Need to guard against insidious foreign influences: Tony Tan

Singapore needs to be vigilant against those who seek to mount insidious information campaigns to influence segments of Singaporeans for their own ends, said former president Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

"Singapore cannot tolerate attempts by foreign countries or entities to manipulate our people's sentiments," Dr Tan told 800 diplomats and students in his first public lecture since his six-year presidential term ended on Aug 31.

He highlighted how foreign influences, such as religious extremism, are already worsening societal divisions in other countries. He warned that attempts may be to divide Singapore along racial and religious fault lines.

In the face of such attempts to manipulate sentiments, the ties that bind Singaporeans as one are vital, he said at the annual S. Rajaratnam Lecture.

In a 30-minute lecture titled The Domestic Context Of Singapore's Foreign Policy, Dr Tan made the case that for a small country such as Singapore, domestic and foreign policies are inextricably linked.

Singapore must not shy away from standing up for its vital interests, even if bilateral relations turn sour for a while, he stressed.

Dr Tan said Singapore also needs to stay cohesive and resilient to succeed. But, he added, there is one major threat to Singapore's domestic and foreign policy: the spread of fake news and misinformation.

Singapore is vulnerable as it is one of the most Internet-connected societies in the world and one of the most diverse nations. Dr Tan urged people not to take information at face value.

"The next time you read a foreign policy commentary or op-ed, ask yourself who stands to benefit from the proposed course of action," he said.