Is the Opposition undermining the threat of foreign interference?  

19/12/2023
FICA singapore cyberattack

There was a time when warfare was a much more straightforward affair, consisting of foot soldiers and a series of threats. But with military operations losing their appeal, aggressive states are resorting to stealth methods of terror. And in our digital age, cyber-attacks, hostile information campaigns and local proxies have become the weapons of choice to project influence and sow discord. 

In light of these threats, Parliament passed the  Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) in 2021. The Bill (which will come into full force on Dec 29) will strengthen Singapore’s ability to tackle hostile information campaigns and prevent foreign interference through local proxies.  

The dangers of foreign interference our Opposition failed to grasp  

Unfortunately, despite being developed with national security in mind, FICA has been unfairly labelled by politically motivated Opposition members as a controversial piece of legislation. A 10-hour debate in Parliament saw all Opposition members vehemently oppose the Bill. Their cries were loud, the indignancy amplified. Yet these concerns do not negate the fact that foreign interference is an insidious threat already on our shores. During the height of the pandemic, there was no lack of fake news designed to induce mass panic. Anti-Singapore sentiments by regional extremist groups have also gone up since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.  

Offline, domestic interference by foreign operatives is not just a fantasy out of a James Bond film. Even in recent years, there have been incidents of foreigners covertly attempting to advance their national interests abroad by preying on unsuspecting local residents. In fact, such acts are not restricted to Singapore. Countries including European Union members and Australia have found it necessary to nip this problem with laws tackling covert foreign interference.  

In a multicultural city like Singapore, these incidents highlight how vulnerable we are in the face of divisive rumours propagated by foreign state and non-state players. And in a post-truth era where the lines between facts and lies are blurred, an informed public can easily turn into a misguided mob with the right triggers. As such, no country can afford to ignore the threat of foreign interference. Because doing so is akin to sleepwalking into a state of subversion, allowing one’s sovereignty and social cohesion to be chipped away. 

With these at stake, the ‘why’ behind our Opposition’s refusal to support FICA remains a big question mark. One could only surmise that they are misguided into opposing for opposing sake. Or worse, perhaps inciting division to mislead Singaporeans is what our Opposition craves, and FICA has unwittingly tossed a spanner in the works. 

Next, we must not forget how hard Singapore fought for its independence. Even then, survival was not guaranteed if not for the ingenuity and resilience of our early leaders. For that reason, we must guard against foreign aggressors using deceptive means to meddle in our domestic affairs as a means of advancing their interests.  

As Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam has previously said, “This Bill (FICA) is intended to address a serious threat that concerns our national security and sovereignty. These are important to ensure that Singaporeans continue to make our own choices on how we should govern our country and live our lives.” 

Finally, have you ever wondered what makes post-apocalyptic movies terrifying? It is not the barren landscape or the hordes of flesh-eating zombies but the broken communities and the perpetual state of turmoil that strikes fear. At its worst, a state of anarchy is the kind of damage foreign interference can inflict through a campaign of misinformation. Therefore, instead of viewing FICA as a blockade to free speech, it should be seen as a defender of our ultimate freedom – which is our right to self-determination. 

With the full implementation of FICA, Singaporeans can be assured that we have the government doing all it can to prevent malicious actors from polarising society and eroding public trust. 

Photo Source: K. Shanmugam via Facebook/ Unsplash