Driving Force


BERLIN/SINGAPORE (Own report) - With the objective of better structuring its Asia policy, the German foreign ministry convened a four-day conference of all the heads of German missions abroad, which opened on September 3 in the presence of the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Ten Southeast Asian countries - most of them competitors or political adversaries of the People's Republic of China - are members of the ASEAN economic alliance. The ambassadors conference in Berlin will also hear a talk given by the German ambassador to Singapore. The city-state Singapore is the driving force of the ASEAN group and Germany's most important economic base in the region. Singapore's army is heavily equipped with offensive weapons and Germany has been supplying arms for decades. According to the German defense minister, Germany and Singapore are "natural partners" in military policy. This Southeast Asian country's government is striving intensely for closer EU relations - against Beijing.

With this conference of ambassadors, German foreign policy makers are seeking to consolidate their forces in Eastern and Southeastern Asia. As one learns from the foreign ministry's statement of intent, "areas, where Germany can develop its activity and cooperation with Asia, are to be identified."[1] On September 4, the Conference will include a "Business Forum," where representatives of approx. 800 companies will be given the opportunity of discussing with the 226 German ambassadors. The German Foreign Ministry's "Business Forum" seeks to achieve a coordination between Germany's foreign and commercial interests before the "Asia-Pacific-Weeks," due to be inaugurated in the German capital on the following Monday. The "Asia-Pacific-Weeks" will include high-ranking conferences [2] and PR events aimed at further expansion into Asia. More than 250 events are scheduled. At the beginning of October, the German Ministry of Economics will invite more than 500 company representatives to South Korea for discussions of the course of action to be taken for that region and the Pacific. Meetings with the Vietnamese Minister of Planning and Investment, the Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry and other influential representatives are scheduled for the coming weeks, following Chancellor Merkel's week-long East Asia trip.[3]

Roll Back

Germany is particularly focussing on the neighboring states of the Peoples Republic of China. Whereas Japan has traditionally had close ties to Germany and whereas South Korea has become an important economic partner, for several years, the German government has been attempting to reinforce its position in the Southeastern part of the region. The ASEAN countries [4], situated in China's historic sphere of influence, are currently the scene of intensive Western efforts to roll back Beijing's influence. Germany and the EU are competing with the United States and hope that, through the signing of a Free Trade Agreement, they will be able to accelerate their economic expansion.[5] Singapore plays an important role in these plans.[6]

Honorary Citizenship

Since the 1960s, Germany has been systematically developing good contacts to Singapore, which are very helpful for its relation with ASEAN. Bonn established diplomatic relations with this city-state in 1965, immediately after its independence. As an economic location, Singapore, one of the most significant commercial turntables of the region, is of great importance to German business. In spite of its small population (4.2 Million), trade with Singapore comprises more than 30% of the German commerce with ASEAN. The bilateral trade volume in 2006, reached 10, 6 billion Euros - tendency rising. This city-state covering less than 700 km2, accommodates more than 900 German firms, an entrepreneurial promotion institution, "German Centre for Industry and Trade" [7], a German school ("Deutsche Europäische Schule Singapur" with 1000 students) and the "German Institute of Science and Technology", founded in 2002 by the Technical University of Munich. Last June, Heinrich von Pierer, former head of Siemens, received Singapore's honorary citizenship award for his "outstanding contribution" to the country's "growth and development."[8]

Arms Supplier

Siemens supports Singapore's development not only through the construction of a power station and the modernization of the country's administration buildings, but also through the supply of electronic data processing systems for its defense ministry. The city-state's armed forces are cautiously described by observers as "over-dimensioned".[9] Singapore has 50.000 men under arms. With this proportion to the size of population, the German army would have 1 Million soldiers. The military accounts for approximately 30% of the state budget, of which a large part is transferred to Germany, one of the traditional arms suppliers. Arms systems are also being produced under German license in Singapore. German exports of arms to this country over the past few years have reached in the triple-digit millions.[10] This authoritarian state, heavily reproached by human rights organizations [11], is, according to observers, playing a "vanguard role" in the Western anti-terrorist struggle and, since the autumn of 2001, has intensified its collaboration with Western secret services.[12]

