PM Wong, please stop using Swift deal as policy model


It is not about right or wrong, but the long-standing misperception among its neighbours that Singapore, one of the world’s most prosperous nations, cares only about economic gain, the writer argues. Unsplash

THE newly installed Prime Minister Lawrence Wong should seriously learn from neighbouring countries’ protests against megastar Taylor Swift’s six-day concert in Singapore in March, which generated S$500mil (RM1.7bil) for the city-state.

This is not about right or wrong, but the long-standing misperception among its neighbours that Singapore, one of the world’s most prosperous nations, cares only about economic gain.

“Taylor Swift is mine! I do not want to share her concert with others,” Singapore may tell other Asean countries. You can be super rich, but when you do not care about people around you, you may have to pay a dear price.

Of note is a YouTube video published before the singer’s arrival to Singapore for her Eras Tour, in which Wong, who was then deputy prime minister and finance minister, plays Swift’s Love Story on a guitar.

In his inauguration speech as the country’s fourth prime minister since independence in 1965, Wong said that his “leadership style will differ from that of previous generations”.

“We must brace ourselves for these new realities and adapt to a messier, riskier and more violent world. Fortunately, our international standing is high and the Singapore brand is admired and trusted worldwide. We seek to be friends with all while upholding our rights and interests,” he said after he was sworn in to the premiership on May 16 and replaced Lee Hsien Loong, who had led the country for 20 years since 2004.

Any country would prioritise its national interests above everything, but this should not come at the expense of other countries’ interests, and Wong should know this very well.

During the Asean-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne just two months before he stepped down, Lee defended Singapore’s exclusive right to host Swift’s concert in the region.

Swift’s stop in Singapore has been a boon to the city-state. Analysts estimate that seven in 10 of the 300,000 concertgoers arrived from other countries and spent between US$260mil (RM1.2bil) and US$370mil (RM1.7bil) on hotels, food and entertainment, while the cost of flights to Singapore nearly tripled and hotel bookings almost quintupled throughout the week.

For many, this “monopolistic” practice is a perfect example of how Singapore wants to maintain superiority over its neighbours on nearly all fronts.

In anti-corruption, for example, Singapore has consistently been the region’s gold standard, scoring 83 to rank fifth in Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), outshining the nine other Asean countries.

But many Indonesians have accused Singapore of sheltering corrupt citizens who fled there to evade justice.

Of course, Indonesia should also blame itself for its poor showing in eradicating corruption. The two countries have signed an extradition treaty that allows Indonesia to repatriate corruption suspects hiding in Singapore. But as long as Indonesia is unable or willing to clean up its own backyard, we have no moral ground to demand the collaboration of other countries.

Singapore is also known for its powerful passport, which is the world’s fifth-most accepted travel document.

Besides, the city-state had the world’s second-highest gross domestic per capita in 2022 at US$127,565 (601,034), after Luxembourg. It was also the world’s third-most innovative country by IQ that year after Japan and Taiwan, while Indonesia ranked 130th.

Perhaps it is Singapore’s insensitivity that has often sparked uproar among its neighbours. Swift’s Singapore show is just one example.

″[Our] agencies negotiated an arrangement with her to come to Singapore and perform, and to make Singapore her only stop in Southeast Asia,” Lee said in Melbourne.

Lee insisted there was nothing wrong with the arrangement, although others might have deemed it a show of Singapore’s selfishness.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin criticised Singapore for offering Swift up to US$3mil (RM14.1mil) per concert if she agreed not to play anywhere else in Southeast Asia. “If I had known this, I would have brought the shows to Thailand,” he said, as quoted by Bangkok Post in March.

Meanwhile, Philippine lawmaker Joey Salceda demanded that the Foreign Affairs Department ask for a clarification on the exclusive deal from the Singaporean ambassador.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said Indonesia should also be able to arrange an exclusive deal like Singapore did for the Swift concert.

“What Singapore can give, we will also give. We must have the [audacity] to compete. If Singapore can make a profit, why can’t we?” Luhut, a former Indonesian envoy to Singapore, told a business forum in Bali.

Hopefully, Wong can learn much from his predecessors and make a difference in the way Singapore deals with its Asean neighbours.

“As a younger leader, Wong is expected to have a more persuasive approach to other Asean leaders, most of whom are older than him and is also more willing to open mutually beneficial relationships with the neighbours,” The Jakarta Post wrote in a recent editorial.

As one of the world’s wealthiest, smartest and least corrupt nations, the city-state is expected to show more wisdom, especially in talks with its poorer neighbours. Ultimately, Singapore will benefit more if it can help its neighbours improve their livelihoods. — The Jakarta Post/ANN

Kornelius Purba is senior editor at The Jakarta Post.

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Singapore PM , Lawrence Wong , Asean , Taylor Swift

   

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