Diplomacy (Social Studies Chapter 6)
Bilateral relations refer to the diplomatic relations between two countries.
Singapore has established good bilateral relations with many countries since its
independence in 1965.
Singapore established bilateral relations with developed countries such as Japan, the
USA and Germany in the 1970s. This allowed the developed countries to share their
advanced technology skills with Singapore.
Singapore also established good bilateral relations with its closest neighbours
Malaysia and Indonesia. This played a key role in Singapore’s economic growth.
Singapore also has established good bilateral relations with developing countries
such as Nepal and Vietnam. Singapore has sent doctors, nurses and teachers to these
countries to assist them in the medical and educational areas.
In 2004, Aceh (a province of Indonesia) was very badly affected by the Asian
Tsunami. Singapore immediately provided relief materials to the affected people as
Indonesia did not have enough resources to provide assistance to them. This is but
one example of how Singapore has helped other countries in times of need through
good established bilateral ties.
Singapore has been a good friend to the countries it has bilateral relations with and
this has earned Singapore international respect. The countries that Singapore has
helped also see Singapore as their friend and so have no reason to harm Singapore.
Countries geographically connected often form organisations to improve regional
relations. These regional organisations help to combine the strength of the individual
countries and place them in a better position when negotiating with other countries.
Examples of regional organisations are the European Union (EU), the South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN).
ASEAN was formed in 1967 with five countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia,
the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
Singapore’s then Foreign Minister Mr S Rajaratnam signed the ASEAN Declaration in
Bangkok on 8th August 1967, together with his four counterparts from the other
The other five Southeast Asian countries – Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and
Cambodia – joined ASEAN between 1984 and 1999.
Why was ASEAN formed?
In the 1960s, Southeast Asia was going through some tumultuous times:
Singapore and Malaysia were going through a difficult period in their relations
following the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965.
Indonesia was going through a difficult time as its leader President Sukarno was
overthrown by General Suharto in 1966.
Relations between Malaysia and the Philippines were tense as both of them claimed
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War was having a serious effect on Thailand’s economy.
Given these difficult situations, the leaders of Southeast Asian countries saw the
necessity for a regional organisation that would help to maintain peace and stability
in the region. ASEAN was thus formed.
The three aims of ASEAN are:
Promote economic, social and cultural development of the region.
Protect the peace and stability of the region.
Provide opportunities for member countries to discuss and resolve differences
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The aims of ASEAN have contributed to good relationships amongst the member
states. Although there have been occasional disputes, these have been resolved
peacefully through ASEAN.
ASEAN also allows the ten member states to speak with one voice when dealing with
more powerful countries such as the USA, Japan and China, as well as other
groupings such as the European Union.
ASEAN has shown itself to be a resilient organisation as it always introduces new
initiatives in response to the changing global conditions.
ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)
In the 1980s, ASEAN countries were able to attract many foreign investors but this
changed with the rise of China and India, as these two huge countries are able to
offer investors lower production costs and much bigger markets.
In response to this development, ASEAN introduced the concept of AFTA in 1992.
The objective of AFTA is to create a single ASEAN economy, which will have a single
production base and no import taxes. With this combined population of 500 million
people, AFTA will also have a big regional market and will be more competitive to
China and India.
AFTA will be known as the ASEAN Community when it is fully established.
ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
In order to maintain security in the Asia-Pacific Region, ASEAN created the ARF.
The ARF allows for ASEAN countries to meet other countries such as the USA,
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, India and Japan to discuss security issues in
Singapore and ASEAN
Singapore has always been committed to the success of ASEAN, as it is aware of the
benefits of ASEAN.
ASEAN has played a key role in Singapore’s good relations with its closest neighbours
– Malaysia and Indonesia. ASEAN provides the platform for member states to discuss
outstanding problems peacefully.
ASEAN also allowed for member states to manage peacefully regional problems such
as the haze.
Singapore has shared knowledge and expertise with the other member countries.
Laos has sent more than 1700 officers to SINGAPORE FOR TRAINING SINCE 1993.
THEY HAVE LEARNT FROM Singapore’s technological skills, English Language and how
to handle trade promotions.
Under the Singapore Cooperation Programme, Singapore offers bond-free
scholarships to students from the other ASEAN countries to study in Singapore. After
completing their studies, the students will return to their countries and contribute to
the development of their countries.
In 2000, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong started the Initiative for ASEAN
Integration (IAI) project. This was to help countries like Cambodia and Vietnam
whose economic development was far behind the other ASEAN countries.
