Professor Tommy Koh's Speech at Fulbright Dinner, 16 April 2015

April 16, 2015



1.            Dr Jeremy Lim, the US Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Richard Stengel, the US Ambassador to Singapore, Kirk Wagar, fellow Fulbrights, Ladies and Gentlemen.


2.            I would like to begin by thanking the United States for sending a distinguished delegation, consisting of former President, Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, former National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon and former Ambassador to Singapore, Steve Green, to attend the State Funeral of our founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew.


3.            In accordance with my wife’s advice, I will make three points in my response to Richard and Kirk.



In Praise of the Fulbright Program


4.            First, I wish to praise the Fulbright Program.  In 1963, I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and a Harvard Law School Fellowship.  I was the first Singaporean to study at Harvard Law School.  Last year, on the happy occasion of the 50th anniversary of my graduation, Harvard awarded me the Great Negotiator Award.  In 1976, on the occasion of America’s bi-centennial, the Fulbright Program put the names of all the Fulbright scholars into a jackpot.   In a lottery, 20 names were picked.  I was one of the lucky winners.  I was at that time serving as Singapore’s Ambassador to the United Nations.  I was sent on an attachment with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego.  The 20 lucky winners were then brought to Washington, DC, were we met the great man, Senator Fulbright, and brainstormed about the future directions of the Fulbright Program.  I told Senator Fulbright that the program had two important benefits for the world.  It has enabled thousands of young men and women to gain knowledge from studying at America’s leading universities.  Equally importantly, it has enabled the foreign scholars in America, and American scholars in foreign countries, to gain a better understanding of one another’s countries.  There is an African saying that knowledge leads to understanding and understanding to respect.  We desperately need greater understanding and mutual respect between countries and peoples in this troubled world.


5.            Second, I wish to praise America.  Mr Lee Kuan Yew was an admirer of the United States which he regarded as a benign superpower.  He also regarded the US as a Pacific power.  He was an eloquent advocate of the view that as the centre of gravity of the world has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the United States should give a higher priority in its foreign policy to the Asia Pacific.  It is also in Asia’s interests that the United States should continue to play a leading role in the affairs of the region.  The US has contributed positively to the peace, prosperity and security of the region.  We therefore support President Obama’s pivot to Asia or rebalancing with Asia.


6.            Third, as a former Ambassador to the US, I am happy to report that the US-Singapore relationship is in very good shape.  It is substantive, comprehensive and mutually beneficial.  I was Singapore’s chief negotiator in the negotiations to conclude the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.  Ten years have passed since the agreement came into force.  Trade between our countries is booming.  The investment story is truly remarkable.  By the end of 2013, US investment in Singapore reached US$154 billion.  The US has more investments in Singapore than in any other country in Asia.  It is a sign of US confidence in Singapore and recognition of our strong rule of law.



My Three Wishes


7.            On that happy note, I shall conclude my remarks with 3 wishes.  First, I wish that the US will recover fully from the recession of 2008 and be once again, a strong, prosperous and confident country.  Second, I wish that the relations between the US and Asia will remain close, cooperative and collegial.  Third, I wish that the excellent relations between the US and Singapore will continue to expand and deepen.


8.            Thank you very much.



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The Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans) is a large evergreen tree in the family Gentianaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its trunk is dark brown, with deeply fissured bark, looking somewhat like a bittergourd. It grows in an irregular shape from 10 to 25m high. Its leaves are light green and oval in shape. Its yellowish flowers have a distinct fragrance and the fruits of the tree are bitter tasting red berries, which are eaten by birds and fruit bats.