Singapore maintains diplomatic relations with 175 countries although it does not maintain a high commission or embassy in many of those countries. It is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Due to obvious geographical reasons, relations with Malaysia and Indonesia are most important. Historical baggage, including the traumatic separation from Malaysia, and Konfrontasi with Indonesia, have caused a siege mentality of sorts. Singapore enjoys good relations with the United Kingdom which shares ties in the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) along with Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. Good relations are also maintained with the United States; the US is perceived as a stabilizing force in the region to counterbalance the regional powers.
Singapore supports the concept of Southeast Asian regionalism and plays an active role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Singapore is a founding member. Singapore is also a member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum which has its Secretariat in Singapore.
As part of its role in the United Nations, Singapore held a rotational seat on the UN Security Council from 2001-2002. It participated in UN peacekeeping/observer missions in Kuwait, Angola, Namibia, Cambodia, and East Timor.
Singapore's first foreign minister was S. Rajaratnam, and her foreign policy still bears his imprimatur. Rajaratnam originally framed Singapore’s foreign policy, taking into account "the jungle of international politics", and was wary of foreign policy "on the basis of permanent enemies." In 1966, S. Rajaratnam saw Singapore’s challenge as ensuring her sustained survival, peace, and prosperity in a region suffering from mutual jealousies, internal violence, economic disintegration and great power conflicts.
In accordance with this worldview, Singapore’s foreign policy is aimed at maintaining friendly relations with all countries, especially Malaysia, Indonesia, and ASEAN, and ensuring that her actions do not exacerbate her neighbors’ insecurities. In 1972, Rajaratnam envisioned the world being Singapore’s hinterland – integration into the world economy would ameliorate Singapore’s inherent lack of natural resources.
Thus, Rajaratnam believed that maintaining a balance of power, rather than becoming a de-facto vassal of some larger power, would provide Singapore with freedom to pursue an independent foreign policy. The interest in the Great Powers in Singapore would also deter the interference of regional powers.
On September 19, 2005, Vice Premier Wu Yi of the People's Republic of China arrived in Singapore for a three-day visit. She led a delegation of ministers and senior officials at the 2nd Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation between the PRC and Singapore.
Many other examples of ties between Singapore and China is Singapore helping china to build up its industries and its industrial parks such as those in Sichuan Province, China.
A severe diplomatic row broke out between the PRC and Singapore when Lee Hsien Loong visited Taiwan a month before being sworn-in as the Prime Minister of Singapore on 12 August 2004. Factions in the Taiwanese media took the opportunity to highlight and publicise his visit, although the Singapore government emphasised that it was a private visit by Lee to familiarise himself with the latest developments there.
When Singapore started building its military in the 1970s, the Republic of China on Taiwan was one of the few places to offer assistance by providing training areas to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for conducting military exercises. This assistance is valuable as Singapore is a land-scarce country comprises mainly of built-up areas. This arrangement continues today and is an important aspect of Singapore-ROC relation, although the two places do not conduct joint military exercise nor is there any official military alliance. Singapore pays the ROC for the lease of the training areas and the SAF men do not train together with Taiwanese soldiers.
On 22 March 2005, however, the Singaporean defence ministry had to quickly correct an erroneous report in the Liberty Times on a joint military exercise between the Singapore and Taiwan, This report caused the PRC government to demand an explanation. Singapore denied the report, while the ROC government refused to comment.
There have been media reports in recent years of the possibility of moving some or all of these military facilities to Hainan following an offer by the PRC, although this may not be taken up due to sensitivities in diplomatic relations between Singapore and her largely Islamic neighbours.
Singapore enjoys strong economic and military relations with India. Singapore's huge Indian population has played a decisive role in this strategic partnership. Singapore has carried out several military exercises with India and has been vocal supporter of greater Indian participation in ASEAN and anti-piracy patrolling Strait of Malacca. Singapore is also one of India's largest trading partners in South East Asia.
On 3 October 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bali, just two days after the Bali bombings. They agreed to strengthen the fight against terrorism and also discussed cooperation in the fields of economy, trade and investment.
