Chan Heng Chee



Chan Heng Chee (b. 19 April 1942, Singapore–)1 is a distinguished academic who has served in a number of key diplomatic positions for Singapore, including ambassador to the United States from 1996 to 2012. In addition, she has held academic appointments in local and overseas universities, think-tanks and research institutes. She is also widely published on sociopolitical issues in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Chan has received many awards and accolades in recognition of her academic achievements and contributions to Singapore.2

Early life and education
Chan attended the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) Katong Convent as part of her secondary education.3 She entered the University of Malaya (which branched out in 1962 to become the University of Singapore) in May 1961 with mixed feelings of happiness and sacrifice as her family had to lead a frugal lifestyle in order to finance her university education.4 She wrote articles for Her World magazine and The Straits Times newspaper to help pay her college fees.5 She became the first woman to graduate with a first-class honours degree in political science in 1964 at the University of Singapore and went on to obtain a master’s degree from Cornell University in the United States in 1967, followed by a doctorate from the University of Singapore in 1974. She then worked as a lecturer at the University of Singapore and was eventually appointed the first female head of the Department of Political Science (1985–87).6


Academic career
Political stance and views
Chan was widely regarded as a critic of the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the early 1970s. Her 1971 book, Singapore: The Politics of Survival, 1965–1967, was seen by some as an attempt to discredit Lee Kuan Yew. Her second book, The Dynamics of One Party Dominance: The PAP at the Grassroots (1976), attacked the PAP government’s consolidation of power at the expense of weakening democracy in Singapore. From the 1980s, however, she was increasingly viewed as having been co-opted into the establishment, especially due to her holding of leadership positions in local government-affiliated think-tanks. In response to such perceptions, Chan asserted that she was a nationalist and an independent thinker who would not hesitate to criticise policies that she considered to be flawed.7 For instance, she disapproved of the Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) scheme and turned down the offer to be an NMP.8

In a seminar paper published in 1975, “Politics in an Administration State: Where has the Politics Gone?”, Chan observed that Singapore was turning into “an administrative state” whereby its citizenry was increasingly depoliticised as power became concentrated in the hands of the PAP. Speaking to The Straits Times in March 2012, Chan stated that it was time for her essay to be revised in view of recent trends that indicated the re-politicisation of Singapore’s citizenry, such as the heightened activity on social media platforms and the increased number of contested constituencies in the 2011 general election.9


Leadership roles in local think-tank bodies
Chan was the founding director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), which was set up in 1988. She was responsible for kick-starting various schemes and activities that enabled IPS to meet its objectives of conducting public seminars and exchanges on topical issues, as well as undertaking research that could influence the Singapore government’s policy formulation.10


Besides IPS, Chan also held positions at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS; now known as the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute). In 1991, she was a visiting professorial fellow at ISEAS before being appointed as head of the institute in 1993. As head of ISEAS, Chan elevated the institute’s reputation as a leading research centre in Southeast Asia and improved public access to its research.11 She left her post at ISEAS in 1996 after being appointed as Singapore’s ambassador to the United States.12

Diplomatic career
Before Chan became Singapore’s ambassador to the United States, she was appointed Singapore’s permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) in 1989, making her Singapore’s first full-fledged woman ambassador.13 During her stint at the UN, she was noted for leading an Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) resolution in 1989 that called for international supervision of Vietnamese troop withdrawal from Cambodia. Besides her role in the UN, Chan was also concurrently serving as Singapore's high commissioner to Canada and ambassador to Mexico. She stepped down from these positions in February 1991.14


In July 1996, Chan became Singapore’s ambassador to the United States, a post she held until 14 July 2012.15 She started her tenure at a time when US–Singapore relations were strained due to the caning of American teenager Michael Fay in 1994 for his acts of vandalism committed in Singapore. The case had a negative impact on Singapore’s relations with the United States as it strengthened American perceptions of Singapore as an authoritarian state. As ambassador, Chan worked to improve Singapore’s standing in American eyes. She also cemented bilateral relations in the areas of trade, defence, security, education, as well as science and technology.16 Moreover, Chan utilised cultural diplomacy to enhance American understanding of Singapore and its culture. These initiatives included organising concerts performed by Singaporean musicians, showcasing local art through exhibitions, giving talks to university students and serving Singaporean cuisine to her guests.17 During her tenure, Singapore’s relations with the United States improved significantly. For instance, a free-trade agreement was signed between both countries in 2003 and there were many diplomatic exchanges between the two countries.18

Singapore International Foundation
Chan was the founding executive director of the Singapore International Foundation (SIF), a non-profit organisation established in 1991 to entrench Singapore’s integration in the global network.19 Under the foundation, Chan came up with programmes to maintain Singapore’s links with citizens who were based overseas. Some of the foundation’s programmes were directed towards enhancing Singapore’s image abroad and attracting foreign talent to Singapore.20 Chan left the foundation in 1996 after she was appointed ambassador to the United States.21


