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Republic can be broker of trans-Pacific peace

I concur with political scientist Graham Allison's assessment that the United States and China are unlikely to wage war against each other, as neither side would truly stand to gain from such a conflict ("The US, China, and Singapore's second act"; Dec 13).

While history shows that emerging powers are, more often than not, drawn into diametric opposition and eventually war with the superpowers of their day, the dynamics have changed in the modern world.

Where nations previously depended on their own resources and ingenuity to gain ascendancy, and could afford to act on their own initiative, globalisation has now created an unprecedented degree of interconnectedness and interdependence.

A country cannot afford to antagonise or harm another without inadvertently jeopardising its own overseas holdings. The flow of trade, assets and investments between China and the US exemplifies this.

Before the modern era, states largely pursued disparate interests or mutually exclusive objectives, making it tremendously difficult to find common ground. Today, there is a tendency for countries to coalesce into allied blocs on the basis of shared ideals and goals.

More than that, the pursuit of wealth and economic development has been able to bridge political gulfs, or provide the springboard for diplomatic engagement.

Hence, on both sides of the Pacific, there is a need for hawkish leaders and sceptical electorates to rescind their extreme, polarising world views.

Foreign policy can no longer be pitched simply as "us versus them", especially where the Thucydides Trap looms large. Rather, it should focus on pursuing common interests and synergies.

Singapore lies in the precarious position of balancing ties with both the US and China. It is a position that Singapore is familiar with.

A parallel can be drawn with how we have managed to nurture close ties with both China and Taiwan, despite cross-strait political enmity. Recently, Singapore hosted a meeting between the leaders from both sides, setting them on the path of cooperation.

Perhaps it would serve Singapore well to seize the initiative and become a leading broker of trans-Pacific detente, which is needed now more than ever.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 27, 2015, with the headline 'Republic can be broker of trans-Pacific peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe