WE always knew the UK was going to be desperately clinging to pretty much anyone who offered them a helping hand and a lucrative handshake as it muddles through the absolute shit show that is the post-Brexit world.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, was over in this neck of the woods this week searching for exactly that. He stopped by Malaysia and Singapore to talk trade and future opportunities.
Singapore, of course, seems like a fine choice for partnership. It’s one of the most successful economies in the region, considered one of the most open in the world. Trade is booming, benefitting from zero tariffs. And the pair have a long history together.
It’s an economy the UK can’t afford to ignore, given its predicament. But to praise Singapore as an “open society,” as Hunt did in his speech on Wednesday, is a farce.
One day after Jeremy Hunt was espousing the virtues of Singapore’s “shared values,” the courts were indicting activist Jolovan Wham for illegal assembly. His crime? Skyping with Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong.
The event involving Wham and Wong was held in November 2016. Singaporean police had reportedly informed Wham prior to the event that a police permit was required permitting Wong to speak. But Wham went ahead with the conference on civil disobedience and social movements without one.
"Britain’s post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies."@Jeremy_Hunt spoke at @IISS_org in Singapore
— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) January 2, 2019
This is far from the first time Singapore has quashed freedom of assembly, but the indictment was too close to Hunt’s visit not to draw attention to the hypocrisy of the situation.
Singapore is a stifling political and social environment. Essentially a one-party state, it has taken extreme measures to shutdown freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
There are no legal protections against discrimination for the LGBT community and homosexual relations between men remains illegal.
Critics of the government and judiciary are routinely dragged through the courts and often convicted on broad defamation, sedition and contempt laws.
Its elections have been called a “mockery of democracy,” controlled predominantly by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) who have dominated Singapore’s politics since independence.
An open society, it is not.
But the UK is in no place to be holding people to account as it desperately clings to allies in the wake of Brexit – we unashamedly cosy up to Saudi Arabia, after all, Singapore seems small fry in comparison.
As the Foreign Secretary tours the world, hand outstretched, the need to kiss ass is becoming more evident than ever.
Hunt also espoused the virtues of free trade, linking democracies – those who “share our values and support our belief in free trade” – just as Britain prepares to close its borders and impose trade barriers with its closest neighbours and allies. The hypocrisy of the speech is breath-taking.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent