Conversation with Dr Maliki Osman @ Asia-Europe Meeting 11 Ulaanbaatar

Dr Maliki Osman
Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Defence
Mayor South-East District
Member of Parliament – East Coast GRC

Last Saturday (16/07/16), Dr Maliki Osman took time off his busy schedule to meet me towards the end of the ASEM summit. It was arranged with our Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) through the ASEF Education Team (ASEFedu). Really grateful towards Leonie and her team for organising the entire Model ASEM and coordinating with our respective MFAs for such meetings to happen. You guys would have to see it with your own eyes to believe the magic and miracles they had performed with a small team of 3 and an intern, Su Chen. To pull off an event on such scale, truly incredible.

He started off with very straightforward questions, in a casual and friendly tone. After living and constantly conversing with non-Singaporeans for the past 10 days, his familiar accent made me feel connected instantly without having much small talks, which spared us the awkwardness otherwise. He asked basic questions regarding where am I studying, when did I ORD and etc. I remember him apologising Leonie with a chuckle, explaining himself in Singlish that these are standard questions of a Singaporean Men. Indeed, I smiled in agreement because we always do that whenever we meet other Singaporean men, don’t we?

Shortly after Leonie and her co-worker, Lieke, introduced themselves and ASEFedu to Dr Maliki, the topic then shifted towards Singapore’s foreign policy and Asia-Europe relations. Below is the gist of our 30mins conversation.

First, he mentioned that he doesn’t hesitate to caution others when foreign officials speak of Singapore as the model of development. His exact words were “we can do what we can do because we are small.” Having a relatively small piece of land is one of the main reason why we become successful. It is relatively easier to control and manage as compared to countries with large land size. What works for us may not work for others. He mentioned that rather, we usually work with other governments to train their country officials. Furthermore, they bring businessmen and industrial leaders abroad to learn about the country and their constraints. This will also facilitate knowledge exchange and deeper understanding of various markets.

Since a large part of the income is from the private sector, it is hence important for the public sector, or government, to create ad ensure a business-friendly environment for businesses to grow. Singapore is known to be one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. This is why other than just increasing private investment abroad, Singapore also helps to improve the public administration of countries in our region. Private sector tends to be more stable and sustainable with a stronger government – probably also another main reason for our growth.

Regarding Singapore’s position to issues generally, he said I was right in pointing out the balanced approach where we don’t take hard stances. However, he added on that sometimes we would stand up to bigger countries when we need to, in order to defend what is good for Singapore and Singaporeans. We should not just be condemning acts of hostilities and aggression. Rather, it is often more important to think what else we can or should do – concrete actions. With that, I know that Singapore is in good hands for our international relations.

He then also spoke about being a mayor in South-East district and the importance of promoting community development. He was referring to all countries, including Singapore which more work can be done. Grassroots and civil society can take a more active role in community development. He raised the example of the recent Nice incident to explained the lack of community engagement. Wrongdoers of such incidents tend to live in isolation and have minimal social interaction or lack engagement with people around them. To reaffirm his statement earlier regarding concrete actions, he maintained that the way forward would be asking ourselves what can we do for these people. Thus, he concluded that we should be at a level where whenever a potential wrongdoer wants to bring harm to the civil society, he would really think twice.

Asking him on what Singapore hopes to achieve from this summit, he brought up the talk between Singapore and Mongolia to allow Singapore visitors to stay up to 30 days without a visa. He explained that 2 weeks is too short for people to understand a country and increasing it to 30 days also provides more flexibility in their itinerary. This could potentially attract more Singaporeans to visit Mongolia which boosts tourism and enables us to have an even better understanding of Mongolian culture, history and heritage. Industrial leaders and business partners also have much to gain from this.

To end off, I expressed that I wish to invite him as a speaker for Model ASEM Singapore 2016 in December this year. He gave a warm smile and I guess he looks forward to it as much as we all do.

Once again, thank you ASEFedu for the opportunity. Looking forward to future opportunities.