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In Singapore, the risk of foreign interference is real, but differences of opinions should be accepted

In this opinion piece by Toh Han Shih, he underscores the contrast between the real risk of foreign interference in Singapore and the essential freedom for Singaporeans to express diverse views non-provocatively.



by Toh Han Shih

A foreign matter and a local event have made me believe two things. Firstly, the risk of foreign interference in Singapore is real. Secondly, despite the risk of foreign interference, Singaporeans should be allowed to hold differing views and express them in an unprovocative manner.

The local event is the designation of Philip Chan as a Politically Significant Person (PSP) as the first target of Singapore’s law against foreign interference, the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA), as Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced on 2 February. Chan, a Hong Kong businessman who became a Singapore citizen, is susceptible to influence by foreign actors, the ministry explained. Although the ministry did not specify the foreign actors, they are likely linked to China.


The foreign matter is the ongoing war in Gaza. The bloody war between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian resistance movement, has resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries on both sides. This has aroused strong opinions and demonstrations of disagreement across the world.

In a statement on 13 February, the Singapore Police confirmed that it is aware of calls to protest against Israel’s conduct in its conflict with Hamas, such as gathering for a sit-in at the upcoming Singapore Airshow.

“Given the sensitivity of the topic and the volatility of the situation in Gaza, there is a real risk that such assemblies and processions could give rise to public disorder and tensions between the different communities in Singapore,” said the Police.

The Police said it will not grant permits for any public assembly or procession during the Gaza war.

“We have seen numerous incidents of violence related to the conflict in many countries. For instance, an Israeli staff from the Israeli Embassy in Beijing was stabbed in front of a supermarket in October 2023, and a 6-year-old Palestinian-American Chicago resident was stabbed by his landlord in an alleged hate crime in the same month,” the Police added.

In the UK, the number of anti-Semitic incidents jumped 147 per cent to a record 4,103 instances in 2022, according to a report from the Community Security Trust, a UK charity.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the UK opposition, is under pressure as his Labour party suspended at least two election candidates for allegedly making anti-Semitic comments.

On 15 February, the Daily Telegraph reported that Atiqul Hoque, the first Muslim mayor of the British city of Salisbury, was expelled from the Conservative Party for allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks.

Last October, thousands of people demonstrated in sympathy for the Palestinians in Indonesia and Malaysia. In a tweet on 8 January, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad accused Israel of genocide of Palestinians and the US of complicity in this.

In the US, William Ackman, an American Jewish billionaire, is launching an activist organization to combat anti-Semitism in US universities, reported CNBC on 12 January.

Ackman was a key driver in the movement which pushed Claudine Gay to resign as president of his alma mater, Harvard University, in January.

Ackman graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is currently the chief executive officer (CEO) of Pershing Square Capital Management, a US hedge fund company. In December 2023 alone, Ackman tweeted about Gay, Harvard, or both over 100 times to his one million followers.

Ackman and other Americans accused Gay of condoning anti-Semitism at Harvard University.

At a hearing in US Congress last December, Gay and the presidents of two other elite US universities, the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), were questioned on whether calls for the genocide of Jews on their campuses constituted harassment under their universities’ policies.

Gay’s reply that it depended on the context drew criticism that she condoned anti-Semitism.

Days later, M. Elizabeth Magill, the President of University of Pennsylvania, resigned after being criticised for being soft on anti-Semitism. Ackman had called for the resignations of the presidents of the three prestigious US universities.

In turn, the resignation of Gay, an African American woman, sparked allegations from some quarters that she was a victim of racism and sexism.

What if an American Jewish billionaire accused the heads of Singapore universities of condoning anti-Semitism on the campuses of their universities and pushed for their resignation?

Conversely, what if a Middle Eastern billionaire who accused the heads of Singapore universities of condoning genocide of Palestinians and pushing for their resignation?

Even worse, adding to racial and religious sensitivities, what if the head of a Singapore university, who is a Malay Muslim woman, resigned for being allegedly soft on anti-Semitism, as happened to Gay, an African American woman?

The above hypothetical scenarios would be a recipe for social conflagration. The resignation of a Malay Muslim female head of a Singapore university under such circumstances would likely draw strong protests from Muslims and others in Singapore as well as Malaysia and Indonesia.

In Singapore university campuses, confrontations between protestors supporting Israel and protestors supporting Palestine have a high chance of escalating into violent conflict.

On 11 October 2023, Ackman tweeted that he had been asked by a number of US CEOs if Harvard would release the names of members of the Harvard student organizations that had issued a letter assigning total responsibility for Hamas’ atrocities against Israel, to ensure that Ackman and the other CEOs would not hire them.

Jonathan Neman, CEO of US healthy fast food chain Sweetgreen, and Jake Wurzak, CEO of DoveHill Capital Management, a US hospitality investment firm, supported Ackman’s call for the release of the names of these Harvard students so their firms will not hire them, reported Forbes.

Ackman practices shareholder activism, where a shareholder activist uses his stake in a company to push the company to make changes.

