TL;DR – We shouldn’t fall for their tricks. We should always only side with Singapore.
In a keynote speech at a conference on Chinese public diplomacy, former Permanent Secretary at MFA, Mr Bilahari Kausikan, said that Singapore has been subjected to China’s “influence operations”.
These operations are aimed to advance China’s interests and promote their influence by swaying leaders and people in other countries to China’s position.
China’s peculiar way of getting other people to do what they want
While all major countries persuade, induce and coerce, Mr Kausikan points out that China stands out in three ways:
- China believes that its interests should be promoted wherever they may be, and so it explicitly rejects the norm of not interfering in another state’s domestic affairs.
- China’s range of tactics include legitimate diplomacy and more covert, often illegal, deployment of agents of influence and operations to sway decision makers or public opinion leaders. As countries don’t want to upset China, they can end up overlooking or downplaying the subtler manipulation,.
- China doesn’t just want want to direct behaviour, it wants to condition behaviour. In other words, it doesn’t just want you to do what they want you to do, they want you to think that you did what they wanted you to do, because you actually wanted to.
By forcing you to choose between false choices
China does this by telling you stories with a lot of motherhood statements, or stories that are very specific. These stories then force you to choose between two false choices.
They do this to overwhelm your ability to think to the extent that you don’t think critically so that you feel that you bobian have to choose between the choices they give you. These stories are so powerful because they aren’t completely made up. They contain a bit of truth.
But, Mr Kausikan highlights,
“(These discourses are) powerful because they are not entirely fabricated. They do contain a kernel of truth… (But) they are either extremely simplistic… or leave out vital facts.”
Some of those stories that China tells other countries are of the following theme:
- America is the past and China is the future, so get on the right track.
- America is inconsistent but China is a geographic fact in this region and will always be here so choose wisely.
Mr Kausikan highlighted examples of the stories that China pushes in Singapore:
- Singapore has no claim in the South China Sea, so why is the Singapore Government taking sides against China?
- Relations were much better under Mr Lee Kuan Yew because he understood China in a way the present Singapore leadership does not.
To show that these stories that China tell often leave out vital facts, Mr Kausikan pointed out that, for the second story, China conveniently leaves out that the late Mr Lee stood up to the Communist United Front.
These stories are usually spread by WeChat and by word of mouth, and reinforced by actions such as militarisation in the South China Sea and the seizure of Singapore’s Terrex armoured vehicles in November 2016.
But once we are aware of what they’re doing, we shouldn’t fall for it
Mr Kausikan highlighted that what China is doing will only work if those targeted are unaware of the psychological operations against them. Once you are aware of the manipulation, then you will have to be particularly stupid to still fall for them.
Mr Kausikan also pointed out that Singapore’s core strength in countering Chinese attempts to influence the Republic is that we are a multi-racial country. He said:
“Modern Singapore is not based on being a Chinese country… No one can ignore China. But significant influence is not dominant influence or exclusive influence… (we need to) teach our own history better…”
“It is wrong to think that we side with China or America. We side only with Singapore. Our organising idea is our own national interests.
Sometimes it may lead us to tilt a bit towards China or towards America. But the guiding principle is always our own interests.”
In other words, we are no one’s puppets. We are the captains of our own ship, masters of our own fate.
1. TODAYonline | S’pore should guard against false binary choices in Chinese public diplomacy: Bilahari Kausikan
2. Straits Times | How to win friends the Chinese way: Spend US$48 billion in financial diplomacy, a US study finds
3. Asian Correspondent | Malaysia is the largest beneficiary of Chinese cash diplomacy
4. The Diplomat | How China wins friends and influences people
5. College of William and Mary | Is China’s investment in East Asia Pacific getting results?
6. AidData | Download Ties That Bind: Quantifying China’s public diplomacy and its “good neighbor” effect
7. AidData | China’s Public Diplomacy Toolkit