Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said today (Feb 28) that Singapore shall impose sanctions such as export controls on items that can be used directly as weapons in Ukraine to inflict harm, and blocks on certain Russian banks and financial transactions connected to Russia.
While we wait for the specifics, we should set these sanctions, noted as “almost unprecedented” by former diplomat Bilahari Kausikan, into context as the previous time that Singapore imposed sanctions was in 1978.
The issue then? The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia; the same issue that is happening in Ukraine now: the invasion of a sovereign state with blatant disregard for international laws and norms.
Giving the sanctions added significance was the fact that despite that the UN Security Council sanctions were not passed (Russia vetoed as expected), we went ahead to impose these sanctions.
Minister Vivian Balakrishnan added: “We must expect that our measures will come at some cost and implications on our businesses, citizens and indeed to Singapore. However, unless we as a country stand up for principles that are the very foundation for the independence and sovereignty of smaller nations, our own right to exist and prosper as a nation may similarly be called into question one day.”
The right thing to do for humanity
Such naked aggression threatens the security and survival of small states like Singapore. If Singapore were to exist in a world without laws, where nations treat invasions with folded arms, then we may not have a home.
Indeed, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan described the Ukraine crisis as an existential issue for Singapore too: “A world order based on might is right, or where the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must, such a world order will be profoundly inimical to the security and survival of small states.”
The sanctions are not only designed at persuading Russia to cease the war but also signals Singapore’s desire to do the right thing for humanity. This position is based on principles, not on neutrality. Principles that are, in Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s words, “clearly enunciated and consistently-held”. When we have consistent and coherent principles, we can operate with partners who operate on the same principles.
44 years ago and now, we have done the right thing and Singaporeans can be quite sure that we will continue to uphold principles that are in our long-term national interests.
Cover photo credit: Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash
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