DPM Wong urges all public service leaders to 'sharpen geopolitical instincts' as possible 'new Cold War' looms
SINGAPORE — As the world faces greater geopolitical contestation, all public service leaders here will need to “sharpen their geopolitical instincts”, even though this has long been the domain of officers in areas such as foreign policy and defence, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (Nov 1).
- DPM Lawrence Wong spoke at the annual Public Service Leadership Ceremony
- He outlined three areas for the Public Service to consider as ways to reinvent itself
- Mr Wong's suggestions are for public service leaders to sharpen their geopolitical instincts
- He also said the public service needs leaders with more diverse skillsets, and deepen its engagement with the public
SINGAPORE — As the world faces greater geopolitical contestation, all public service leaders here will need to “sharpen (their) geopolitical instincts”, even though this has long been the domain of officers in areas such as foreign policy and defence, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (Nov 1).
All public service leaders will need to sensitise themselves to the “new realities of the changing world order”, which could include hostile foreign actors seeking to conduct influence operations in Singapore, he added.
Mr Wong, who is also the Finance Minister, was delivering a speech about how the public service can go about their work amid changes in global and local circumstances at the annual Public Service Leadership Ceremony.
He also urged public service leaders to be candid and forthright when they share their assessments with political office holders, and “not try to second guess the minister or propose what you think we will find politically convenient”.
Said Mr Wong: “We value greatly the professional inputs and objectivity of our officers in the Public Service…The final decision taken may not always accord with your recommendations. But know that your professional inputs matter greatly and are an important part of our decision-making process.”
Mr Wong also prefaced his speech by stating that Singapore is now confronted by multiple new challenges such as disease, war, as well as disruptions to supply chains and the economy.
Beyond the external circumstances, he said there are domestic issues to grapple with, too.
These include a maturing economy, and a rapidly ageing population.
“Our needs are continuing to grow…But for Singapore to continue to thrive in such an environment, we must persist with an effective Government,” said Mr Wong.
“(And) as we navigate the highly volatile and uncertain world ahead, this close partnership between the political leadership and Public Service will become all the more important."
SHARPENING INSTINCTS, NEW SKILLS AND ENGAGING THE PUBLIC
While Mr Wong said he was certain that the Public Service would be thinking hard about areas for change and transformation, he wanted to outline three areas for the service to consider on how it can “refresh and reinvent” itself.
On the need for public service leaders to sharpen their geopolitical instincts, Mr Wong warned of the possible emergence of a new Cold War.
“Unlike the first Cold War, which pitted the US (United States) against the Soviet Union, this time, the US and China are much more economically interdependent. And paradoxically, this interdependence can make the new Cold War more dangerous than the first one,” he said.
“Unlike the first Cold War, which pitted the US against the Soviet Union, this time, the US and China are much more economically interdependent. Paradoxically, this interdependence can make the new Cold War more dangerous than the first one.Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong”
The Cold War began after World War II and reached flashpoints such as the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s when the world was said to have been on the brink of nuclear war over the then-Soviet Union's move to place missiles in Cuba, near the US, after the US deployed missiles in parts of Europe.
The Cold War is considered to have ended with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, dividing the former East and West Germany, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Former parts of the union, including Ukraine, became independent countries.
In his speech, Mr Wong added that as the current global geopolitical environment is more contested, Singapore must expect external parties to conduct influence operations here to spread their views and shape public opinion, he said.
This, in turn, is meant to nudge or influence the Government to adopt certain positions, he added.
Yet, he said that Singapore cannot "wish away these geopolitical pressures" due to its nature as a small, open economy, and an international hub for trade and finance.
But it can find ways to mitigate and guard against them, and this will require public service leaders to be sensitive to geopolitical considerations, regardless of whatever sector they work in.
“You must a have clear view of how the external environment impacts your work, and what are the opportunities and risks for Singapore,” said Mr Wong.
“And you must be able to work closely with stakeholders in both industry and civil society, to sensitise them to these risks, and help them manage the risk well.”
On his second point, Mr Wong said there is a need for the Public Service to broaden the range of competencies amongst its leaders, which will “enable the Public Service to be more resilient, and more prepared for the uncertainties ahead”.
He said Singapore has always placed a premium on nurturing leaders with strong policy skills.
While this remains relevant and important, Mr Wong said Singapore needed to rely on "much more than policy skills" to mount the response to the Covid-19 crisis it did.
In illustrating the other skillsets that public service leaders need, Mr Wong said that they include having those with capabilities and experience in running operations and mobilising volunteers in doing crisis communication.
He added there will also be a need for those with a deep understanding of science and technology, especially in digital solutions, and how these can be incorporated into policy solutions.
Having leaders with such skills, he said, will ensure that the Public Service always has fresh perspectives, and a variety of capabilities to help it respond to any challenge.
On his final point, Mr Wong said that the Public Service must deepen its engagement with the public.
The reason for this, he said, is that Singaporeans have “become more diverse in their aspirations and views” as society matures.
Said Mr Wong: “Many also want to have a greater say in how policies which affect them are formulated. So to stay cohesive and strong as a country, we must do more to draw strength from our diversity.
"To help every individual realise their full potential and to be able to find common ground amidst diversity on the best way forward for Singapore."
Key to understanding the needs and concerns of Singaporeans is political leadership, which will “help build consensus, especially on difficult issues”.
However, the Public Service will also need to incorporate more engagement processes as part of its work, he said.
"We can do more to create opportunities for Singaporeans to engage one another, to listen each other’s views, and to understand the diverse perspectives that are often at play in issues that we deal with."
‘WE DO NOT ASSUME RIGHT TO LEADERSHIP’
Mr Wong also spoke about political contestation in Singapore — something he said will likely become more intense over time.
“The political leadership will have to manage the politics. We do not assume the right to leadership. Just because the PAP (People's Action Party) has governed Singapore since independence doesn’t mean it will always do so,” he said.
As such, he said that there is a need to work hard to win the confidence and trust of citizens and prove that the party can govern well.
“So whenever we consider policies, we will have to make a judgement as political leaders of how far to go, what changes to make, taking into account these broader considerations,” said Mr Wong.
Be that as it may, he said that decisions by the political leadership will always be driven by “a full commitment" to do what’s right for Singapore and Singaporeans.
"We will never compromise on our key principles and values. We will not allow populist politics, race politics, or money politics to take root in Singapore," he said.
"And that means we will continue to be upfront with Singaporeans about issues which may not be so popular but need to be discussed and dealt with. We will continue to tackle problems head-on instead of taking the expedient way, kicking them down the road, or allowing them to fester and grow."
Related topicsLawrence Wong public service us-china relations foreign affairs
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