Saturday, March 28, 2020

International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue: Asia Security Summit will not convene in 2020

The 2020 IISS Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) would be untenable as no one can say how long countries will close their borders in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. Even if delegates can get to Singapore when airline flights have dried up - some military delegations have flown to Singapore using their own aircraft in the past - defence ministers and armed forces chiefs are likely to be heavily engaged in their home nation's efforts to fight the virus. Defence chiefs many not be able to spare a weekend in Singapore, bearing in mind the travel time and the expected quarantine period upon returning home. 

One should also remember that the defence relations aspect of SLD would be jeopardised during this period of social distancing. Event highlights such as the lunch for defence ministers traditionally hosted by Singapore, numerous courtesy calls between ministers and armed forces chiefs, and the close mingling between delegates cannot take place as before. As the absence of such activities would dilute the value of the security talks, it is understandable and prudent for the event to be postponed. 

The Home Team and SAF deploy a lot of manpower and assets to protect the event round the clock. Postponing the event would allow the Home Team and SAF to give their fullest attention and support to Singapore's pandemic response efforts.

Tensions in hotspots like the South China Sea, sea piracy and the threat of terrorism have not gone away even as COVID-19 ravages countries worldwide. 

As governments worldwide focus their attention on the pandemic, it is essential that defence diplomacy engagements continue to allow differing points of view to be aired. It is important for Track Two efforts such as the SLD to stay active, perhaps by video conference or online workshops on topical security issues, to keep potential flashpoints in check.

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19th Shangri-La Dialogue,  scheduled for June, called off due to coronavirus outbreak, Straits Times, 28 March 2020. Click here

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID-19 situation: Please share with Singapore students in the United Kingdom

Please share if you have any fellow Singaporeans (citizens and Permanent Residents only) students in UK looking to return home:

Dear Singsoc leaders,

We understand that many Singaporean students are trying to secure flights back to Singapore. We have struck an exclusive ticket arrangement with Singapore Airlines for you to travel back to Singapore from 19-31 March 2020, subject to availability. We are offering this facilitation to students first as the rest of the Singaporean community based here are more rooted and have other support.

Singaporean students (citizens and PRs) may register your interest at and refer to the detailed instructions within. Singapore Airlines will get in touch directly with you. Singapore Airlines will do all possible to contact you at least 24 hours before your allocated flight, and will reach out with more lead time wherever possible. Once ticketed, Singapore Airlines reserves the right to rebook your travel on an alternative flight due to operational contingencies. This special arrangement with Singapore Airlines is exclusively for Singapore citizens and PRs. Entries/expressions of interest by non-Singaporeans will be treated as void.

Your safety is of utmost importance and rest assured that the Singapore High Commission in London is looking into getting additional flights if there is high unmet demand, including for further arrangements in April.

Singapore Airlines has advised that if students wish to return urgently, they may proceed to Heathrow Airport T2 to standby for a flight on the day itself. However, Singapore Airlines cannot guarantee that they will be accepted but there is a chance that Singapore Airlines will have some seats available. In such a scenario, you should preferably not have already put in a request through this system as we would like to avoid duplication and clogging up the system. We seek your understanding and cooperation to ensure the smooth operation of this system we have put in place, which we would fine-tune as necessary.

Please stay in close touch with us, monitor your health, and continue to stay united as one Singapore community! #SGUnited


Advisory for Singaporean Students Studying Overseas Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore 17 March 2020

I know a number of Singaporean students overseas visit this blog. Please read and heed the advisory below as commercial airlines are cutting capacity by the day. Transport services that bring you to airports with international connections may also be cut back, unreliable or unavailable during this period.

Singapore has the capability and capacity to stage mercy flights. But such flights may be denied if overseas airports are closed for reasons beyond our control.

Decide and act fast.

Stay safe. Good luck.


Advisory for Singaporean Students Studying Overseas
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore
17 March 2020

1 Given the evolving COVID-19 situation and rapid increase of COVID-19 cases around the globe, we encourage Singaporean students studying overseas to consider returning home soon. Institutes of Higher Learning in Singapore have begun recalling their students currently on overseas internship or exchange.