Imagine if an American Jewish billionaire invested in some Singapore companies and ordered those Singapore companies to refuse to hire applicants who criticise Israel and support Palestine. Many Muslims in Singapore, including Malays, support Palestine. This means such firms will refuse to hire Muslims, including Malays.

If this ever happens, such discrimination on race and religion will fuel explosive social tensions.

Conversely, what if a Middle Eastern billionaire invested in some Singapore companies and ordered those companies to refuse to hire applicants who are sympathetic to Israel? Such discrimination would also create explosive social tensions.

If Singapore companies refuse to hire applicants who support Palestine, it will draw the ire of Malaysian politicians like Mahathir, who has repeatedly accused Israel of genocide against Palestinians. If this hypothetical situation becomes a reality, it will generate tensions between Singapore and Malaysia.

The above scenarios in Singapore are fictitious. May they remain fictitious because if any of them becomes a reality, it will severely damage social cohesion and maybe result in violence in Singapore.

Even though the above scenarios have thankfully not happened, they show the risk of foreign interference in Singapore exists. FICA should be applied to prevent such things from happening.

The diverse and sometimes opposing views held by different Singaporeans is a reality that cannot be denied and wished away. In Singapore, some Christians and Jews support Israel, while many Muslims support Palestine.

Singapore and China

Likewise, some Singaporeans have sympathy for China, while other Singaporeans are not fans of China. In history, two prominent Singaporeans who were pro-China were Tan Kah Kee and Teo Eng Hock.

During the early 20th century, Tan was one of the richest men in Singapore, a leader of several Chinese associations, and a donor to schools and universities in Singapore and his home province of Fujian in China. He organized fundraising activities for the Chinese war effort against the Japanese.

After World War II, the British colonial rulers of Singapore feared the growing politicisation of Chinese people in Singapore and thus grew increasingly apprehensive about Tan, according to Roots, a Singapore government heritage website. The British government considered cancelling his British citizenship, said Roots.

Tan left Singapore for China in 1950, and in 1957, renounced his British citizenship, Roots added. When Tan was in a sickbed in a mainland Chinese hospital in the last stage of his life, Chinese Communist Prime Minister Zhou Enlai visited him.

When Tan died in Beijing in 1961, he was given a state funeral to honour his contributions to his motherland, according to Roots. In Singapore, a subway station is named after him, which shows his memory is honoured in Singapore.

Like Tan, Teo Eng Hock was a tycoon in Singapore during the early 20th century. He was a great-granduncle of Singapore Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and a supporter of the Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen.

The following is an account of Teo Eng Hock by the Singapore National Library. In 1906, Teo Eng Hock established the Singapore branch of the Tongmenghui, the revolutionary party of Sun, which later became the Nationalist Party.

Teo Eng Hock owned the Sun Yat Sen Villa in Singapore, which he let Sun and the Tongmenghui use for Chinese revolutionary activities, including several uprisings in China. Later, Teo Eng Hock became a member of the government of Wang Jingwei, the Chinese puppet leader of the Japanese invaders of China.

As a result, Teo Eng Hock was jailed for treason by the Nationalists. Later, he was released from prison in China and returned to Singapore. He died in Hong Kong in 1959.

The Sun Yat Sen Villa still stands in honour of Sun’s memory. The Singapore government certainly does not think Teo Eng Hock’s role in the Chinese Republican Revolution was wrong, otherwise the Sun Yat Sen Villa would not be a memorial.

When the Japanese invaded China, many Chinese in Singapore heeded Tan’s call to donate to China’s war effort because they had feelings for their ancestral country. Likewise, many Singaporean Muslims donated to victims of the Gaza war because of their sympathies for the Palestinians.

The reality is different Singaporeans hold diverse views and sympathies, which should be accepted. I am happy that the MHA said FICA does not target Singaporeans who express their views, unless they are being used by foreign entities as proxies for interference. Of course, the Singapore government should not allow foreign agents to create regime change or stir up communal violence in Singapore.

Foreign interference in Singapore is a risk that should not be ignored, but Singaporeans should not be penalised for holding diverse views and expressing them in a manner that does not provoke conflict.

Toh Han Shih is a Singaporean writer in Hong Kong. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

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The risk is real – this is too simplistic. What’s the value of interference – why the worth to interfere.

Whats the risk level for Foreign powers to invest efforts – does it pay?

Frankly look at the world’s examples of devastating cripplings exerted so far – without any physical efforts, just deploy lock bit ransom ware is enough to bring institutions to it’s knees. Ransom ware, remote, can cause a country to go haywire, no need bombs or old style espionage.

The big and small stage

Why bother about this small , small , stage .

Interfere with citizens lives and wanna decry foreign Interference. They too bring in a while bunch of foreigners in as PR for their votes …. Hypocrites!

Dun be hypocritical about respect. The govt dun respect the citizens that why you have the CPF system to scam money.

Yet wanna talk about respect. Respect then give the rights for ppl to decide their own CPF account. Hypocrites!

And oso your Stars system
If you respect others, you will allow any one to comment and put out media …
No geo block others not inline with their views