Nothing wrong with what Kishore Mahbubani said. He basically said that if it doesn’t involve us (i.e. “beyond our borders”), we should be prudent about interfering. He didn’t say that if it involves us, we should be cowed and be a pushover. Bilahari Kauisikan, as supported by K Shanmugam Sc, however, read Mahbubani’s article to mean that we should be “meekly compliant”, “subordinate”, “grovel”, “running dogs”, and a “tame poodle” to larger countries. And took serious offense with that.

The phrases used were colorful and numerous. That misinterprets what Mahbubani wrote. I think all are in agreement that if it directly affects Singapore, we need to be firm and stand our ground. But the crux of the question, however, is this: When it doesn’t directly affect Singapore (e.g. the South China Sea dispute), should we and how far should we stick our necks out?

It would be useful to understand K Shanmugan’s and Bilahari Kausikan’s position on that. Even if you think what Mahbubani said was wrong, he is entitled to his professional opinion. Differences of opinion will occur. It is part of life. Exchanges of views, particularly between the government and the academic sector, will occur. It reflects a healthy, thinking, engaging society. But we need to engage on the issues in a proper manner. And not become unnecessarily emotive or belligerent when we disagree.

For example, by remarking that the other “apparently does not remember or finds it politic to feign amnesia”. Or by displaying intellectual arrogance. For example, by remarking that the other “did not learn the right lessons or only learnt half a lesson”.

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