2 Many countries are imposing travel restrictions or closing their borders, transport operators and airlines are cutting services, and many services and facilities, including educational institutions, have also been closed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

3 The Government will liaise with airlines to facilitate flights to key cities when necessary during this period, to cater to demand for return flights to Singapore.

4 In the meantime, to all overseas Singaporean students yet to return home, please observe the following:
Take all necessary precautions, observe good personal hygiene, monitor local developments, and heed the advice of local authorities.

eRegister with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) at at the earliest opportunity to enable MFA to contact you should the need arise. Students should also check the Ministry of Health (MOH) website ( and MFA website for the latest measures implemented by Singapore.

Ensure that you will have continued access to medical facilities near you, and that you have appropriate health insurance coverage.

Be prepared that these medical facilities may become overwhelmed, and may not be able to provide the same level of care and support as in Singapore.

Be prepared to source for alternative accommodation in the event of hostel closures.

Factor in the risks of severe disruption to travel routes and further travel advisories / restrictions at short notice, which may affect your travel plans to return home.

Discuss with your educational institution on arrangements for you to continue your learning in Singapore.

5 Should you require any assistance while overseas, please contact your educational institutions, student associations, the nearest Singapore Overseas Mission or the Singapore Global Network ( for guidance. The Ministry of Education may also be contacted at

6 In the event that you require consular assistance, please contact the nearest Singapore Overseas Mission ( or call the MFA Duty Office at +65 6379 8800 / +65 6379 8855.

Ministry of Education
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Monday, March 16, 2020

Will Singapore-Malaysia land and sea crossings face tighter border controls if COVID-19 cases in Malaysia shoot up?

The two crossings across the Strait of Johor that link Singapore and Malaysia are among the world's busiest border crossings.

The sheer volume of people, vehicles and commerce that use the Johor-Singapore Causeway (>250,000 people daily) and the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link (>110,000 people daily) make closing these crossings a daunting prospect.

But don't be surprised if Singapore strengthens border controls at its land links in response to the sheer number of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia to align the Federation with the rest of ASEAN.

On Sunday, it was announced that Singaporeans and Malaysians using the land and (very limited) sea crossings between Singapore and Malaysia from 23:59H today (16 Mar 2020) would be exempted from the 14-day Stay-Home Notices (SHN) that are applicable to all visitor arrivals who have been to ASEAN countries in the last 14 days prior to coming to Singapore, as well as visitors with a travel history to Mainland China (excluding Hubei), France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland or the United Kingdom in the last 14 days.

"We do have to put in place some special considerations for Malaysia because of the close proximity and the high interdependency between our two countries. So for now, the arrangements which I've just described will not apply to our sea and land crossings with Malaysia," said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

"We do need precautions to be taken at these checkpoints but it is going to be more complex given the high volume of people moving in and out of these checkpoints. On our land crossing alone, 300,000 people move across the checkpoints every day. So it is more complex. We want precautions to be taken there, so separate arrangements are being worked out through the bilateral joint working group we have with Malaysia. They are already in discussion and will work through separate measures."

If COVID-19 cases in Peninsular Malaysia shoot up, it is possible that we could see more stringent entry requirements such as the SHN restrictions applied to all visitor arrivals coming via the Causeway and Second Link. The mechanics of any moves to curb travel across the land links, and the duration of such steps to tighten land border controls, will be interesting to watch as it had never been attempted in recent memory.

It might be prudent for Singaporean companies and multinationals that rely on Malaysians who come to Singapore via the land links to prepare for that eventuality if they want to continue using the services of their Johor-based staff. For instance, such companies may need to help staff living in Johor with temporary accommodation in Singapore to save them the daily commute.

Alternatively, these companies should be prepared to replace Malaysian staff from Johor with Singaporean workers in the interim to avoid labour disruptions that the SHN will inevitably bring on company operations.