Under the IAI, Singapore offered five-year aid packages worth over S$80 million to
the selected ASEAN countries.
Singapore was willing to do this because it gives priority to ASEAN and sees the need
to help regional countries before helping other countries.
ASEAN AND Environmental Collaboration
In 1997, forest fires in Indonesia resulted in hazes, which created many serious
problems in the region. ASEAN met to solve this problem as it was affecting the
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health of the people as well as the economy in the region.
In December 1997, ASEAN Environment Ministers met and came up with the
Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP). The RHAP devised plans for:
Prevention of forest fires.
Proper and early monitoring of fires to prevent them from spreading.
Strengthening of regional land and forest fire-fighting capability.
The RHAP also called for Malaysia to focus on fire prevention, Indonesia on firefighting and Singapore on satellite monitoring of the fire-spots.
Singapore is home to the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) and data
from this centre is made available to all ASEAN countries. This data has been useful in
preventing the spread of the fires.
ASEAN has played a key role in building and maintaining good relations between
Singapore and the other member countries. ASEAN has also contributed to the peace
and economic development in the region.
The United Nations
International relations are the joint relations amongst many different countries or
The United Nations (UN) best represents international relations, as almost all
countries in the world are members of the UN.
The UN was formed towards the end of World War II with the main aim of preventing
another global war such as World War II. 50 countries sent their representatives to
San Francisco, USA, to form the UN in June 1945.
Today, almost all countries in the world are members of the UN and they are bound
by the UN Charter, which lists their rights and duties as members of this global
Aims of the UN
Maintain world peace and security.
Develop friendly relations among nations.
Cooperate internationally to solve international economic, social, cultural and
Promote respect for human rights and basic freedom regardless of race, religion and
Organisation of the UN
Security Council – Maintains peace and security among member countries.
Economic and Social Council – Helps the people of the World to improve their lives.
General Assembly – Functions like a world parliament where all the member
countries can vote on various matters.
Trusteeship Council – Currently suspended. Function is to help countries gain selfgovernment or independence.
International Court of Justice – Functions as a world court to help member countries
settle disputes peacefully.
Secretariat – Implements the decisions made by UN member countries.
Singapore and the UN
Singapore joined the UN on 21 September 1965 as its 117th member. Singapore’s
independence was recognised globally by this admission.
The UN sent experts to Singapore to help with its economic and social development.
Dr Albert Winsemius, an economic expert sent by the UN, played a key role in helping
Singapore with its early economic and industrial planning which led to economic
prosperity in Singapore.
As Singapore benefited greatly as a member of the UN, Singapore actively
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participates in UN-organised events.
UN Law of the Sea Conference
The UN Law of the Sea Conference was organised to provide the platform for
countries to reach an agreement on the territorial rights of countries over their
waters. The Conference also decided on how to give land-locked countries access to
the seas and came up with guidelines to protect the marine environment and
scientific research in the seas.
Singapore played a key role in this conference. Professor Timmy Koh, Singapore’s
then representative to the UN, was President of the 3rd UN Conference on the Law of
the Sea from 1980 to 1982.
The UN Security Council comprises five permanent members and ten rotating
members. The five permanent members are the USA, United Kingdom, France, China
Singapore was elected by the UN General Assembly to serve as a non-permanent
Security Council member for two years from 2001 to 2002.
The main role of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security.
During its term of office, Singapore served as the President of the Council in January
2001 and May 2002. The election to the council showed the confidence member
countries have in Singapore as well as Singapore’s commitment to the UN.
UN Peacekeeping Operations
The UN aids countries torn by civil unrest by sending UN officials and Peacekeeping
troops to these countries to help with the peacekeeping efforts.
Peacekeeping operations are sanctioned by the UN Security Council and the
personnel sent to the troubled countries include soldiers, police officers and civilian
officers from different countries.
The UN has played a major role in helping to resolve major conflicts between and
within countries. The UN is ever ready to offer peacemaking, peacekeeping or
humanitarian assistance to any country that requires it.
The UN missions include duties such as ensuring that warring parties uphold the
ceasefire, that elections are held legitimately, or that human rights are respected.
Singapore has been playing an active role in UN peacekeeping missions since 1989.
By 2005, Singapore had taken part in 13 peacekeeping missions in 11 different
countries. Approximately 1500 Singaporeans have been involved in these missions.