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Nettling the New Guard—PNGed out of Singapore

Singapore’s story of economic success under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew has catapulted the nation to the status of a role model for development. After expulsion from Malaysia, the nascent republic entered into an era of rapid economic transformation, eventually becoming a major business hub for Asia and the world. While the city-state leverages considerable soft power in terms of its values and economic freedom, it draws some skepticism for the undisturbed dominance of its ruling party.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis walks with Chargé d’Affaires Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath during a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Singapore (2017) Jim Mattis | Wikimedia Commons
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis walks with Chargé d’Affaires Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath during a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Singapore (2017) Jim Mattis | Wikimedia Commons

The People’s Action Party (PAP) has held a firm majority in Singapore’s parliament since its inception; it has single-handedly directed the course of the nation from its independence to the current day. Singapore’s opposition parties have never succeeded in challenging the PAP, and the country has been politically stable as a result.

In 1988, Singapore’s opposition parties attempted to chip away at the PAP’s majority in the elections. Francis Seow, under the Workers’ Party, mounted a campaign for a parliament constituency and lost only by a slim margin; however, the events preceding the vote are of special interest. The Singaporean government accused U.S. Foreign Service Officer Hank Hendrickson of participating in a Marxist plot to strengthen the opposition, and charged him with arranging a meeting between Seow and U.S. officials; the government subsequently detained Seow and declared Hendrickson persona non grata (PNG), meaning that he would be expelled from the country and prohibited from re-entry.

The public narrative gives the general, surface-level picture of the situation, but there were certainly more factors at play. Daryl Arnold, the late serving U.S. Ambassador to Singapore at the time, had a more personal experience of these events. Arnold was not in Singapore during the affair; rather, he was in Washington with Lee Kuan Yew himself. Arnold’s recounted exchanges with the prime minister elucidate a different picture of the situation. In his oral history, Arnold explains that the expulsion of Hendrickson may have had more to do with a dispute over trade benefits and the younger segment of the PAP attempting to prove its mettle.

In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, Daryl Arnold describes the diplomatic narrative of Hendrickson’s expulsion.

Daryl Arnold’s interview was conducted by Hank Zivetz on November 21, 1989.

Read Daryl Arnold’s full oral history HERE.

Drafted by Wilton Cappel

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“He went beyond where he should have gone”

President Reagan with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in the Diplomatic Reception Room (1982) Ronald Reagan Presidential Library | Wikimedia Commons
President Reagan with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in the Diplomatic Reception Room (1982) Ronald Reagan Presidential Library | Wikimedia Commons

Getting “Too Friendly:”
Q: Not directly related to this case, but we will come back to it; were you there when they PNGed [declared persona non grata] one of our people?

Hank Hendrickson. And very honestly, the one problem I had with the State Department, is that they are so fearful that somebody will attack one of their own that they will never accept that maybe they did something wrong. And that was the biggest problem I had in this instance. Certainly not for what Hank was accused of, but in my estimation he certainly went beyond the areas he should have as a diplomat in the Foreign Service….

What happened was that Hank was very much a liberal in his thinking and he had great dislike for detention without trial, great dislike for limiting the freedom of the press, great dislike for the type of government that was being run in Singapore. In that empathy, he got friendly, and maybe too friendly, with people in opposition parties. He was making statements that were taken way out of context (and I don’t want to hand Hank anything he didn’t deserve—he was a fine officer) but such as, if he is sitting out and talking to somebody who is complaining about the government and saying, “I don’t like Lee Kuan Yew,” and Hank might have said, “Well, why don’t you run for office yourself and get involved and get other people involved to try to get a good opposition party going?” And one guy said, “Well, we don’t have any money,” and Hank said, “With people around here, money shouldn’t be any problem.” Hank was maybe—and here I say maybe—getting too involved with those people. One of the biggest ones, who was convicted for income tax evasion, was one of the two elected opposition parliamentarians. He got very close to him. The government was following and possibly taping this one gentleman. And Hank got caught up in this taping, and when it got back to the prime minister—we think—they played this tape back obviously and here is Hank all over the tape talking to this person and quote, “Interfering in their internal affairs,” unquote, so the government said. Hank never gave a damn about trying to overthrow the government or never got involved in all the accusations they were making against him or offering them money. Hank would never be that type of officer, he was way above that, he would have never gotten involved in that. What I am saying is that he went beyond where he should have gone and should not have taken sides between the opposition and the government.

