By: Chua Chin Leng
Singapore has been shouting and screaming its heads off in every occasion and opportunity to tell the Asean members that the unity of Asean is vital for the survival of small states. Somehow this seems to be like a lone voice in the wilderness. I have yet to hear another Asean country head coming out to echo this same concern. China is dividing up the Asean countries. So, why aren’t the other Asean countries panicking and shouting back at China for doing so? The fear of a disunited Asean seems to be the concern only of Singapore. Or at least none of the Asean country is voicing this fear. Why?
Is it that the other Asean states are not small states but big states or mid size states and so did not share the same fear as a small state like Singapore? The next smallest state in Asean must be Brunei, though its physical size is also much bigger than Singapore. Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and the rest of the Asean states are not small states. This could be one of the reasons why they are not joining Singapore as the chorus boys and girls to hype this fear of a disunited Asean.
A corollary to this point is that these are bigger countries, or at least some, have aspirations to be regional powers or leaders in the region, leaders of Asean. How would they take it when a little red dot keeps climbing on top of them to shout to the world as if Singapore is the leader of Asean? Would they feel embarrass or feel that Singapore is usurping their roles as the natural leaders of Asean and thus feel offended. Could this be the reason why they refused to join in the shouting game as if the one that shouts the loudest is the leader and let Singapore shout for as loud and as long as it wants, alone, a voice in the wilderness?
Is Singapore sensitive to the aspirations of the regional powers, the bigger states in Asean to let them take the leadership role instead of trying to be the leader, acting as the leader, trying to call the shot and to set the agenda? Has Singapore really taken a look at what it is doing and whether the other Asean states are behind Singapore? Maybe they also share the same concerns of Singapore but just did not like to be led by Singapore and thus just keep quiet and refuse to say anything?
Maybe it would be wiser for Singapore to share and communicate more with the other Asean states, say its peace behind closed doors and let the bigger boys to front out, to take the lead and still getting the message across if the intent is to get the message across like in the NAM. It is good to know one’s own place and not to be ‘boh tua boh suay’ even among equals technically. The leaders and people of Asean too have their pride and do not want a little red dot to lead them around, acting like the top dog of Asean. Got to be sensitive I think.
What do you think? Would the Asean leaders fall in and allow Singapore to lead them in the charge in the international stage using Asean as a vehicle?