A Conversation on US-Singapore Relations
By The Sessions
The air was abuzz with talk of pineapples, President Trump’s tweets, and the Indo-Pacific as foreign policy leaders and thinkers convened in Cinnamon College to discuss United States (US)-Singapore Relations.
On 5 March 2019, the University Scholars Programme (USP) played host to distinguished guests and 40 students from USP and beyond who turned up at Chatterbox for an evening of lively debate with distinguished guests invited by The Sessions, the student-led initiative helming this event. On the panel were US Embassy Singapore’s Chargé d’Affaires Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath; former US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak; and USP faculty Dr Quek Ser Hwee.
The strong and enduring ties between the US and Singapore were re-affirmed, with our guests emphasising the mutual commitment both countries share towards preserving free and open trade and international relations. The close working relationship Singapore enjoys with the US today also has its roots in the personal friendship which our speakers paid homage to, between Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and American statesman Henry Kissinger. Today, the US-Singapore relationship remains strong as both countries continue to share the same regard for the rule of law, transparency, and accountability.
Our guests also highlighted the close economic and educational cooperation between the US and Singapore, stressing the pivotal role played by the US in the region as a large investor in ASEAN. While US-Singapore trade began with Singapore’s role as a major supplier of pineapples to the US, today that relationship has progressed significantly with the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) serving as the cornerstone of our economic ties. What eventually became the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) also sprung from Singapore’s involvement in talks with Pacific Rim countries. Both countries continue to send their best and brightest across the Pacific to pursue higher education.
Within the cozy setting of Chatterbox, insightful comments and questions were raised. Some participants sought clarifications on the concept of the Indo-Pacific as opposed to its more common counterpart, the Asia-Pacific. A pertinent issue for both the US and Singapore, counter-terrorism and cybersecurity, was also brought up. After a few rounds of questions, Chargé d’Affaires Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath urged all participants to take up the challenge of becoming the fifth generation of young leaders steering Singapore towards a better age. On that cordial note, the evening drew to a close and USP faculty Dr Mustafa Izzuddin presented our guest speakers with tokens of appreciation before we gathered for a group photograph to commemorate the special occasion.
A Casual Exchange with SPS Baey Yam Keng
By The Cinnamon Conversations
On 31 January 2019, The Cinnamon Conversations, a ground-up initiative in USP, hosted Mr Baey Yam Keng for a casual conversation. Mr Baey is Senior Parliamentary Secretary (SPS) for Ministry of Transport & Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. He is also a Member of Parliament (MP) for Tampines GRC. About 20 USP students of different majors and backgrounds participated in this conversation where discussion was mostly student-led.
The discussion covered a variety of topics, ranging from SPS Baey’s personal life to his experience as an MP and SPS. On joining politics, SPS Baey said that he took a leap of faith when back in 2006, PAP was looking for someone young, and effectively bilingual. He has never regretted leaving the government service in order to stand for elections to serve people because of the sense of satisfaction he gets from the latter.
Another topic discussed was about the culture in Singapore, particularly in the use of dialects and the government’s stance on dialects. One student expressed her regrets on how the dying out of dialects has affected the way the younger generations are able to communicate with the older, in her case, with her grandparents. SPS Baey said that the government has become more open towards the use of dialects, and has also commissioned programmes to improve communication with the older generation, as well as across generations. He however pointed out the challenge of preserving one’s mother tongue, if the individual does not place importance on it.
Also discussed was the use of social media in politics. As many would know, SPS Baey is very savvy with social media, having his very own Facebook account (with 34,000 likes) and Instagram account (of 20,000 followers). SPS Baey acknowledged that social media has been effective in allowing him to reach out to people and build awareness of issues over time. When asked whether there is a need to be “politically correct” online to avoid controversy, he provided another way to look at things: Social media often involves only posting of text or photos, and is quite unlike delivering a real speech (or interview) complete with one’s verbal tone or body language. As such, what is most needed is to contextualise things, your views, so as to avoid any misunderstanding.
On an ending note, SPS Baey shared his thoughts about youth in Singapore and encouraged youths to own a definition of success that is relevant to their generation and phase of the country’s development. He recounted that for the youth of his generation, there was a significant improvement in standard of living and opportunities due to the rapid rate of development back then (Singapore’s post-independence). For the youth of today, he said that while there are still ample opportunities available, the ability to leapfrog will unlikely be as significant or distinct, as previous generations. It is important to note that each generation defines success differently and it is very much up to the youth to define their own goals in life. His advice for youth: Don’t be afraid to take the leap of faith, and take time off to explore your interests.
Teow Junhao (Political Science + USP, Class of 2022), a member of organising team, said: “It was a very interesting experience hosting SPS Baey Yam Keng as I got to hear from him first-hand his views on various issues that are of interest to us. In the cosy conversation in our very own student lounge, he was frank and candid in his sharing, bringing students and a policymaker closer together. Coordinating the session was also an opportunity for me to contribute back to the USP community as I had benefited from the many activities my peers and the programme have offered over the semesters.”
He added: “It's really nice to have a university community where the faculty is supportive of such student-led initiatives, giving us autonomy and space to be spontaneous and innovative, from inviting guests for student engagements to hosting dinner conversations with interesting personalities. I think it helps to enrich our university experience tremendously. USP has built a community that is very conducive for us to grow in, to pursue our passions and make a difference in our own ways.”