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[Tribute] The significant contribution S R Nathan made to deepen bilateral ties between Finland and Singapore. R.I.P, Sir. =(

(Photo Copyright: Office of the President of the Republic of Finland)

I’m saddened.

Yesterday I wrote this piece on why our prime minister Lee Hsien Loong is so respected all over the world, after having a brief shock moment when PM Lee felt ill while making the national day rally 2016.  I was watching the speech from Helsinki and briefly panicked together with my whatsapp group mates.

And today, I read with deep sadness how our respected S R Nathan has passed on. 😦 Indeed, this is a reminder that our visionary leaders are mere mortals, and they will not live forever. Former president S R Nathan would be fondly remembered by all Singaporeans as the leader who started the charity initiative of the President’s challenge in 2000, as he spent a large part of his career as an ambassador and a philanthropist. Singaporeans from all walks of life remembered him as a humble gentleman, in spite of his various accomplishments.

He always had a heart for the people.


So I want to write a brief post in S R Nathan’s honour, to remember him. Because there are so many tributes to him pouring in, I want to focus this tribute on S R Nathan’s great contribution to the Finland-Singapore bilateral ties, something that is not often talked about in the Singaporean/ Finnish mass media.

This is because Finland as a country is not very well known in Singapore, and even today, here is a tendency to think that Singapore is part of China in Finland.

In 2010, S R Nathan was invited to Finland by Tarja Halonen, the president of Finland then. Here is how our Senior Minister of State, Josephine Teo, fondly remembers S R Nathan:

Related to S R Nathan’s visit to Finland, MP Josephine Teo said this:

“I was also privileged to witness first-hand what an outstanding diplomat he was. During the State Visit to Finland, he had clearly anticipated the interests of our hosts. Drawing on his rich experiences in the Foreign Affairs ministry, Mr. Nathan impressed with his analyses and insights.”

How was S R Nathan an “outstanding diplomat”? The following dialogue during the meeting with the president of Finland then–Tarja Halonen– gives us a clue:

“According to President Nathan the relations between the countries are excellent. There are over 70 companies operating in Singapore that are either Finnish or of Finnish origin. For most of them, Singapore is the centre of operations in Southeast and East Asia. Singapore is also Finland’s main trading partner of the ASEAN countries.

“We have common interests in our social policies and in [primary] education, and we seek collaboration with the Finnish public and private institutions,” said President Nathan and encouraged Finnish businesses to exploit the development of Southeast Asia. “I hope you come to Singapore and convince us.

And the former president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, reciprocated with this:

“We are both interested in high tech and in clean tech, and we are working for sustainable development. We have all the reasons, also in the future, to work closely with each other”.

Daniele Varé once said that “diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way”. Notice how S R Nathan phrases his greatest appreciation for his Finnish hosts: “I hope you come to Singapore and convince us.

To me, this sentence basically reveals his heart for Finland and his sincere wishes for true and deepest bilateral cooperation. Even though both countries have nothing much in common in 2010. Later in the video you can even see S R Nathan expressing his surprise that “I didn’t know there are Singaporeans in Helsinki”.


(Photo Copyright: Office of the President of the Republic of Finland)

S R Nathan could have just kept the exchange impersonal and business-like, simply by highlighting interests, or possibly even the lack thereof. There is no need to extend an invitation to the top representative of Finland to say “I hope you come to Singapore and convince us”. This basically helped made the host feel important.

The use of the word “convince” is also very…well, interesting, demonstrating that S R Nathan had the foresight to see how deep the bilateral relations could be in future. Notice how he did not focus on the present then, because Finland was marred in recession back in 2010.

This is true tact!

Solely based on this short exchange, I was deeply moved by S R Nathan’s eloquence and art of diplomacy. And guess what, I am sure MP Josephine Teo remembered this about S R Nathan when she met the current Finnish ambassador in Singapore Paula Parviainen in April this year.

I’m sure S R Nathan must have been a great and wise diplomat and I am so proud that he represented Singapore so well.

Here’s another video on how President Nathan met the Singaporeans in Finland. He’s really so kind and wise!

My fellow Singaporeans, let’s not take our leaders for granted.

Some of us (including myself) might really oppose some of Singapore’s policies, but I feel that we should never doubt the hearts of our leaders, especially those whom we have personally met.

If you would like to send condolences to S R Nathan’s family and pay tribute to S R Nathan on facebook, here is the official page.

R.I.P Sir. =(

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