SINGAPORE – The practices of those such as Mr Terry Xu, who as editor of The Online Citizen hired foreigners to write incendiary articles about Singapore, will be able to continue even after the proposed law against foreign interference is passed, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (Oct 4).
The proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, will only require that a direction be given for them to make clear who the authors are and their nationality, he added.
Mr Shanmugam was seeking to debunk misinformation about Fica, which he said was being spread actively by activists Terry Xu, Thum Ping Tjin and Kirsten Han, who have charged that the Government will use the law to silence its critics.
The minister noted that Mr Xu, whose website is now defunct, has paid Malaysians and other foreigners to write articles on Singapore, such as one calling for Singaporean civil servants to march on the streets like their Hong Kong counterparts.
These writers were not identified, he said.
“So you read the articles, what would readers think – these are from local writers writing about Singapore in these terms. But the articles are often by foreign writers who are paid to write these stories. The more incendiary, the better,” he added.
“Now, Mr Xu and others can continue to do this, even after Fica, but a direction can be given to them to make it clear that the article is by a foreigner. We all want transparency, right? So, it would be useful for Singaporeans to know whether the writer of the article is local or foreign.”
Mr Xu, together with Ms Han, a freelance journalist, had started a petition along with others, to seek more consultation and scrutiny on the proposed law. The petition was put up in Parliament by Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai from the Progress Singapore Party, and was debated at the same time as the Bill.
Questioning their motives, Mr Shanmugam said Ms Han, along with Dr Thum, an Oxford-educated historian, had taken money from billionaire investor George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations has a history of getting involved in the domestic politics of sovereign countries.
In 2018, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority rejected the duo’s attempt to register a company funded by the foundation to organise “democracy classroom” sessions in Singapore.
Ms Han and Dr Thum had set up the New Naratif website, which receives foreign funding and organises a series of such “democracy classroom” sessions focusing on Malaysia and supported by the United States Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Shanmugam said.
“Make no mistake about it, we will say no to that in Singapore. You can organise democracy classrooms, we have no issues. Anyone can organise, anyone can criticise the current state of democracy, but it cannot be funded by Soros, or the US Embassy, or any other embassy,” he added.
The minister added that Dr Thum and Ms Han had met then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad in August 2018 and urged him to “bring democracy to Singapore”.
He also pointed out that Dr Thum had publicly said Singapore should become part of Malaysia and previously expressed regret about Singapore’s separation from Malaysia.
Meanwhile, he said Ms Han had encouraged people to push back against the Government’s exhortation to prevent foreigners from influencing domestic affairs.
“Her view is that Malaysians can influence our politics. She says so openly,” added Mr Shanmugam.
“So, Members can see why the two of them are very concerned that Fica will focus on foreign funding, and have been mounting their own disinformation campaign.”
On her part, Ms Han had posted over a hundred tweets and posts on the issue, organised the petition, and also sent around e-mail templates for people to write to their MPs, said Mr Shanmugam.
Meanwhile, Dr Thum has written a commentary describing Fica as a “stealth coup” by the minister.
Citing this, the minister said: “Basically, that I am personally going to take over Singapore, and all my colleagues have to be very concerned. And I suppose a coup means I take over from the Prime Minister.”
“It requires a turn of mind, completely at odds with reality, and living in fantasy, to think of a coup in Singapore.”
Mr Shanmugam said if he wanted to abuse his powers to mount a coup, existing laws such as the Internal Security Act and Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act have far more powers, including the powers of detention.
“Fica, in contrast, is a toy gun, it gives powers to give directions,” he added.
“So, Members can see, there is no limit to the absurdities and fantasies that some will put out. And an Oxford education in itself does not immunise one from spouting such nonsense.”