"Well, in my view Singapore and the United States have stepped up to the challenge. Singapore helicopters can communicate with American air traffic controllers in New Orleans. American helicopters can communicate with Singapore air traffic controllers in Aceh. We have put policies in place that promote regular interaction, such as the Free Trade Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement. We have a range of other programs in technical areas such as the Container Security Initiative, Proliferation Security Initiative, and the REDI Center. All of these show that our leadership understands the imperatives of better coordination. Indeed, one of the striking aspects to me of the bilateral relationship is the sheer breadth and complexity of tasks.
For example, this month alone will see a State Department Undersecretary visit on trafficking in persons and bird flu; a Treasury Department Undersecretary visit on money laundering; a State Department Assistant Secretary visit on counter-terrorism; and two admirals will visit separately on military sealift and on naval research coordination. Every year, my guess is we have upwards of fifty senior-level government delegations going from one country to the other. Some five to ten of them will be cabinet-level. And of course, this culminates in the visits of Prime Ministers Goh and Lee to Washington, and President Bush to Singapore. There is a lot going on. As Foreign Minister George Yeo says, “The world is spinning faster.”
We have more to do in such areas as law enforcement, tax treaties, and non-proliferation, but so far so good. The world has been made a little safer through our cooperation. The more difficult challenge is the one I mentioned a few minutes ago, the connection between internal political structure and international consequences. Americans are increasingly of the view that societies that do not offer their citizens a say, that tolerate economic mismanagement or corruption, or that promote hatreds, risk becoming breeding ground for terrorism. This is a global point but we see this most acutely in the Arab world. The first victims of a dysfunctional society are the citizens of that society, which is bad enough, but all of us are at risk from the potential spill-over.Singapore has its share of challenges as well.
Singapore has flourished over the past 40 years, but is a 20th century model adequate for the 21st century? Singapore is grappling with the definitional questions of what kind of society it wants. Remaking its economy is, in a sense, the easy decision. Shaping a political system to reflect the needs and aspirations of its citizens is more difficult and more sensitive. What are the bounds of expression? What say should citizens have in their government? In this era of Weblogs and Webcams, how much sense does it make to limit political expression? Remember, we have the death of distance. There are no islands anymore. As part of Singapore’s success is its strong international links, it is surprising to find constraints on discussions here. In my view, governments will pay an increasing price for not allowing full participation of their citizens.
I know Singapore will sort through these challenges, for Singaporeans are not known for resting on their laurels. The past forty years have been a history of adapting and moving forward. Singapore has much to be proud of and the United States will stand side-by-side with Singapore. My view of foreign policy is simple: we - America and Singapore – we are the "good guys." This doesn't mean that other countries are the "bad guys." And it doesn't mean that we are always right, because we make our share of mistakes. Nor does it mean we don't need to listen to others. We do. What it does mean is that America has a great deal in common with Singapore, in approach to problems such as political stability, economic growth, and cross-border threats, be they man-made or natural disasters. There are many social commonalities as well. We both know that a pluralistic, inclusive, meritocratic society is the best way to ensure a better life for our citizens.
Allow me to close on a personal note. When you serve in a position such as this, it is much more than a job. It becomes part of your identity, something you carry with you the rest of your life. Balzac might have been thinking of Ambassadors when he wrote of “Vocations which bleed like colors on the whole of our existence.”
We look back to the SARS crisis and remember the fear we all faced. The American community, like all of Singapore, was nervous. But we also had confidence in Singapore to face the problem honestly and with total commitment, so I did not have to order an embassy evacuation. We were the only U.S. post in a SARS-affected country not to do so. Had the embassy closed or scaled back, it would have triggered an American community exodus.
We saw the horrors of the tsunami. I was fortunate to be able to join a helicopter crew from the USS Abraham Lincoln delivering food and water to survivors in a village in Aceh. It made me proud to see the U.S. Navy working together with the Singapore Armed Forces to ease suffering and save lives. We know the threat of terrorism because my embassy was targeted for a truck bomb. We later saw victims of the first Bali bombings who were brought to Singapore for medical care. Our embassy worked to provide comfort and support to the victims who were so ably served by the excellent medical care in Singapore.
Each era has its distinct threats and challenges, and our era is no exception. But there is also joy and a basis for optimism. Ann and I tried to get around Singapore a bit. Ann was an active parent at the American school, especially in promoting music and drama. She worked with a number of community organizations such as theaters, and museums. She was able to tutor regularly in a local school. Our daughter competed in a Singapore national Dancesport competition at Ngee Ann Polytechnic – and as parents, we were very proud of her two silver medals. I remember working with the HIV/AIDS patients at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and competing in the Navy biathlons and the Standard Chartered 10 km race. And we hosted some fun events like introducing the American Idols to the Singapore Idols at our residence.
Tonight is a bittersweet moment. Sometimes in life we move on in our jobs, but that does not mean that we move on in our friendships. Ann and I will carry you in our hearts wherever we may be, and we will always remember Singapore’s belief in excellence, emphasis on education, and willingness to face the world. Thank you all for your support and for your friendship. Majulah Singapura. "