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The Fine Art Of Diplomacy

Former Ambassador K Kesavapany proved his mettle as an able envoy when it came to managing the fragile Singapore-Malaysia relations in the late 1990s.

7/9/2014 1:42:22 PM
written By : Nithya Subramanian Print

The first thing that struck this writer when interviewing Ambassador K Kesavapany – noted for his deft diplomatic skills - was his voice which was hardly above a whisper. 

We were among the first guests at the Singapore Cricket Club and the hospitality team was busy setting up the lounge for the lunch crowd. Amidst the din of clanking cutlery and ice cubes at the bar, I had to literally strain my ears to hear the diplomat’s inspiring story. It reminded me of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous line on diplomacy, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Kesavapany might not have literally carried a big stick, but he has had several diplomatic victories globally and in the region.

His story will inspire many as it underscores the belief that education is a great leveler. From ordinary beginnings in Malaysia to walking down the corridors of power internationally, Kesavapany has come a long way. 

While he has many feathers in his cap, among his most notable achievements were when he was Chairman of the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Singapore’s top representative in Malaysia successfully handling the fragile relationship between the two nations (1997-2002) and heading the think-tank, the Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS).

The 77-year-old is currently the Non-resident Ambassador to Jordan, President of the Singapore Indian Association, a term trustee of SINDA, Governor of Singapore International Foundation and a Distinguished (affiliate) Fellow at the Asian Research Institute at the NUS.

His latest pet project is helping set up a Maritime Heritage Centre, as he believes, “Singapore is intrinsically linked with the sea. For this, we are taking a bottoms-up approach and have avoided Government funding.”

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