Tommy Koh, diplomatically speaking

It is always very pleasant talking or listening to a diplomat if he is worth his salt as a diplomat. A diplomat is one that is trained to say all the nice things and all the right things to make his listeners happy and go away nodding their heads in agreement, at least when it is public speaking. Of course they have plenty to say jokingly and diplomatically as well in private. Since they cannot make anyone angry with their flaws, they make jokes of their flaws to laugh together without anyone knowing that it was a criticism.

Tommy Koh wrote a diplomatic piece on Sat 3 Jan in the ST about his 3 wishes for the New Year. First, ‘to enjoy peace and stability, prosperity, with equity, unity with tolerance, safety with vibrancy and freedom with responsibility…to believe in and practise our core values of hard work, integrity, meritocracy, compassion, racial and religious harmony, gender equality, freedom from corruption and open economy and open minds.’ His second wish is for Asean to continue to be successful and his third wish is for peace in Asia and the Asia Pacific. I would not touch on these two.

No one can disagree with Tommy on all these motherhood statements as they all sounded right and correct and pleasant to the ears. The question, what was Tommy Koh trying to say? I hazard to make a guess of what he really wanted to say or was saying but not saying, or saying indirectly. If he would to say this frankly and directly, would he be saying, don’t take peace, stability and prosperity for granted. There is no equity, no unity, no tolerance and more is needed. And there is a question of safety with vibrancy and an issue of freedom with responsibility. He followed by saying we are not practising our core values of hard work, integrity, meritocracy, compassion, racial and religious harmony, gender equality or at least we need to work very hard to make sure these are not eroded in the future. And also to ensure that we are free from corruption, continue to be an open economy and have an open mind.

Tommy also reminded everyone that we did not start from a poor fishing village or have nothing, no assets, no talents to begin with. He said, ‘we do have three assets: a strategic location, a natural harbour and an intelligent and hard working people.’ Now is he saying that we should not be telling the world that our people are daft and lazy? Our success is a like a miracle and only can come about not with lazy and daft citizens. Then where have the hard working and intelligent Singaporeans gone? Why are we praising and welcoming jokers who cannot make their countries like ours and praising them sky high as super talents to help us to be better? Won’t these jokers be bringing us to the levels of their home countries?

Tommy then turned to say the not so nice thing that is very uncharacteristic of a diplomat. How can he be quoted to be saying, ‘Singapore is, however, not perfect. There are areas in which we can and should do better. (Anyone listening?) I am disturbed by the inequality in Singapore. We have one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world. I am unhappy that many of our children are growing up in poverty. About a third of our students go to school with no pocket money to buy lunch.’ What a revelation!

While he was speaking frankly, he added, ‘I am worried about the growing number of the elderly poor. Many of them are in poor health and have inadequate savings,… living in loneliness,… or abandoned by family and relatives.’ And his other hopes, ‘A politically mature society…which the vanquished are gracious in their defeat and the victors are magnanimous in their victory.’ How more frank can one ask from a diplomat? And he also hoped that Singaporeans would not be too money minded and materialistic. He warned that Singapore ‘is in grave danger of becoming a market society.’

Tommy would not have said these if he is not worried about the trends of development today. Things can be real bad if these concerns are not addressed. But who would listen to the messenger of bad news, even if he is a polite diplomat that no longer could ‘tahan’ being reticent and had to let it off his chest? The only misgiving is that the believers would not see anything wrong in their beliefs and the shepherd would be plodding along happily leading them on the ‘right’ path to paradise, diplomatically speaking.

A few wise men are speaking up. Would they be whipped for being incorrect or undiplomatic?

Kopi Level - Yellow


Anonymous said...

Pretend Action Party

We are deaf to all criticism.

Anonymous said...

But what's the use, diplomatically speaking or not, if Tommy Koh does not want to join the Sinkie opposition and contest elections?

Or rather enough Sinkies of Tommy Koh's calibre under one party to contest 100% seats next election to make the Sinkie opposition ready to be govt?

Anonymous said...

But what's the use, diplomatically speaking or not, if Tommy Koh does not want to join the Sinkie opposition and contest elections?
Anon 9:49 am

Tiok, no use. Or rather Tommy Koh speaking has as much use as RB speaking.

Anonymous said...

KNN you ungrateful swine. RB speaking for free and the elites are speaking for millions.

Anonymous said...

Like you, really love listening
and reading Tommy Koh's speeches
and articles.

He is always extremely kind with
his words and phases.

We need more people like him.

Stay clear and neutral of
politics. Speak up when it is

This is my hope for 2015 and


Opposition parties, not for him!

Anonymous said...

