[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

[6th Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Conference]
On Monday, the Foreign, Defence and Trade Ministers of Singapore met their Australian counterparts for a meeting to discuss how we can strengthen bilateral relations. Our overall relations are excellent marked by close cooperation across all sectors and a high degree of trust. There is also considerable mutual affection going back to colonial days. When we became independent, Australia contributed significantly to our nation-building through the Colombo Plan and many other programmes. The meeting went very well. An informal breakfast planned for an hour and a half became a retreat of three and a half hours.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

[ASEAN Meetings (Part III)]
High points in the last two days were the US accession to ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and discussions about Myanmar and North Korea (DPRK). On Myanmar, the tone of the US and Europe has changed but the call on Myanmar to release Aung San Suu Kyi was unanimous. I talked about the importance of continuing economic engagement. On DPRK, everyone condemned the nuclear test and urged North Korea to return to the Six Party Talks.

ASEAN Plus Three FMs Plenary and EAS FMs Informal Consultations

Post Ministerial Conferences

Bilateral Meetings

US's Accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation Signing Ceremony

ASEAN Regional Forum Gala Dinner

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

[ASEAN Meetings in Phuket (Part II)]

Shaking hands with Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva

ASEAN FMs call on Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva

Group Photo at AMM Opening Ceremony

Group Photo at AMM Retreat

At AMM Retreat

With Indonesia FM Pak Hassan

AMM Working Lunch

Group photo before meeting of SEANWFZ Commission

AMM Plenary

Monday, July 20, 2009

[ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phuket]
After the Pattaya debacle, ASEAN Foreign Ministers arrived in Phuket to very tight security. Despite the heavy presence of uniformed personnel, Thai hospitality surrounds you. It sometimes seems everyone is bowing, clasping hands, wishing you 'sawadee kap', offering you flower garlands. I always feel that my response to their good wishes is insufficient.

We wrapped up much of our business by Monday afternoon. Tuesday is a light day but Wednesday and Thursday will be a series of meetings in different combinations with ASEAN partners including the US, China, Russia, Japan, India, Australia, NZ, Europe and others, ending with the ASEAN Regional Forum. Having chaired these meetings last year, I know how heavy the burden is on the Thai Chair, FM Kasit. However, he retains his sense of humour and has the ability to summarise our discussions in a concise, succinct way, and brought the the first set of meetings to a close ahead of time. It helps that Phuket provides a conducive environment.

Arriving at the Phuket airport

Meetings with the High Level Panel and the High Level Legal Experts Group

Informal Working Dinner

[Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince]
Having just come back from a different time zone, I half expected to be dozing off during the movie. But for those of us who're fans of Harry Potter, the movie was absorbing. There were many bits I could not piece together immediately but that didn't affect the enjoyment of the special effects and the subtle characterisations. Though long, time passed by quickly and unnoticed. Expecting still a large chunk ahead, I zipped out to the toilet only to discover when I came back that the movie was almost over.

This was Youth Empire's annual movie event. It was nice to be among young people. I was glad to fly home in time from the NAM Summit in Egypt to see the show with my family. My kids are about Harry Potter's age and grew up with him. We've watched all of them together except for this latest (one overseas, one down with a cough). Watching Harry, Ron and Hermione mature reminded me and my wife of our own children growing up.

There are still two more Harry Potter movies to go. Sometimes I wish they would never end.

Friday, July 17, 2009

[A new blog]
When Foreign Minister emailed me months ago to inform me about his decision to start a group blog, I was not startled.

For one, there was a time when Facebook threatened the existence of blogs but the limitations of Facebook had showed that a blog still had relevance.

The new group blog which we had discussed a few weeks back would boast a stellar cast. It would have diverse views and prominent people some of which are famous in their own right. In fact, I am an ardent fan of one of them.

Today's article in The Straits Times just happened to dig out that nugget of news just before the announcement which will be due soon.

30 August 2009 will mark the third anniversary of Minister George Yeo's foray into the online world. The key lesson here is to stay relevant at all times.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

[The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)]
NAM was established during the Cold War for countries that did not want to be tightly allied to the US or the Soviet camp. With the end of the Cold War, NAM's role in global affairs has become fuzzier. For a while, the US was the world's sole superpower and NAM became a platform for a few countries opposing the US to lobby support among over a hundred member countries, especially Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. Singapore has always been a 'moderate' in NAM insisting that radicals did not capture the agenda and claim the support of the entire movement when in fact views were divided.

When Cuba was in the Chair, it subordinated its national interest to that of the entire movement. That was to its credit. Egypt in the Chair is acting likewise. Iran as the next Chair in three years time will have to do the same.

Looking ahead, NAM must redefine its role in a multipolar world. From Singapore's perspective, NAM should always represent the collective interests of the weaker countries in the world. It is inevitable that those more powerful should have more say in writing the rules governing global affairs but the rest of us should not be without influence. A multipolar world is inherently less stable. NAM can help maintain balance and make this a better and a fairer world.

I attended my first NAM Summit in Belgrade in 1989, exactly twenty years ago. Yugoslavia has since broken up. Only two leaders from 1989 attend this year's Summit in Sharm el Sheikh - Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar Gaddhafi of Libya.