Small countries have role to play in defusing US-China conflict: ESM Goh

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong with Professor Yan Xuetong, session moderator and dean of Tsinghua University's Institute of International Relations, at the university's annual World Peace Forum in Beijing on July 9, 2019.
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong with Professor Yan Xuetong, session moderator and dean of Tsinghua University's Institute of International Relations, at the university's annual World Peace Forum in Beijing on July 9, 2019.PHOTO: WORLD PEACE FORUM

BEIJING - With the United States and China engaged in a strategic rivalry that threatens to change the global geopolitical climate, all countries need to speak up to secure a peaceful and prosperous world and future, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told a forum of world leaders here on Tuesday (July 9).

While Chinese President Xi Jinping's and US President Donald Trump's meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka last month signalled that talks must continue more productively, the deficit in trust on both sides will take time to rebuild, Mr Goh said in a speech at the annual World Peace Forum organised by Tsinghua University.

In the meantime, the world is "at risk of being shackled by history, blinded by suspicions, misled by misconceptions and destroyed by zero-sum superpower rivalry", Mr Goh said.

As the world's two largest economies face off, smaller countries may watch passively from the sidelines and see how the situation unfolds before deciding their next moves.

But that is not ideal, he added, as smaller countries can and should play a positive role in shaping the international order. By engaging the global powers, they can understand their geopolitical ambitions, temperament, power and reliability as friends.

"Based on this understanding, they can convey their concerns, as well as collectively spell out the shared world and future they want - a safe, secure, peaceful environment where all countries, big and small, can compete and cooperate on a consensus-driven, rules-based, multilateral system," he said.

Small countries which feel their voices are too faint on the global stage can look at Asean's experience, in which a diverse group of nations of different sizes, ethnic groups, religions, languages and political systems have gradually built trust through regular meetings and consensus-building, said Mr Goh.

Over the years, this foundation has been expanded into an Asean-centric regional architecture that has supported the region's peace and stability.

 
 
 

"When enough countries stand together, their voices can be as loud, if not louder, than the trumpet of elephants," said Mr Goh.

Such a voice of moderation does not have to be a new bloc or grouping, but simply the voice of concerned countries, leaders, institutions, the media, business and people who speak for rationality and stability, and who want to avert a catastrophic clash between the US and China, he added.

"Only by speaking in unison, will the global powers take heed of us," he said.

At the plenary session on regional security, Mr Goh also urged the US and China to work together to update global rules that have been the bedrock of global peace and prosperity for the last 70 years.

A rapidly rising China also needs to dispel anxieties over its long-term intentions and behaviour as a global power, he added, such as by taking on additional responsibilities and working to strengthen the international system that has benefited it for decades.

"Trust is the glue that binds us together in a shared future - if the US and China can restore mutual trust, supported by the voice of moderation, the world will benefit immensely from a stable global system for mutual peace and prosperity," he said.