and stability of the region.  The US, with its economic and strategic predominance, is providing the overarching stability that enables both China and India to grow dynamically.  Between the US, China and India, they will pull up growth rates in East, Southeast Asia and South Asia.  America as the pre-eminent player in the region has the rare opportunity to assist these two emerging giants and Japan, no light-weight in industrial power, in settling the parameters for long term cooperation and competition. 


21.        Hitherto, the triangular relationship between the US, Japan and China has provided the tripod of stability for the region.  In the new Asian landscape, this triangle remains a critical part of the security framework, but the balance of the three legs will have to shift.

22.        The US and Japan are steady allies. From the US point of view, its Security Alliance with Japan anchors its presence throughout East Asia and the Pacific.  For Japan, the alliance assures it of the security it needs, without its having to accelerate the build up of its own military forces or worse, go nuclear.  Although the Soviet Union no longer exists, the alliance still remains relevant to both parties.  Military forces are present in the region on a large scale.  Japan’s National Defence Programme Guidelines refer to North Korea as a major destabilising factor, and China as having a major impact on regional security.[5] 

23.        China and Japan are the two largest economies in Asia.  Amicable relations between them are critical to stability in the region.  However, the two share a complex, intertwined history.  While economic relations are growing, the two countries have not come to terms with the history of the Second World War.  These problems cannot be solved overnight; defusing them may take another generation or longer.  Sino-Japanese relations are currently going through a difficult patch, but I believe that neither country wants a collision, and that leaders of both countries see the benefits of cooperation.  One Japanese political leader has told us that if the US fights with China, after 20 or 30 years they will restore relations.  But if Japan fights with China, they will remain enemies for a hundred years.  The two countries therefore need to find wise ways to gradually defuse the issues and work towards reconciliation.

24.        US-China relations have become increasingly important in the strategic triangle. The trade and economic ties between the two have grown enormously, and provide a strong incentive for a cooperative relationship.  These linkages go both ways. To take two examples, at stake are not just Walmart’s huge purchases from China, but also China’s substantial purchases from Boeing.  

25.        Chinese leaders are pushing for economic growth, and recognise that for this they need to work with the US.  They also know that the US will be a more powerful and advanced country than China for many decades to come.  At the same time, mainstream US policy-makers are convinced that the US needs to engage and cooperate with China, and manage the frictions and domestic political pressures which will inevitably arise from time to time, such as the current problems over China’s textiles exports and its exchange rate. They recognize that a strategy of confronting China will incur its enmity without seriously blocking its growth, while any attempt to contain China will have few takers in the region. 

US-Asia Ties

26.        However, the US response to Asia cannot be confined to its relationship with Japan and China. Beyond this triangular core, the US must engage Asian countries across a broad front.  In particular, the US needs to actively engage the ASEAN countries, both as a group and individually. Situated strategically between India and China, ASEAN is well placed to benefit from the growth of both giants. The ten ASEAN countries are strengthening cooperation among themselves, in order to hold their own in the intense global competition.

27.        ASEAN countries are nurturing their ties with China and India, but this has not diminished their keenness to grow their links with the US. They know that the US presence contributes to the security of the region, and that American MNCs can generate investments and jobs which Chinese and Indian companies cannot yet do. This is true of Indonesia, the largest ASEAN country, whose President has just had a successful visit to Washington. It is also true of Singa­pore, almost the smallest ASEAN country, which plays host to many US MNCs and offers transit facilities to US air and naval forces. These and other linkages across the Pacific ensure that the growing cooperation among the Asian countries does not lead to a closed arrangement that splits the Pacific down the middle. 

Managing Potential Trouble Spots 

Cross-strait Relations

28.        A stable Asia also depends on managing potential trouble spots in the region.  One of these is the cross-strait situation.

29.        During last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, the danger that Taiwan might make a move towards independence and so provoke a cross-strait conflict dragging in the US and Japan seemed very real. Today, the tension has eased. China has passed the Anti-Secession Law. Japan has formally stated that peace in the Taiwan Strait is one of its joint security concerns with the US. The US and particularly President Bush has stated clearly that it supports One China and does not support Taiwanese independence. Clear lines have been drawn. Both the Taiwanese population and government now know that independence is now out of the question, as any unilateral move towards independence will not get US support.  This has stabilised the position.

30.        The visits of Lien Chan and James Soong to the mainland have also changed the tenor of the domestic debate in Taiwan.  The contest is now over who can gain economic advantages for Taiwan by cooperating with China, while guarding Taiwan’s political interests.  The majority of the Taiwanese population favour the status quo and are eager to participate in China’s growth.  China has offered sweeteners to Taiwan, such as zero tariffs on Taiwanese fruits exported to the mainland, and a pair of giant pandas with shared naming rights. If both sides demonstrate flexibility, the cross-strait situation will remain stable and win-win possibilities can be realised.

India-Pakistan Relations

31.        A second hotspot is Kashmir. India and Pakistan almost came to blows over Kashmir three years ago. A war between two nuclear states would have been devastating.  Fortunately, rationality prevailed and India and Pakistan are now both set on pursuing economic growth for their peoples, and have shown a new willingness to ease tensions.  They have started to implement confidence building measures, including the recent series of India-Pakistan cricket matches and a bus service linking the two parts of Kashmir across the Line of Control. 

