Singapore - Foreign Relations

Foreign Relations

Singapore's foreign policy is directed to maintaining a secure environment in Southeast Asia as well as the surrounding territories. An underlying principle is political and economic stability in the region. It has diplomatic relations with 175 other sovereign states. As one of the five founding members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the country is a strong supporter of the ASEAN Free Trade Area and the ASEAN Investment Area, because Singapore's economic growth is closely linked with the economic progress of the region as a whole. Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong proposed the formation of an ASEAN Economic Community, a step beyond the current AFTA bringing it closer to a common market. This idea was agreed to in 2007 for implementation by 2015. Other regional organisations are also important to Singapore, and it is the host of the APEC Secretariat. Singapore also maintains membership in other regional organisations, such as Asia-Europe Meeting, the Forum for East Asia-Latin American Cooperation, and the East Asia Summit. It is also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth.

In general, bilateral relations with other ASEAN members are strong; however, disagreements have arisen, and relations with neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia have historically sometimes been very strained and difficult. Malaysia and Singapore have clashed over the delivery of fresh water to Singapore, access of the Singapore Armed Forces to Malaysian airspace, the sovereignty of Pedra Branca, and the relocation of Tanjong Pagar railway station, among others. Border issues exist with both Malaysia and Indonesia, and both have banned the sale of marine sand to Singapore over disputes about Singapore's land reclamation. Some previous disputes have been resolved by the International Court of Justice. Piracy in the Malacca Strait has been a cause of concern for all three countries. Close economic ties exist with Brunei, and the two share a pegged currency value.

The first diplomatic contact with China was made in the 1970s, with full diplomatic relations being established in the 1990s. Since then the two countries have enjoyed a strong relationship, being major players in strengthening the ASEAN–China relationship. Singapore and the United States share a long-standing and strong relationship, in particular in defence, the economy, health and education. The United States was Singapore's third largest trading partner in 2010, behind the European Union and China. The two countries have a free-trade agreement, and Singapore views its relationship with the United States as an important counterbalance to China's influence. A Strategic Framework Agreement between the two signed in 2005 formalises security and defence cooperation. Singapore has pushed regional counter-terrorism initiatives, with a strong resolve to deal with terrorists inside its borders. To this end it has given support to the US-led coalition to fight terrorism, with bilateral cooperation in counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation initiatives, and joint military exercises.

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Foreign Relations

Foreign relations refers to the ongoing management of relationships between a public policy administrative organization of a state and other entities external to its authority or influence. The primary goal of such organisations is therefore to create, develop and manage foreign policy and therefore describes relationships as seen from the self-interested perspective of the state when viewing the international milieu.

The term foreign evolved during the mid-13th century CE from ferren, foreyne "out of doors," based on the Old French forain "outer, external, outdoor; remote" reflecting the sense of "not in one's own land" first attested in the late 14th century CE. Spelling in English altered in the 17th century, perhaps by influence of reign and sovereign, both associated at the time with the most common office of monarch that determined foreign policy, a set of diplomatic goals that seeks to outline how a country will interact with other countries of the world.

The idea of long-term management of relationships only evolved with the development of a professional diplomatic corps that managed diplomacy, a term attested since 1711, which was "pertaining to documents, texts, charters, and treaties" as the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or nations.

In the 18th century, due to extreme turbulence in European diplomacy and ongoing cultural, social, economic, political and military conflicts, the practice of diplomacy was often fragmented by the necessity to deal with isolated issues, termed "affairs", and therefore while domestic management of such issues was termed civil affairs (peasant riots, treasury shortfalls, and court intrigues), the term foreign affairs was applied to the management of temporary issues outside the sovereign realm. This term remained in widespread use in the English-speaking states into the 20th century, and remains the name of departments in several states that manage foreign relations. Although originally intended to describe short term management of specific concern, these departments now manage all day-to-day long-term international relations among states within the international system their nation participates in.

Foreign relations are governed by several conditions within which they exist:

  • Chronological - foreign relations may be operational and ongoing where other nations are concerned, or project-based and temporary where non-state international agents are concerned; they may relate to factors of historical or future considerations
  • Contextualised - foreign relations may be particularly affected by pertaining to regional, economic or common goal oriented international organisational issues, etc.
  • Environmental - foreign relations may develop to be cooperative, adversarial, predatory, altruistic, mentoring, parasitic, etc.
  • Dynamic - Contain a degree of dependence or interdependence; a colony would have a static relationship with the colonizer
  • Oriented - foreign relationships are ideally based on commitment to common goals, but can be dysfunctional, and even destructive

Organisations such as the Council of Foreign Relations in the USA are sometimes employed by government foreign relations organisations to develop foreign policy proposals as alternatives to existing policy, or to provide analytical assessments of evolving relationships.

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