Biggest challenge in building Singapore-China relationship: Thinking of what's next

Ambassador Stanley Loh says that if Singapore is not successful, others "will probably study us as an example of a system to avoid".
Ambassador Stanley Loh says that if Singapore is not successful, others "will probably study us as an example of a system to avoid".PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Q&A with Mr Stanley Loh, Singapore’s Ambassador to China.

Q What are the challenges in your stint so far?

A There're always so many things to do, and sometimes we don't have enough hands and legs to do all. So we have to prioritise. We're putting more people here, but still the relationship is growing much faster.

The reality is Singapore is a small country with 5.4 million people and we already have 170 Singaporean and local staff here. It is quite a large number and the largest for us in any foreign country.

The biggest challenge of trying to build this relationship is to think of what's next. I've always found that it's easier to look at what's on the table than what's not. In other words, it is to think of an area of cooperation that wasn't there by understanding China's interest and our capabilities and our interest.

Q How does Singapore, being so small compared to China, ensure mutual benefit in the relationship?

A The most important ingredient is our own success. If Singapore is not successful, nobody would look at us.

I mean not just economic success but success as a country and nation, that we must be able to come across as a united and cohesive nation, a harmonious society that can develop economically, socially and even politically. Then we will be of interest to other people. If not, they will probably study us as an example of a system to avoid.

Q Will Sino-Singapore relations face challenges from the Sino-US rivalry?

A US-Sino relations are very important obviously, but I can see the large degree of mutual dependence between the two sides. Both sides also want to have a cooperative relationship.

So I'm overall optimistic about this. But the nature of relations between two large powers is that there will be some occasional friction. For Singapore, the key is for us to continue to stand firm on our own interests, speak for our own interests and be ourselves.

Kor Kian Beng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2015, with the headline 'Biggest challenge: Thinking of what's next'. Print Edition | Subscribe