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Singapore Table of Contents



Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Cooperation with ASEAN, which included Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Brunei, was the center of Singapore's foreign policy after 1975. Before 1975, Singapore's interests were global rather than regional, and its policy toward ASEAN was characterized by detachment. As the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia, it was criticized for failing to help its neighbors. After 1975, however, Singapore was criticized for being too ASEAN oriented, too active, and too vocal in the organization for its size, particularly where matters of regional security were concerned. The shift in Singapore's stance toward ASEAN followed the communist victory in Vietnam in 1975, the waning of a United States military presence in Asia, and new signs of Soviet interest in the region. Furthermore, the other ASEAN states permitted Singapore to assume a leading role in regard to the issue of Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978. The situation in Cambodia in fact, became the unifying force for the diverse countries belonging to ASEAN. Singapore's Minister of Foreign Affairs Wong Kan Seng commented in March 1989 that, if the situation were resolved, some other force would be required to unite the member nations. The resolution of the Cambodian conflict would also raise the possibility of Vietnam being considered for membership, although in 1989 Singapore was not prepared to support Vietnam's immediate entry.

ASEAN provided Singapore with a means of improving its bilateral relations with Indonesia and Malaysia, two neighbors who were potential threats to Singapore's security. Singapore's leaders never identified the external enemy Singapore's armed forces were trained to deter (see Strategic Perspective , ch. 5). When asked in 1984 who was Singapore's biggest threat, Prime Minister Lee responded only that "the biggest that any threat will come from someone bigger than us."

Data as of December 1989