The United States and China should not let competition between them break Asean, public policy specialist Kishore Mahbubani said yesterday.
With China's economy expected to surpass the United States as the world's largest, it was inevitable there would be competition between them, said Professor Mahbubani, a former Singaporean diplomat who is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
"The one place in the world that will feel the brunt of this competition will be Asean," he said.
Prof Mahbubani was one of four speakers at the half-day public session of the 11th China-Singapore Forum discussing the past, present and future of Asean-China relations.
He described Asean as a Ming-dynasty vase, which could be broken if the US and China pull it apart.
"Asean is one of the most underrated organisations in the whole world," he told an audience of about 100 academics, diplomats and researchers at the Shangri-La Hotel.
It has not only brought peace to "a very difficult and diverse region", but also spread the culture of peace across a much wider swathe of Asia, he added.
Dr Su Hao, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, asked Prof Mahbubani if China and countries in the region could try to resolve issues among themselves without involving external powers.
"The question is, 'Is the US an external power or an internal power?' Because the US declares itself to be an Asia-Pacific power," Prof Mahbubani said.
He pointed out that there was a convergence of interest between the US and China in keeping global maritime routes open.
"It is not in China's interest to prevent freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, because others may use it as an excuse in other parts of the world."
Another speaker at the forum, Professor Zhai Kun from Peking University's School of International Studies, made several recommendations on how China and Asean can cooperate going forward.
He suggested China, the US and Asean could make use of the East Asia Summit framework to discuss the construction of a strategic order for the future.
The East Asia Summit is an annual gathering of leaders from 18 countries: the 10 Asean states, China, the US, Russia, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The two-day China-Singapore Forum, which ended yesterday, was jointly organised by the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs and the National University of Singapore's East Asian Institute.