Published: 04 November 2019
Ms Anthea Ong: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what are the criteria used to determine whether Singaporean individuals, firms, or media organisations are at risk of being compromised by foreign influence for national security reasons; (b) whether a list of such individuals or organisations at risk, and the reasons for these risks, will be published; and (c) whether positions that involve media, communications, or outreach, that address issues of social or political concern should be staffed exclusively by Singaporeans due to the risks of foreign influence.
Assoc Prof Walter Theseira: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what are the facts behind the concerns expressed at the recent Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures Conference that certain activists and media persons are potential agents of foreign influence; and (b) how can Singaporeans protect themselves against foreign influence given that association with and receiving income from foreign sources is common amongst globalized Singapore firms and individuals.
1. Mr Speaker, please allow me to take the questions from Ms Anthea Ong and Associate Professor Walter Theseira together (Questions 12 and 13).
2. First, on Ms Anthea Ong’s questions. Say you push a foreign country’s or a specific party’s agenda, to subvert your own country, the position is clear. You are acting against Singapore’s national interests. Often this is done for money, sometimes, for other reasons. I am not sure you can do this or identify this by specific criteria. It really depends on what is actually done, what actually happens. The cases of Eastern Sun and the Singapore Herald are illustrative.
3. On the second part of Ms Ong’s question, as the NMP knows, no such general lists have been published about organisations or individuals who may potentially be subject to foreign influence. In fact, I am a little perplexed by the question, because how do you make a comprehensive list of all people who may potentially be recruited by foreign agencies, or be subject to foreign influence? When I put it in those terms, you can see that the point is quite absurd. In foreign countries, even MPs have been recruited by foreign agencies. So it will be quite meaningless to publish such lists. Whether we should identify specific areas, which are more likely to be vectors for foreign influence, and have some better way of managing those risks, given that the environment is changing – that is a different issue. Of course there are specific jobs that already have requirements for security clearances, for these and other reasons.
4. If action is in fact taken against a particular individual or organisation, the case often becomes public. This will be so unless there are national security reasons not to reveal the details. The NMP will be aware, for example, of the case involving Mr Huang Jing. There have been other examples as well.
5. The NMP has also asked about controlling the employment of foreigners in organisations involving media, communications or outreach. I assume she is referring to my statement on 25 September, at the Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures Conference. I will say we have to look at the issue from a broader perspective. For example, the nature of the organisations, the confidence that we can have that their employees are likely to be immune to foreign influence, that there are controls, and also our own ability to identify any possible foreign influence.
6. I will next address NMP Walter Theseira’s questions. He asked about the facts behind the concerns expressed at that Conference. The facts which led to me as well as others expressing concerns can be found in my speech, as well as in the presentations made by some of the other speakers. A transcript of the speech is on MHA’s website. I have asked my officers to send the link to the NMP. I have also asked my officers to send him the material that was presented at the Conference.
7. On the second part of his question, I think the NMP may have misunderstood what I had said. It is not all foreign influences that we seek to avoid. We seek to deal with, for example, foreign influences that seek to disrupt our society, weaken our country, and affect our foreign policy. This cannot come as a surprise. Every country seeks to protect itself. Again, my speech sets that out.
8. I will also refer as an example, to some of the statements made at the Congressional Hearings held on 7 Dec 2018, 24 July 2019 and 26 September 2019 in the US. I have attached a short list of quotes made at that Hearing, that the NMP may find useful. With your permission Mr Speaker, may I ask the Clerk to distribute the handout.