CHINA wants to deal with its domestic issues and reforms without having to worry about problems with the rest of the world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the Shangri-La Dialogue last night.
He made this point in reply to a question from South Korean academic Chung Min Lee, who asked Mr Lee how he foresaw China's rise militarily and how he proposed managing it.
Mr Lee said, in his view, China is not out to seek conflict and that it is focused on development. But its development "is not as effortless as it appears to outsiders". "What we see as inevitable, they see as requiring tremendous effort," he added.
The Chinese leadership is now in the midst of ambitious and thorough economic and social reforms, as well as a high-profile anti-corruption campaign, he said. "China has many internal issues which it is preoccupied with. It knows it has to work on these in order to continue to prosper, and it would like to do this without having to worry about problems with the rest of the world."
Mr Lee said all Asean countries want a good relationship with China, notwithstanding disputes in the South China Sea. "That's a big plus factor which makes this problem tractable, and I think that will continue," he said.
He was asked by a Chinese colonel about founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's view that the United States had to choose whether to engage or isolate China. He replied that every administration since that of Richard Nixon had chosen engagement.
As a small country friendly with both powers, Singapore's "role as a bridge is a very modest one". It wants only to help the US and China be better friends with each other, he said.