PM Lee: China wants good relations with its neighbours

Mr Lee said that China wants their neighbours to be their friends, but at the same time, on such issues as the South China Sea, they want their interests to prevail.
Mr Lee said that China wants their neighbours to be their friends, but at the same time, on such issues as the South China Sea, they want their interests to prevail.PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES

SINGAPORE - Amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said China wants good relations with its neighbours.

In an interview with TIME magazine earlier this month, he was asked by its Asia Editor, Mr Zoher Abdoolcarim, about how the region and Singapore saw a rising "Chinese Caliphate" - China's growing influence and footprint in Asia and the world - and if it had alienated a lot of neighbours.

PM Lee said China wants "quite hard to make friends" and is focused on doing that.

"If we look at the way they interact with Asean countries, they are very, very focused and deliberate in their engagement and in their policies," he said.

He also noted that China engages Asean on a multitude of projects and initiatives and every year, the Chinese premier meets with leaders of the grouping's 10 member countries at their summit.

"He has come with a very carefully thought-out set of things which he wants to do with ASEAN and he makes sure that there's a little Christmas present for everybody, and everybody sees that this is a relationship from which they can benefit."

Mr Lee said that China wants their neighbours to be their friends, but at the same time, on such issues as the South China Sea, they want their interests to prevail.

"So, they have to keep a balance, if they push too hard, there'll be pushback," Mr Lee added.

China is claiming territories in the South China Sea that are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Over the long-term, Mr Lee observed that dominance based on just overwhelming power is not an adequate basis for influence.

But Singapore, though a non-claimant state, has an interest in seeing the dispute managed and settled peacefully and in accordance with international law. Singapore also has an interest in freedom of navigation and overflight, he added.