International Tommy Koh: Why US does not consider S’pore a ‘true democracy’

Tommy Koh: Why US does not consider S’pore a ‘true democracy’

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Singapore – Singapore’s exclusion from the guest list of the ongoing US Summit for Democracy is not the first time that the US has snubbed the Republic.

When Bill Clinton, a Democrat like current US President Joe Biden, was president, he also did not invite Singapore when he launched an equivalent gathering of democracies,  said Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh.

Ambassador Koh said that America’s Democratic Party has never regarded Singapore as a real democracy. There is no unitary form of democracy, he pointed out. And perhaps in the eyes of the Democratic Party, he said, the unique characteristics of the Republic’s democracy make Singapore, not a “true democracy”.

Prof Koh said this at the launch of the book, America: A Singapore Perspective, published by Straits Times Press and co-edited by senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute think-tank, Daljit Singh.

In the audience were several diplomats past and present, who had served in the US, including Ambassador-At-Large Chan Heng Chee, an academic with multiple distinguished appointments, and global co-chair of the Asia Society.

Ambassador Chan observed that Singapore had dared to say that the Summit of Democracies was not a good idea because it divides the world. So she reckons that the US probably did not want Singapore to say this at the summit.

She recalled that back when she was Ambassador to the US (1996-2012), and the Community of Democracies was launched, Singapore was similarly not invited because the US was so “concerned that we would go there and preach about Asian democracies”.

Since day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has made clear that renewing democracy in the US and around the world is essential to meeting the unprecedented challenges of our time, noted the US State Department on the Summit for Democracy which is scheduled for Dec 9 and 10.

The summit seeks to set forth an “affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action”.

Apart from Singapore, China, and Russia topped a list of countries that also did not receive an invitation to join the virtual meeting.

According to US diplomat Daniel Kritenbrink, Singapore’s non-invite was not a judgement or an indictment of the country’s bilateral ties.

Why Singapore was not invited

At the book launch, Prof Koh asked US Embassy deputy chief of mission Rafik Mansour why Singapore was not invited.

Mr Mansour repeated Mr Kritenbrink’s statement, adding that there was a limited number of invites.

The decision did not reflect on the bilateral relations of the US and Singapore; in fact, “we have a lot to learn from Singapore,” said Mr Mansour.

Still, Prof Koh said that Singapore should have been invited because it possesses the fundamental characteristics of a democracy which is giving the people the right to vote, holding free and fair elections at regular intervals and having a Constitution that protects fundamental freedoms and rights, reported The Straits Times.

Singapore also has an independent judiciary and the rule of law, said Prof Koh.

A book to explain not defend America

In a Facebook post on Thursday (Dec 9), Prof Koh touched on the US hegemony and the background to the book, noting it was the first book he and his friend of 69 years have edited.

“We both believe that the US, in spite of all its problems, will remain the number one power in the world,” said Prof Koh. “It is not in terminal decline and will not be surpassed by a rising power.”

“The US is important to Singapore, ASEAN, and the Asia Pacific region. The US is, however, a very complex country and very few people truly understand the country,” Prof Koh added.

He and Mr Daljit decided to edit the book to explain America “and not to defend it”, he noted.

The list of participants invited to the summit can be found here.

Since the end of the Obama administration in early 2017, there has been no US Ambassador to Singapore until Dec 6, 2021, when Ambassador Jonathan Kaplan was appointed.

Ambassador Kaplan was the co-founder and chairperson of a nonprofit organisation, EducationSuperHighway, that brought high-speed internet to more than 49 million children in K-12 classrooms around the world. He was also the founding CEO of a chain of restaurants. /TISG

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Paying S’pore Paralympians only 20% as much as Olympians morally and legally wrong: Tommy Koh

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