Chan Heng Chee

Chan Heng Chee (born 19 April 1942), DUBC, is a Singaporean academic and diplomat. She is currently the Ambassador-at-Large with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, chairman of the National Arts Council and a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. She was Singapore's Ambassador to the United States from July 1996 to July 2012.

Chan Heng Chee

Chan in 2002
Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Singapore)
Assumed office
Prime MinisterLee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, Lee Hsien Loong
Ambassador of Singapore to the United States
In office
July 1996  July 2012
Personal details
Born (1942-04-19) 19 April 1942
Spouse(s)Tay Kheng Soon
Alma materUniversity of Singapore
Cornell University
OccupationAcademic, diplomat
Chan Heng Chee
Traditional Chinese陳慶珠
Simplified Chinese陈庆珠

Academic career

Chan graduated with a first-class honours degree in political science from the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore) in 1964, and went on to study for a M.A. degree from Cornell University in 1967. She received a PhD from the University of Singapore in 1974. Her thesis has the title: The Dynamics of One-party Dominance: A Study of Five Singapore Constituencies.[1]

Chan was previously the Executive Director of the Singapore International Foundation and served as Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. She was also the founding Director of the Institute of Policy Studies.[2]

Chan was a member of the International Advisory Board of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, a council member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, and a council member of the International Council of the Asia Society in New York. When Ambassador Chan left Washington at the end of her appointment as Ambassador to the US, she received the Inaugural Asia Society Outstanding Diplomatic Achievement Award, the Inaugural Foreign Policy Outstanding Diplomatic Achievement Award 2012 and the United States Navy Distinguished Public Service Award.

Chan has received a number of awards, including honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from the University of Newcastle in 1994 and the University of Buckingham in 1998. She is also a political science professor on secondment at the National University of Singapore. She was also twice awarded the National Book Awards in 1986 for “A Sensation of Independence: A Political Biography of David Marshall” and in 1978 for “The Dynamics of One Party Dominance: The PAP at the Grassroots”.[3]

She is also the current chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.[4]

Diplomatic career

Chan served as Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1989 to 1991. During this time, she was concurrently accredited as the High Commissioner to Canada and Ambassador to Mexico. She became the Ambassador to the United States in 1996. At the time, she was the first woman ambassador from an East Asian country to be assigned to the United States. Chan expressed surprise at her appointment, noting "I'm anti-establishment and was a bit of a dissident before I was appointed ambassador. It came as something of a shock to me when I was offered the ambassadorship because I was highly critical of government in a society that is not used to being critiqued."[5]

Like Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Ho Kwon Ping and other former political critics, Chan is part of a small group of well-educated dissidents who have subsequently been appointed into high-profile positions in the People's Action Party (PAP)-dominated Singapore government, or who have otherwise become part of the establishment.

In 1998, Chan received the Inaugural International Woman of the Year Award from the Organization of Chinese American Women (OCAW), and Singapore's first "Woman of the Year" award in 1991. Chan received Singapore's Public Administration Medal (Gold) in 1999, Meritorious Service Medal in 2005 and the Distinguished Service Order, the highest National Day Award, in August 2011.

Chan left her post as Singapore's Ambassador to the US on 23 July 2012, and was replaced by Ashok Kumar Mirpuri.[6] During her tenure, bilateral relations between Singapore and the US improved tremendously. In May 2003, Singapore and US signed the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), the first FTA that the US entered into with a Southeast Asian country. Both countries also enhanced their ties in areas of defence and security.[7]

During October 2012, in relation to a discussion on the choice Asian nations may have in terms of supporting China or the US, Chan was quoted as saying, "The United States should not ask Asian countries to choose. You may not like the results if you ask countries to choose."[8]

Chan was appointed to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights in 2012[9] and was re-appointed in 2015.[10]

She was also appointed as the chairman of the National Arts Council in 2013.[11]

From November 2012 to October 2015, the Singaporean government appointed her for a three-year term service as Singapore’s Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), succeeding Singapore’s first AICHR Representative, Mr Richard R. Magnus.[3]


In October 2015, Chan's call to retain the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others framework as it "sets minority communities here at ease" sparked a debate, with a Malay Singaporean finding her "very wrong. She is from [the] majority and she is elite. She doesn't represent us".[12][13] An online poll on found a majority of 52.8% of the respondents in favour of abandoning such racial categorisation.[14]

In November 2015, Chan spoke at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) to defend the National Arts Council (NAC)'s censorship policies, prompting calls to boycott the NAC. Chan, NAC's chairman, did not warn the organisers, the strictly no-censorship SGIFF, of her talk's contents. Notably, NAC does not even oversee or supervise Singapore's film industry.[15]

In February 2016, Chan, who is on the Yale-NUS College governing board, delivered a speech defending Singapore's decision to uphold Section 377A at the 24th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland. Her speech prompted students' calls for Chan's removal from the school's governing board, while others said a removal would be unfair because Chan was speaking as a Singaporean ambassador, not as a governor of the college.[16] The school rejected calls to remove her.[17]

Personal life

Chan's father was a businessman. She has two brothers and a sister.[18] Her brother Alan Chan was a top civil servant and the current CEO of Singapore Press Holdings while the other brother Chan Heng Wing is also a diplomat and currently serves as Singapore's Ambassador to the Republic of Austria.[19] She was formerly married to architect Tay Kheng Soon.[20]


  1. "NUS Libraries Sierra Live Server ( / All Locations".
  2. "What's Next For Singapore? Chan Heng Chee Has The Answers".
  3. "MFA Press Statement: Appointment of Singapore's Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights".
  4. "CHAN Heng Chee - Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities".
  5. Magazine, Washington Life. "Washington Life Magazine: December 2004: verbatim". Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  6. "MFA Press Statement: Appointments of Singapore's High Commissioner to New Zealand and Singapore's Ambassador to the United States of America (21 June 2012)". Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  7. Yeo, E. (2003, May 5). A US-S’pore first. Today, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
  8. "Asia will resist U.S. efforts to contain China, says Singapore diplomat". The Washington Times. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  9. "New members appointed to Presidential Council for Minority Rights". Channel NewsAsia. 16 July 2012. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  10. "Venerable Sik Kwang Sheng appointed to Presidential Council for Minority Rights". Channel NewsAsia. 16 July 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  11. Kok, Melissa (30 August 2013). "National Arts Council appoints S'porean diplomat Chan Heng Chee as new chairman". The Straits Times. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  12. "Chan Heng Chee Is Wrong – CMIO Categorisation Is Only PAP's Tool To Subjugate And Discriminate Against The Minorities". Rilek1Corner. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  13. Tham, Yuen-C (5 October 2015). "Race categorisation puts minority communities at ease: Chan Heng Chee". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  14. "Should Singapore retain or stop using the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others framework?". DialecticSG. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  15. Gerard, Clarabelle. "Another fracas over Arts Funding: But where are the alternatives?". The Middle Ground. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  16. Xu, Qi (5 February 2016). "Yale-NUS admin speech sparks debate". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  17. Heng, Janice (7 February 2016). "Yale-NUS rejects call on envoy to quit post". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  18. "1991 PROFESSOR CHAN HENG CHEE HER WORLD WOMAN OF THE YEAR". Her World Plus. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  19. "Singapore appoints new representatives to Austria, Bangladesh". Channel NewsAsia. 27 April 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  20. "Chan Heng Chee". Singapore Infopedia.
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