Tommy Koh is another PAPig who is working past his expiry date.
LKY and LHL also working way past expiry date.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

We need him and a few of the senior citizens to lead the Silver Brigade to fight back for their dignity.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago the PAP numbered the ballot papers saying that it was to protect the integrity of the voting process. Few people bought that argument. Amongst them was Tommy Koh, then a lecturer at the Law Faculty of NUS. He wrote letters to the ST Forum Page, to denounce it. His reputation as a fearless but fair critic of the government was ensured. Then he was "co-opted", as they say. For the next few decades, he defended Singapore against foreign criticisms of the autocracy as Ambassador. He concealed his true character as a "bleeding heart liberal". He even praised the use of "toilet detectives" to catch those uncivilised Singaporeans who refuse to flush the public toilets after use. His high point was to declare that LKY after his address to the US joint Houses of Congress had climbed a few notches up the totem pole in the eyes of the US public.(He did not realise that totem poles do not have figures of actual living persons on them but of birds or animals which embody qualities such as bravery.) Since then he has been "domesticated". I hesitate to use the word "conditioned" after the Pavlovian experiments with dogs. The eminent psychologist Professor Bruce Hood, formerly of Cambridge and Harvard, stated in his book, The Domesticated Brain, that the process leads to a loss of aggression with lower testosterone levels as shown in domesticated wild foxes. Thus the mild language Tommy now uses. He is "disturbed" by the great and growing inequality of incomes which leads to inequalities in educational opportunities, healthcare etc., when he should have been outraged. And he is merely "unhappy" that many children are raised in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world whilst elites like him preserve their health with personal trainers. And the slide after 50 years of uninterrupted PAP rule. He still talks of "meritocracy" as though it really works its magic in Singapore. Those who look to Tommy as their saviour in this time of crisis will be sorely disappointed.

Anonymous said...

"We need him and a few of the senior citizens to lead the Silver Brigade to fight back for their dignity." redbean
January 04, 2015 10:54 am

Please don't be naive.
Do you think you can become Singapore ambassador if you are not a card carrying member of PAP?

Tommy Koh has plenty of dignity.
Just like SMRT Desmond Kuek has plenty of dignity.

Let Tommy Koh make a public declaration of his political affiliations.
Before we invite yet another "crocodile tears" PAPig to lead the Silver Brigade.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

My apologies. Thought the Silver Brigade needs some good leaders. You may have your point.

Anonymous said...

What is a "good" and "well qualified" leader?
- The only good leader we need is one who has the heart to want to improve the lives of Singaporeans.

Don't let PAP and their definition of "well qualified" leaders dominate the thinking in Singapore.
- PAP likes their definition of "well qualified" because such people are easy to identify, co-opt or neutralize.

Why do you think we have all these special restrictions on who is allowed to run for President?
- Because the restrictions set up by PAP government results in a list of potential candidates to no more than 200 Singaporeans at best.

makes it easy for the PAP government to focus on these 200 people.

Anonymous said...

So the list of scholars is also a list of all the people who are a potential threat to the evil regime?
So they must conform or be identified as a threat?

dotseng said...

January 04, 2015 11:44 am

Thank you for forwarding a sensible and strong case - why we all shouldn't take Tony seriously. I too agree with you and Chin Leng it's best to go for someone who really has a proven trek record. Rather than someone who appears to have one, while he continues to be the very beneficiary of a system he criticizes.

Darkness 2015

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Agree that a clean break is the best. Until that someone appears, the options are limited and second best is better than none.

b said...

No party in this world has given as much time as pap to eradicate poverty from this mini republic. But for the last ten years, more people fall into the poverty side. Is this party any good? So many kids still grow up in a one bedroom flat with their parents. PAP has only made themselves rich.

b said...

If after 50 years still cannot eradicate poverty, this party has failed tremendously.

Anonymous said...

There is method in obliquity of engagement. Even the ancients understood the effectiveness of the nuanced, the understated and the circuitous. Revolutions and the direct confrontational approach derive from a shift in Greek warfare circa 7th Century BC which is responsible for a more direct an `heroic` Western approach to achieving outcomes. Revolutionary approaches seldom produce lasting solutions as history shows. Advocates for change must be prepared for the long haul.

Anonymous said...

Advocates for change must be prepared for the long haul.
January 04, 2015 5:41 pm

What long haul?
Just recruit more voters for Opposition lor!
It's once every 5 years.
Not long haul lah!

patriot said...

Lots of sweet talks and crocodile tear.
Think there are others as good if not better than Tommy. Surprise anyone that they are all from or were from the Establishment and some are parts of It?

As I had said before, Chin Leng and some Others are very hopeful that some will work from the Inside for the Good of Common Folks. People like Chin Leng see potential conscience able intellects or plain rebels in the Establishment. I beg to differ and like to say that it is these folks like Tommy, Chong Yah and Lily Neo that get the Voters stay with PAP JUST THOSE ESTABLISHMENT FOLKS THEMSELVES.

Time to stop thinking that wolves and Dingos can be domesticated. Those Folks have been in tge Pack for too long, they are seasoned to the Pack Culture.



patriot said...


This Article reminds me that Matilah Singapura had always said that Sinkies deserve the Government they have always chosen and elected.

I am very sure he will not stop claiming so unless he is no more here.


patriot said...


My apology.