Post-diplomatic career
After Chan stepped down as ambassador to the United States in 2012, she became the chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.22 However, she remained as an ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.23 From 2012 to 2015, she was also the Singapore’s representative for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights24 and a member of Presidential Council for Minority Rights.25 In January 2017, she led the Singapore team of delegates to the Universal Periodic Review conducted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.26


Chan was also appointed to the boards of several academic institutions and research think-tanks such as the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the NUS board of trustees, and was a founding director on the board of the S. Rajaratnam Endowment CLG Limited.27

She was appointed chairman of the National Arts Council in 2013, and has been a member on the board of the China Cultural Centre since 2015.28 In February 2016, Chan was among nine members appointed by the Constitutional Commission to review the system of elected presidency in Singapore, ahead of the presidential elections in 2017.29

Family
Chan was formerly married to architect Tay Kheng Soon. She has two brothers: High Commissioner to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Chan Heng Wing, and CEO of Singapore Press Holdings Limited, Alan Chan Heng Loon. She has a sister, who is a teacher.30


Awards and accolades
1978: National Book Award (The Dynamics of One Party Dominance: The PAP at the Grassroots).31
1986: Second National Book Award (A Sensation of Independence: A Political Biography of David Marshall).32
1991: Inaugural Singapore's Woman of the Year award.33

1994: Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters, University of Newcastle, Australia
1998: Inaugural International Woman of the Year Award, Organisation of Chinese American Women;34 Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Buckingham, United Kingdom35
1999: Public Administration Medal (Gold).36
2005: Meritorious Service Medal37
2011: Distinguished Service Order38
2011: Top 100 most powerful women in US capital, The Washingtonian39
2012: US Navy Distinguished Public Service Medal40
2012: Outstanding Diplomatic Achievement Award, Foreign Policy41
2012: Outstanding Diplomatic Achievement Award, Asia Society
2015: Honorary Doctor of Laws, Warwick University (United Kingdom)42


Membership in foreign, regional and global think-tanks or dialogue groups
1991–1996: Member, International Council of the Asia Society, New York
Jul 1993–1996: Council member, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London
1993–1996: Committee member, Singapore National Committee for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific
1995–1996: Member, International Advisory Board, Council on Foreign Relations, New York43

2012: Trustee, Asia Society, New York44
Apr 2015–present: Member, Asia Society Policy Institute, Asia Society45



Author

Terence Foo



References
1. Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times. p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, A. (2012, September 16). ‘CHIJ girls, you can do great things’. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Chan, D. (1961, May 14). Tomorrow means so much to me. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s Ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2; Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22; Prof Chan Heng Chee to head Iseas. (1993, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Keeper of the think tank. (1988, February 14). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Phua, M. P. (2012, March 31). S’pore ‘now needs politicians’. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2; Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22; Henson, B. (1988, October 3). Singapore’s first think tank gears up for more activity. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2; Koh, B. S. (1993, July 24). Woman power in Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 19; Prof Chan Heng Chee to head Iseas. (1993, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2; Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22; Prof Chan Heng Chee to head Iseas. (1993, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 25; Singapore's first woman envoy to take up UN post on Feb 14. (1989, January 8). The Straits Times, p. 11; S’pore’s UN envoy to return home tomorrow. (1991, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Low, E. (2006, May 20). Singapore’s ‘dynamo’ in Washington. The Straits Times, p. 13; Quek, T. (2012, July 1). When US noticed the ‘little country that could’. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Koh, T., Li, L. C., & Koh, J. (Eds). (2015). 50 years of Singapore and the United Nations. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 341.2356957 FIF)
16. Low, E. (2006, May 20). Singapore’s ‘dynamo' in Washington. The Straits Times, p. 13; Quek, T. (2012, July 1). When US noticed the ‘little country that could’. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Lee, S. H. (1999, October 16). She breaks barriers over spicy dishes. The Straits Times, p. 2; Teo, H. N. (2005, July 11). Envoy to US on the art of selling S’pore. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Low, E. (2006, May 20). Singapore’s ‘dynamo’ in Washington. The Straits Times, p. 13; Lee, S. H. (2008, August 8). A rose in Washington. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2; Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22; Koh, B. S. (1993, July 24). Woman power in Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Fernandez, W. (1991, August 2). Singapore International Foundation launched, with $25m target. The Straits Times, p. 1; Prof Chan Heng Chee to head Iseas. (1993, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Cheong, S-W. (2012, October 30). Ex-envoy's focus now on urban issues. The Straits Times, p. 5; Quek, T. (2012, July 1). When US noticed the ‘little country that could’. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T., Li, L. C., & Koh, J. (Eds). (2015). 50 years of Singapore and the United Nations. Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RSING 341.2356957 FIF)
23. Phua, M. P. (2012, March 31). S’pore ‘now needs politicians’. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T., Li, L. C., & Koh, J. (Eds). (2015). 50 years of Singapore and the United Nations. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 341.2356957 FIF)
24. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2012, October 31). Appointment of Singapore’s representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights [Press release]. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/overseasmission/asean/press_statements_speeches/2012/201210/press_20121031.html; Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2015, December 4). Appointment of Singapore’s Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights [Press release]. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/overseasmission/asean/press_statements_speeches/2015/201512/Press_2015_12.html
25. President’s Office. (2012, July 16). Appointments to presidential council for minority rights [Press release]. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/news/press-releases/2012/appointments-presidential-council-minority-rights
26. Lee, U.-W. (2015, December 12). Singapore’s human rights record up for review at UN in January, The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
27. Koh, T., & Li, L. C., & Koh, J. (Eds). (2015). 50 years of Singapore and the United Nations. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 341.2356957 FIF); S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. (2013). S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies: A review of 2013, p. 6. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies website: https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Review-2013-book-lr.pdf; S Rajaratnam Endowment. (2013, December 5). Board of directors. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from S Rajaratnam Endowment website: http://www.srajaratnamendowment.org.sg/content.aspx?sid=19; Phua, M. P. (2012, March 31). S’pore ‘now needs politicians’. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Kok, M. (2013, August 30). National Arts Council appoints S’porean diplomat Chan Heng Chee as new chairman. AsiaOne. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from AsiaOne website: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/national-arts-council-appoints-sporean-diplomat-chan-heng-chee-new-chairman; Leong, W. K. (2015, November 22). Art boost for Sino-S’pore cultural exchange. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
29. Sim, W. (2016, February 11). Nine-member panel to review elected presidency. The Straits Times. Retreived from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

30. Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2; Fernandez, W. (1991, August 11). A woman of substance. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Her World. (2016). Woman of the Year timeline. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Her World website: http://womanoftheyear.herworldplus.com/1991-chan-heng-chee
34. Award for Chan. (1998, May 2). The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Yale-NUS College. (n.d.). Ambassador Chan Heng Chee. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Yale-NUS College website: https://www.yale-nus.edu.sg/about/the-governing-board/ambassador-chan-heng-chee/
36. 1999 National Day Awards. (1999, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Teo, A. (2005, August 9). Corporate captains on National Day honours roll. The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Top awards for banker and diplomat. (2011, November 21). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Singapore ambassador on top 100 power women list in US capital. (2011, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Quek, T. (2012, July 1). When US noticed the ‘little country that could’. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Quek, T. (2012, July 1). When US noticed the ‘little country that could’. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. University of Warwick. (2015, July 22). Honorary doctor tells top universities to shout about their achievements [Press release]. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from University of Warwick website: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/honorary_doctor_tells_top_universities_to_shout_about_their_achievements1/
43. AllGov. (2011, August 20) Ambassador from Singapore: Who is Chan Heng Chee? Retrieved from AllGov website: http://www.allgov.com/news/appointments-and-resignations/ambassador-from-singapore-who-is-chan-heng-chee?news=843144; Chan Heng Chee named S’pore’s ambassador to US. (1996, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Asia Society. (2016). Co-chairs and trustees. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Asia Society website: http://asiasociety.org/about/co-chairs-and-trustees
45. Asia Society Policy Institute. (2016). Network of experts. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Asia Society Policy Institute website: http://asiasociety.org/policy-institute/network-experts



Further resources
Chan, H. C. (1971). Singapore: The politics of survival, 1965–1967. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

(Call no.: RCLOS 320.95957 CHA)

Chan, H. C. (1975). Politics in an administration state: Where has the politics gone? Singapore: Department of Political Science, University of Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING q320.95957 CHA)

Chan, H. C. (1976). The dynamics of one party dominance: The PAP at the grass-roots. Singapore: Singapore University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 329.95957 CHA)


Koh, J. (2013, May 10). Pioneering woman – Chan Heng Chee. China Daily Asia. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from China Daily Asia website: http://www.chinadailyasia.com/leader/2013-05/10/content_15074050.html

Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2012, March 30). Speech by Ambassador Chan Heng Chee as the Guest-of-Honour at the NUS Department of Political Science 50th Dinner Anniversary, Orchid Country Club, Friday, 30 March 2012: The uses and limits of Political Science. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/overseasmission/washington/newsroom/press_statements/2012/201203/press_20120330.html

Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2012, June 19). Speech by Ambassador Chan Heng Chee at the 2012 Asia Society Washington Awards Dinner, Wednesday 19 June 2012. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/overseasmission/washington/newsroom/press_statements/2012/201206/speech_by_ambassadorchanhengcheeatthe2012asiasocietywashingtonaw.html



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further resources on the topic.

 

Subject
Personalities
Chan, Heng Chee
Diplomatic and consular service--Singapore--Biography
Ambassadors
Personalities>>Biographies