In addition, it may also be necessary and sensible to stockpile supplies and components sent on a just-in-time basis from across the Causeway as we are clearly living under extraordinary circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prepare a Plan B. That day may come.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Help Singapore Armed Forces SAF overseas training detachments gear up to fight COVID-19

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has a global footprint thanks to friends and partners who have helped Singapore's military raise and sustain overseas training detachments. One phrase that aptly describes the SAF's training tempo is that training takes place around the world and round the clock.

With COVID-19 declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation yesterday, the SAF will have to deal with challenges around the world and round the clock as training detachments in countries from Australia, France, the United States and several more places gear up to face this global health crisis.

The issue is relevant and urgent. Yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) reported that four Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) regular servicemen who tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from France have been hospitalised, while another two were placed on home quarantine as they were close contacts. The six RSAF personnel were on the same official overseas duty trip from Feb 15 to March 7.

The MINDEF statement added: "The SAF had already reduced its overseas training deployments and exercises in view of the COVID-19 outbreak, and will continue to adjust such activities where necessary depending on the conditions within the host country. All SAF personnel, both locally and abroad, have been instructed to take precautionary measures which include social distancing to mitigate the risk of infection."

From what we've seen in the media, there is a clear asymmetry in the readiness and success of countries worldwide when it comes to dealing with COVID-19. Especially for larger countries, healthcare coverage can be patchy - excellent in big cities with the scope and scale of medical capabilities trickling downhill as one moves into the hinterland.

This hinterland, far from populated areas, is where many of our SAF detachments reside. We need to embrace SAF overseas training detachments and their supporting communities as wider stakeholders, as Singapore hunkers down for a protracted struggle with this new virus.

There are hundreds of SAF personnel and their families now overseas. Mind you, military service is NOT the kind of job that offers a work from home option. Our men and women in uniform overseas who concurrently juggle their SAF duties with their role as head of household do not have the time to prepare their homes against the pandemic. The Singapore homefront must therefore lend a hand and be prepared to do so quickly:

Surgical masks: Open the national stockpile to SAF overseas detachments. You've read about panic buying in large cities from Australia to the US? Imagine the situation in small mom-and-pop convenience stores in outlying areas like Cazaux in France or the outskirts of Mountain Home in Idaho where bigger stores may be many miles away. The isolation of military air bases and camps is now their source of vulnerability as such places are at the fringe of their local supply chains. Even the US Navy facility in Yokosuka, Japan, has reported a run on essential items. In short, airfreight masks and in large quantities and have them delivered to SAF detachments overseas.

SAF personnel who fly the flag overseas have always embraced their counterparts in the same base as their wider family. We need to sustain that goodwill. We have done so in the past with socio-civic projects and need to consider doing so now. This means that mask manifest will have to be a little longer to cover not just the headcount for SAF regulars, NSFs and their dependents but also some of their base counterparts. We cannot save the whole of Bordeaux, Queensland or Western Austalia, but should consider a goodwill quantity for units in the same base that fly and work alongside the SAF in foreign countries.

Information: You may have heard how Singapore has been praised for its handling of COVID-19. Sooner or later, it will become a talking point overseas. Now we don't expect SAF personnel, especially non doctors, to give chapter and verse on Singapore's virus containment/mitigation measures. And our chaps must also know when and how to disengage. One useful way is to point to a fact sheet that summarises what's been done in simple Q&A and infographics (or even a short video clip). This can be fact checked for accuracy, made as a PDF and sent to every corner of the globe which has an SAF presence to keep everybody up to date.

Specialised support: Singapore may be able to keep the pandemic in check on home ground. Things may be swell in Paris or Washington D.C. But does anyone know how the medical infrastructure in outlying foreign regions will cope? In a worst-case scenario where a community with a sizeable number of Singaporean families is affected, we need to think about how Singapore can lend a hand to the host nation at a time when that particular outlying area may not be top priority for foreign crisis planners.

Keep such places on the radar even as Singapore's whole of government approach focuses its firepower on the home front. Their well-being is very important too.