Relations with Indonesia are generally good, though current outstanding issues include the bans on the export of sand, and granite; both of which, Singapore's construction industry is reliant on. Indonesia also initiated the sand ban after the results of tenders for Singapore's Integrated Resorts were announced. Critics are sceptical that Indonesia's sand ban had been imposed to protect the environment as per the official reason given, considering that Indonesia has done nothing about the yearly haze problem in the region.
Singapore and Israel have enjoyed very close relations right from the outset. This is possibly due to the fact that they both view themselves as tiny regional economic powerhouses surrounded by much larger Islamic countries that have, at best, an uneasy relationship with that country. During Singapore's rocky and sudden independence, Singapore appealed to the international community for help. Only Israel responded immediately, sending over a mission to jumpstart their economy and military, perhaps partially the reason for selective service for its young adults.
Currently, both countries have many economic ties and a lot of mutual trade of hi-tech and R&D, especially in the bio-tech field and defense field.
Israel's airline El Al cannot fly to Singapore as Singapore is wedged between Indonesia and Malaysia, whom both are hostile to Israel, and do not allow Israeli aircraft into their airspace.
The relations between Singapore and Israel are rooted upon shared values and perceptions. The right of existence of small countries has always been mutually perceived as of vital importance, thus contributing to the formalization of the bilateral ties. And indeed, Israel has held a representation in Singapore since its earliest days, taking formal shape in 1968.
Other shared understandings include the comprehension of the necessity to develop wide international trade relations, in order to overcome geographical limitations. This shared view led to a significant growth in mutual cooperation. Singapore is a hub for Israeli business and regional trade, while a growing number of members of both business communities seek opportunities for joint operations in biotechnology, IT and software industries, where both countries relative advantages are most valuable.
Several bilateral agreements provide a solid framework for substantiating cooperation in areas such as healthcare, investments and technological research & development, highlighting the Governments’ efforts to further deepen ties to the benefit of both peoples. Most recently, in 1997, a bi-national fund for financing new technological products was set up - a significant step aimed at promoting the cooperation to new levels of achievement.
Cultural exchange has been accentuated by encouraging the participation of Israeli artists in international events in Singapore, cultivating a broad interest in Israeli performing arts in areas such as dance and music. The yearly Film Festival has grown to become a cornerstone in the structured framework of activities.
Israel cherishes the long, standing friendship with Singapore as a symbol for global solidarity and support for human prosperity and world peace.
Both countries exchanged many high-level visits in 2004 and 2005, including the visit to Singapore in 12 January 2004 by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who had just taken over from Mahathir bin Mohamad in October 2003.
Singapore and the United States share a long-standing and strong relationship, particularly in defence, economic, health and education. The government of Singapore believes that regional security, and by extension, Singapore's security will be affected if the United States loses its resolve in Iraq.
The Regional Emerging Diseases Intervention Centre (REDI), opened on 24 May 2004, is a joint US-Singapore collaboration to promote cooperation in tackling emerging infectious diseases. The centre facilitates the exchange of information and expertise on surveillance; prevention and control of, and research on, communicable and non-communicable diseases; and on bioterrorism concerns.
In July 2005, during his official visit to the United States, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President George W. Bush signed a Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) to strengthen defence and security cooperation. The Prime Minister again visited in the United States in May 2007.
In September 2005, Singapore responded to the relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in U.S.. Four Singaporean CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 45 RSAF personnel from a training detachment based in Grand Prairie, Texas were sent to help in relief operations. They are operating out of Fort Polk in cooperation with the Texas Army National Guard.
Singapore and Australia hold a biennial Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Conference (SAJMC) when ministers from both countries meet to discuss trade, defence and security. Both countries also collaborate in development assistance projects under the Singapore-Australia Trilateral Cooperation Program (SATCP) since 1996.
Singapore hosted the Regional Special Forces Counter-Terrorism Conference from 21 - 25 November 2005.
On 6 May 2004, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. titled "Beyond Madrid: Winning Against Terrorism", expressing Singapore's view on the global challenge against terrorism.