32.        Both India and Pakistan have said that the peace process is irreversible. Others hope that this is so, but recognise that a dispute that has gone on for almost 60 years cannot be solved overnight.  The two countries must now build on the momentum and positive atmospherics to create more opportunities for people-to-people interactions, and maintain a dialogue to tackle mutual problems and concerns. Over time, this will gradually reduce tensions, and help make possible some solution that is acceptable to India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.

North Korea

33.        A third hotspot in Asia is the Korean Peninsula. A nuclearised Korean Peninsula aggravates the problem of nuclear proliferation and technology falling into the wrong hands.  If North Korea goes nuclear, Japan and South Korea could also reconsider their stands not to develop nuclear weapons. Asia, and indeed the world, can ill afford this scenario. 

34.        The Six Party Talks provide a framework to manage the situation. But negotiations are being held hostage by North Korean brinks­manship, which raises anxiety levels and the risk of miscalculation.  There are no easy solutions.  Pre-emptive military strikes are too risky and may trigger a general war.  Economic sanctions are unlikely to dissuade North Korea from its nuclear plans, and will only exacerbate the food crisis and cause more hardship and suffering.  Exposing North Korea to the virtues of the free market will not stop its nuclear programme or the risks of proliferation. Within the framework of the Six Party Talks, the other five countries involved – China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US – must agree on the objectives to be achieved. They must work out a coordinated strategy, and apply both pressure and incentives to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programme and comply with international norms of good conduct.

Fostering Regional Cooperation

35.        The Korean problem can only be solved by many countries cooperating with one another. More and more regional issues are now transborder in character, whether it is financial crises, counter-terrorism, SARS, Avian Flu or the recent tsunami.  This is why Asian countries need to promote regional cooperation among themselves.

36.        One way is to foster greater dialogue through various fora, for example ASEAN, ARF and APEC. This Shangri-La Dialogue itself brings together a distinguished group of leaders and policy makers to address the security challenges facing our region.  Such exchanges will promote mutual trust and understanding, thereby fostering stability and a shared sense of community in the region. 

37.        A second way is to strengthen cooperation among regional defence and security organisations. Whether we are dealing with terrorist attacks or the aftermath of a natural disaster, the key players are the ones which possess the defence forces, capabilities and expertise to do the job. Singapore is therefore strengthening our links with friends and partners in the region, such as through the proposed Strategic Framework Agreement with the US, the Five Power Defence Arrangements, and our growing defence links with all the major powers.

38.        A third way is to build an open and inclusive architecture of regional cooperation. ASEAN is launching a new grouping called the East Asian Summit. The key question of participation has been settled. In addition to the three dialogue partners in Northeast Asia, ASEAN will also welcome India, and hopefully New Zealand and Australia. This broad participation reflects the realities of the emerging pattern of cooperation in Asia, and prevents Asia from turning in on itself.

Conclusion – Singa­pore’s Approach

39.        Singa­pore fully backs these efforts to foster regional cooperation. Our approach reflects our perspective as a small country, vulnerable to the vagaries of global forces beyond our control.  We work hard to earn a living, keep our economy open, and link up with the ever changing global network.   We assume that the world is a dangerous place, and do our best to make it less dangerous for ourselves. 

40.        We seek to be friends with all countries, while upholding our rights and interests internationally.  We will pursue win-win co-operation with all countries willing to co-operate with us.  But this does not mean that we can always accommodate the views and positions of other countries.  From time to time, issues will arise.  When our interests diverge or even when our approaches to the same problem differ, we have to put our national interest first and so must other countries.  This is the reality of the compelling pressures of relations between countries.

41.        We value our close relations with our ASEAN partners and will build on them to strengthen co-operation amongst Asian countries.  We believe that an open regional architecture, which gives all the major powers a stake in Asia, is most likely to produce a stable, predictable regional order in which countries big and small can prosper together.  We ourselves are too small to shape the major events in Asia, but we will do our part to foster peace and security in the region.  Hence we maintain capable defence forces to safeguard our own security, and contribute to the security of the region. We support a strong and effective United Nations with a reformed Security Council, as the best guarantee of an international order that is not just based on might being right.

42.        Although different countries have different and sometimes conflicting interests, I believe that these principles command wide support, and provide the basis for countries to work together.  Through our collective efforts, we can rise to the challenges of terrorism, capitalise on the emergence of China and India, and manage the potential trouble spots in the region, to secure a successful future for Asia.


[1]           Jason Burke, “Think Again: Al-Qaeda”, Foreign Policy, May/June 2004.


[2]           International Crisis Group (ICG) Asia Report No. 98, “Southern Thailand: Insurgency, Not Jihad”, 18 May 05.


[3]           Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS) Commentary, “Protecting the Malacca Straits”, 3 Mar 05.

[4]           Straits Times, “India’s Strategic Ties”, 1 Jun 05.

[5]           Japan Defence Agency (JDA), National Defence Programme Guidelines, FY2005-.