“Well that made this young man, who was 34 years old, irate.”

GSP Negotiations:

Q: We don’t get that many persona non grata cases and I think it would be interesting for any researcher to follow a case from start to finish.

Let’s get to the other side, that’s more important. Why did they do this to him? They could have done it as gentlemen, they could have come to me and said, “Keep him quiet;” they could have done a lot of things. Instead of PNGing him they could have called me and said, “We want him out quietly,” and I would have gotten him out. That was not the problem. The problem was that I was in Washington with the prime minister [Lee Kuan Yew] at the time, the foreign minister who was very close to our country was in Italy lining up the next stop for the prime minister. The two people who were left in Singapore were the first deputy prime minister and the minister of trade and development—who happened to be the prime minister’s son [Lee Hsien Loong]. The prime minister’s son was in the original negotiations when we were trying to get intellectual property rights passed in Singapore. He was the negotiator for Singapore and he was asking for additional benefits under GSP [Generalized System of Preferences].

Q: Intellectual property rights, the right of authors…

To try to protect our movies, our tapes, they were copying our tapes, or movies, everything…

Right. In Singapore we wanted them to stop copying, and we were insistent. The negotiations were concluded with the prime minister’s son. They had GSP privileges and they wanted more tax-free benefits if they were going to pass an Intellectual Property Right Law. We negotiated and settled an agreement that gave them more benefits and they passed the law with the prime minister’s son being the key figure. Under that agreement—and I am sure there are two sides to the story—under the GSP agreement, it was stated that either in 1992 or when a country reached $8,500 in per capita income, it would no longer be entitled to GSP benefits. Well there was a third thing. The president of the United States can cancel those benefits any time he wants to, in addition to 1992 and $8,500, it was a gift we were giving to countries and if he wanted to cancel it, he could. Well in those negotiations it was never brought up that he could cancel them, it was never brought up about 1992 and $8,500, they knew what those provisions were. So we gave them the added benefits, then we got into our big tax problems back in the United States and trying to see where we could get more revenue, how we were going to get more money, and so six months later, not only did they take away the added benefits we had given them, they took them all away. They said, “You are now a developed country; we are graduating Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong.” Well that made this young man, who was 34 years old, irate. And he went after Clayton Yeutter and George Shultz. He went after us because in his estimation we negotiated these benefits to get a law passed knowing that we were going to take the benefits away. There is no question in my mind that Clayton Yuetter did not even surmise they were going to do that. If you look at the other side of the picture it seems that we just negotiated to get that law passed.

“All the television went crazy, accused Hank of being a CIA agent, accused him of every bad thing”

Escalation: Anyway he was irate. Now then he wants to get back at the United States, he is not necessarily a friend of the United States and he is not an enemy. He looks to Japan as to what they have done, he looks to the Soviet Union, they do business with everybody. When he is mad and the prime minister is overseas and the foreign minister is overseas and he is there in Singapore and he gets this tape of Hank Hendrickson and called my chargé when I was away with the Prime Minister. He said we have got your man and we are going to PNG him. The chargé said, “Please wait, have you talked to the prime minister yet, he is with the ambassador. I will get the ambassador back home. Please wait before you go to the press, before you do anything.” I got on an airplane and started back. When I got to Alaska I was called off the plane and was told it was too late. The prime minister’s son announced to the press they had PNGed him. The prime minister called me in, but now it had gone too far. All the television went crazy, accused Hank of being a CIA agent, accused him of every bad thing, even to the standpoint that Hendrickson, who had had an illegitimate child when he worked in the Philippines, (his wife was our economic officer), had adopted this illegitimate, half-Filipino girl, brought her to Singapore as their own, announced over the television, the whole story about Hank and his illegitimate child in the Philippines.

