Singapore’s Foreign Policy and Its Relations with Other Countries

Chief tenets of foreign policy of Singapore
If you want to understand the foreign policy of Singapore and its relations with the rest of the world, we have to first understand the chief tenets of Singapore’s foreign policy.  Firstly, Singapore is a small island state; secondly, the prime purpose of Singapore’s foreign policy is to ensure its survival, given its small size and its lack of resourcefulness; and thirdly, practical and power based “realpolitik” approach is active behind its wider foreign policy.

Establishment of ASEAN

Since Singapore got separated from Malaysia in 1965, and became an independent nation, its leaders soon realized that they were living in a world of economic interdependence and there was a need of institution building in the region, which was extremely important to propel the economic and political interests of Singapore.  So, Singapore took the leadership position in the region and became the founding member of ASEAN.  

Close friends of Singapore

Singapore is a member of the United Nations as well and has strong defense ties with US, UK and Israel.  However, it does not allow its military ties with Western countries to instill insecurity in its neighbors, especially Malaysia and Indonesia.  Malaysia, earlier, had a water supply dispute with Singapore, which strained their relationships, but the new leaderships in both the countries have resolved this issue and moved on.

Relationship with Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia

Singapore’s initiative to form ASEAN reaffirmed its regional position and helped in boosting ties with its neighbors, especially with Malaysia and Indonesia.  Today, both Malaysia and Singapore are two rapidly developing nations and they need each other in their quest for progress.  Singapore also has friendly ties with Philippines, which is also one of its neighbors. Philippines Singapore Action Plan covers cooperation on trade, economy, education, tourism, capital market, defense, information technology and culture, etc.

Relationship with Australia and European countries

Singapore also has very good relationship with its neighbor Australia.  Besides maintaining a high commission in Australia, both the countries have signed Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement.  Both the countries have strong ties in trade, defense and security.  Singapore maintains its embassies and high commissions in European countries as well, such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Vatican, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and United Kingdom.

Relationship with UK

Singapore shares special relationship with UK, its erstwhile colonial ruler, as a member of Commonwealth and a defense partner.  Singapore has signed Five Power Defense Agreements (FPDA) with UK, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia.

Relationship with India

Singapore also shares extremely cordial relationship with India.  The historic ties between the two countries and a 300,000 strong Indian community in Singapore are responsible for high level cooperation in economy, technology, security and culture.  Singapore is the largest foreign direct investor in India.

Relationship with US and Canada

Singapore shares excellent relationship with North American countries such as Canada and US.  Singapore has strong defense ties with the United States and it backs almost all the US military campaigns worldwide.  The US has its naval and air force base in Singapore and the two countries also share good bilateral relationships in health, education and economy.  United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement is the only agreement of its kind the US has with any eastern nation.

Relationship with China, Japan, and Taiwan

Singapore also has very good relationships with China, Japan, and Taiwan, etc.  Despite some stalemate with China over Taiwan, both China and Singapore share strong trade relationships.  The head of the states of both the countries keep visiting each other’s capitals.

Relationship with Other countries

Singapore also has good relationships with Mexico, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, Egypt and Pakistan.  Apart from defense ties, Singapore and Israel share warm relationships as far as culture, technology, healthcare and arts are concerned.

India Singapore Relations

History of India Singapore relationship

Singapore has long-standing bilateral, cultural and trade ties with India.  It’s a part of historical “Greater India”, which existed between Indian Subcontinent and Far East Islands and has strong historical and cultural relationships with India for many centuries.  According to a popular myth, The ancient king of the Srivijaya Empire at Sumatra, (now Indonesia) Saang Nila Uttama went to the expedition of the Island state and saw a huge lion there. Lion is called “singh” in Sanskrit and thus he named the island “Singapura,” with “pura” or “puram” being the Sanskrit version of the city.  So, the very name of the island state is of Indian origin.
The strongest proponent of India’s Look East Policy in ASEAN

Recently, because of the strategic location and historical ties between Singapore and India, both countries have developed a strong relationship, which involves cooperation in trade, security, tourism and defense.  India introduced Look East policy, post-Cold War era and Singapore responded positively to this warm gesture from their old friend.
Inroads into ASEAN through Singapore

It happened at a time when India chose the path of liberalization and export promotion.  Singapore also had a keen interest in India because of its Mild India Fever programs.  Singapore played an instrumental role in including India into the ASEAN Regional Forum. ASEAN India Summit meetings were also initiated through the mediation efforts of Singapore.  India is also a partner of the East Asia Summit and it is because of the efforts of Singapore and Japan, though, China and Malaysia opposed it. 

Indo-Singapore strategic partnership

Singapore is a country, which advocates India’s presence and participation in the affairs of Asia-Pacific region.  Because of Singapore’s drive for trade regionalization, India signed its maiden free trade agreement with the island state for the first time in the Asia-Pacific region.  Singapore needed to counter the Chinese communist threat, after its independence in 1965, and the government of Singapore found a reliable partner in India.  India and China were strong adversaries at the time, because of 1962 war.  Because of this, Singapore also supported India, when the latter went into a war with Pakistan. 

Cold War era differences

However, India’s position in the Cold War era and its non-aligned diplomacy was responsible for decreasing the chances of an active strategic partnership between the two states.  India had favored communist Soviet Union in the past, so it backed up Vietnam against America. ASEAN was against Vietnam and therefore the relationship between India and Singapore went sore.  But, when the Cold War ended in 1990s, India and Singapore again came together to strengthen the relationship.  Singapore became the first country to support India’s Look East policy and offered a platform for India to penetrate and form strong regional ties with other countries in this region.

Political strategic and defense relationships

Since Singapore’s independence in 1965, both the countries shared a common understanding and as a result, the bilateral cooperation further forged ASEAN centric regional partnerships.  Singapore’s Prime Minister Mr. Yew visited India three times between 1965 and 1975 and it was reciprocated by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.  Singapore has always supported India’s geostrategic presence in the ASEAN region as a balancing force against China. 
India’s strong international ally

It also supported India’s claim to the membership of United Nations Security Council.  In the recent years, both the countries have also signed up various defense agreements and partnerships, including joint naval exercises and transfer of defense technology.  This partnership has become stronger in the wake of the common security concerns and the terrorist threat present in the both countries.

The second largest foreign investor in India

You can imagine the depth of Indo-Singapore relationship from the fact that Singapore is the second largest foreign investor in India at the moment.  And it is the single largest investor after Mauritius that is way ahead of United States and United Kingdom.