I scanned through ST’s coverage of the Shangri-La dialogue expecting to see a standalone report on Singapore’s position. The reasons for my expectation: a) It’s prestiguous conference and it’s taking place here, we’ll give our own people more play b) Singapore is a small country and on an international platform, it needs a big voice which only the national media can give c) We spend a lot of money on defence, we’re in a volatile area and can be trampled by big powers. So what are we saying to them?
At last I found Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in the last few pars of the page 1 story about Beijing UNFAZED (arrrrrgghhhh!) by US pivot. I thought to myself, wow, someone exercised some news judgment! Perhaps, what Ng said wasn’t so important, probably more motherhood and apple pie stuff. Still, as a Singaporean, I wanted to know what we (Singapore) said at the dialogue. I found what I needed on page 1 of My Paper and in Today. Not gripping stuff – about refreshing and upgrading existing institutions or creating new ones to respond effectively to emerging risks…(Don’t you love defence jargon?) But stuff that a small country can be expected to emphasise – how the interests of big and SMALL states have to be accomodated.
I thought it was good that ST decided to focus sharply on the news and it did a pretty good job of pulling together the strands and even had a commentary on whether things were getting too polite at the conference. But I’m afraid I am pretty old-fashioned when it comes to pushing the country’s point of view at regional/international shindigs. A short piece would have done it for me.
I recall that when I had to report on overseas conferences in the past, my colleagues and I would wait nervously whenever the Singapore representative took the rostrum or had to answer impromptu questions. There was this thing running through our heads : Please don’t screw things up and make us (Singapore) look bad! You know, the ex Foreign Minister George Yeo was a master at the art of public speaking. He put everybody else in the shade when he speaks. So informed. So erudite. So eloquent. I don’t know about my colleagues, but when a Singaporean performs well on the international stage, I feel a quiet pride.
It’s so odd isn’t it? We read reams of stuff on a minister’s utterance over a domestic issue. But somehow, we are “shielded” when it comes to what they say to other important people?