cover NLB Call No.: 327.5957 LIT (Singapore Collection)
ISBN: 981-256-414-4
Check NLB Catalogue for item availabilty (copy and paste the ISBN “9812564144” under Keyword search).

If you’re interested in what diplomats actually do, especially Singapore’s diplomats, then this book will not disappoint. One of my first reactions to this book was “They actually shared this? In a book?” : )

Oh, there’s nothing risque, and no state secrets (Singapore’s or from other countries) have been compromised. What I found pleasantly surprising was how palatable this book was. I enjoyed each of the 53 articles — personal stories, really — authored by Singapore’s Presidents, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Women Ambassadors, First Generation Diplomats, Second Generation Diplomats, and Non-Resident Ambassadors.

I recognise quite a number of names — the late President Wee Kim Wee, and President S.R. Nathan; the late S. Rajaratnam; there’s S. Dhanabalan, Wong Kan Seng, S. Jayakumar, Kishore Mahbubani, Tan Chin Nam, Bilahari Kausikan, Chan Heng Chee, Winston Choo, Tommy Koh, Barry Desker, Jacky Foo, Walter Woon — and lots more that I don’t. BTW, each entry has a photograph of the authors.

The stories gives an insight into how Singapore’s diplomatic corps operates. But it’s more than that. It’s a telling of the diplomatic corps’ culture written from personal perspectives. It’s very “human”, and there are many things shared that few might be aware.

For instance, I learnt from the late Wee Kim Wee’s article that he introduced a regular breakfast session with Taxi drivers when he was appointed President in 1985 (the idea was inspired by what President Magsaysay did, which Mr. Wee read from a newspaper in 1955 when he was a reporter covering the 2nd Asian Games in Manila); I learnt about the Principles of Singapore’s Foreign Policy by S. Rajaratnam; how Singapore successfully lobbied for support in the U.N. General Assembly (this was by S. Jayakumar); Tommy Koh’s Eight Lessons on Negotiations; President S. R. Nathan’s account of the “Laju” Hijack Incident…

There’s many many more. To properly introduce and highlight each of the stories would require individual posts for all 53 of them. I heard Tommy Koh mention (at the READ! Singapore 2006 closing ceremony) that this book was considered very successful in terms of the number of copies sold — by Singapore’s standards. I can appreciate why.