Washington had asked to see if I could settle the thing down so I went over to the prime minister and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I can’t sit here much longer and take this. You are accusing Hank, you PNGed him and we are going to PNG his equal in Washington, but this thing has got to stop as I am not going to sit here and let you attack my officers. If you say they interfered, you’ve got to look to me. They work for me and not one of them would do anything without talking to me. You’ve got to get me. If you want to get somebody you better PNG me, not just Hank.” He said, “Please, just take it easy, this is the second generation coming, the younger leaders who are going to take over Singapore. I’ve got to give them some space. Please don’t say anything for a couple of days and I will see what I can do.” Two days later there was a press conference with this young leader, the prime minister’s son, and he said every bad thing he could, even to the standpoint of, “They must be guilty, or why aren’t they saying something?” I went back to the prime minister and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I’ve got to know who is running this country; if you are running it I will listen to you, but if your son is—you asked me not to say anything—so I did not and our country did not, and I advised them of what we were doing and now your son accuses us of being guilty by not speaking out. I don’t know how we are going to win this battle.”

“The situation was strictly based on his son’s dislike for all the things we had done and his desire to get even.”

People's Action Party supporters holding banners with their party symbol (2011) Jacklee | Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
People's Action Party supporters holding banners with their party symbol (2011) Jacklee | Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

LKY Puts His Foot Down: Finally Parliament met for five days, they never did anything but American-bashing. I went over and saw the foreign minister, who was a good friend of mine and a friend of the United States (there were just the two of us, no officers were with us) and I said, “Dhana, I’ve got to know what is going on here, how this thing is going to be stopped. The United States government is not going to sit here and continue to take this kind of American-bashing. Talking about burning down the embassy, pickets in front of my embassy, accusations of the CIA and the United States government, we can’t continue this way.” He said, “OK, I will get up in front of Parliament and defend the United States,” and so he did. He was berated by some people for defending the United States. So then the prime minister called me on the last day on the phone. He said “Daryl, I want you to come to Parliament tomorrow, and sit in Parliament.” I said, “Mr. Prime Minister, that’s putting me in a pretty bad light if I can be singled out.” He said, “No, I am going to speak, I am going to get up and talk and I want you to be there to hear what I say.”

Of course I called Washington to say, “What shall I do?” And I got the answer, “You make up your own mind.” [Laughter] They asked if I thought I could trust the prime minister, and I said I did. I think we are close enough friends so that I can trust him. They suggested that I try to talk to him to—about not being on television and no questions, but just to sit there. So I told the prime minister that. He sent me over the speech he was going to make and said if there are any problems with it let him know and he will try to correct them. So I went over it and noted a few words we would like to see changed and sent it back. I went over to Parliament and he gave the speech. As a benevolent dictator, once he had said, “That’s enough,” that ended it. The situation was strictly based on his son’s dislike for all the things we had done and his desire to get even.

“There was certainly a split within the hierarchy of the People’s Action Party, no question about it”

Generational Tension:

Q: That sounds almost like the “good guy, bad guy” routine. I recall, this is digressing, where Khrushchev would create a crisis over Berlin and then months later he would settle the crisis. He was the good guy, people forgetting that he started the whole thing. Similarly here I can see the son having a personal animosity, but why did this continue in the Parliament. It seems almost like it was being orchestrated?

You’re right, it was to some extent. First of all, I can understand where a son might call a father who was in a foreign country and give only one side of the problem, I want to PNG him and the father saying agreeing to it. I am sure he checked with his father before he took action. That’s point one. But number two, they were within four to six months of an election. They practically had replaced every single old-guard leader in the parliament except for the prime minister and he will be stepping down in October, 1990. I think, and this is all conjecture, that the prime minister did not want to step on the second generation of leaders. The prime minister’s son felt that they were a third world non-aligned country, and were not going to be dictated to by the United States government. I am not sure that the prime minister still had the power in his hand to stop it that he had had a little earlier. But that is a conjecture. There was certainly a split within the hierarchy of the People’s Action Party, no question about it, between the first and second generation leaders.


University of Southern California 1942–1944
Midshipman School 1945
Appointed in 1987
Singapore—Ambassador 1987–1989