Strategic Role

In an effort to gain more independence from US domination, Singapore, for quite some time, has been seeking more influence from Berlin and Brussels. The EU "is underestimating (...) ASEAN's strategic role in the overall Asian context," Singapore's Foreign Minister, George Yeo, declared last March in Hamburg - while disclosing the long term orientation of his country's militarization: Thus the Southeast Asian states have a "primary interest in peace insuring measures" to roll back the ascending powers India and China and prevent the devastating consequences of defeats ("Balkanization").[13] Under the German EU Council Presidency, last March, the European Union decided to intensify its military/political cooperation with ASEAN. Concrete projects will be defined in an EU-ASEAN action plan.

Military Partners

The German government is already dashing ahead. Early last June, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung visited Singapore and announced in an article, appearing in the local press under his byline, that Germany and Singapore are not only "driving forces" inside their respective alliances (EU/ASEAN) but also "natural partners" for "security in the military field."[14] At the end of June, the German army (Bundeswehr) announced corresponding measures. Accordingly officers from Singapore just recently visited the school for armored troops in Muenster in preparation for training Singaporean tank crews on the German Leopard 2A4 battle tank.[15] This became necessary due to the upgrading of Singapore's army with the first delivery of 66 Leopard 2A4 tanks.[16] The training of Singaporean tank crews has, in the meantime, begun in Germany.

[1] Botschafterkonferenz im Auswärtigen Amt; www.auswaertiges-amt.de
[2] Etwa die Conference on Multilateral Economic Cooperation with the Association of South East Asian Nations (CMEC-ASEAN) am 18./19. September.
[3] see also Alle Optionen
[4] ASEAN-Mitglieder sind: Brunei Darussalam, Kambodscha, Indonesien, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, die Philippinen, Singapur, Thailand, Vietnam.
[5] see also Subregional Arms Race and Emanzipatorische Elemente
[6] Singapur: Außenpolitik; Länder- und Reiseinformationen des Auswärtigen Amts
[7] see also Türöffner
[8] Dr. Heinrich von Pierer receives Singapore's Honorary Citizen Award; The Straits Times 09.06.2007
[9] Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC): Länderportrait Singapur; Bonn, Januar 2007
[10] Ausweislich der Rüstungsexportberichte der Bundesregierung lieferten deutsche Firmen im Jahr 2001 genehmigungspflichtige Militärgüter im Wert von 85,5 Millionen Euro an Singapur, 2002 folgten Geräte für 96,14 Millionen Euro, 2005 erhielt das südostasiatische Land Waffen zu einem Preis von 120,28 Millionen Euro.
[11] "Singapur ist den meisten zentralen Menschenrechtsverträgen nicht beigetreten. Von diesen ist der Nicht-Beitritt zum Anti-Folter-Abkommen vielleicht der bedeutendste Mangel. (...) Auch werden harte physische Strafen (Stockhiebe) u.a. für Bagatelldelikte verhängt und auch gegen Minderjährige angewandt. Bei den politischen Bürgerrechten existieren in Singapur teilweise erhebliche Mängel. (...) Die Opposition wird gegängelt, Kritik an der Regierung wird mit Diffamierungsklagen durch Regierungsmitglieder bedacht, wodurch führende Oppositionelle in den finanziellen Ruin prozessiert worden sind. Die Presse-, Rede- und Versammlungsfreiheit sind nicht im vollen Umfang gewährleistet." Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC): Länderportrait Singapur; Bonn, Januar 2007
[12] Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC): Länderportrait Singapur; Bonn, Januar 2007
[13] Singapurischer Außenminister Yeo fordert stärkeres Engagement Europas; www.oav.de
[14] Franz-Josef Jung: S'pore, Germany partners in security; The Straits Times 04.06.2007
[15] Offiziere aus Singapur zu vorbereitenden Gesprächen in Munster; www.deutschesheer.de 28.06.2007
[16] First of SAF's new tanks here; The Straits Times 07.06.2007