Heng Swee Keat urges US, China to find areas of cooperation amid competition

Heng says tensions worrying as Sino-US ties are most critical bilateral relationship globally

DPM Heng Swee Keat said Singapore hopes both US and China will be able to find areas of cooperation amidst their competition. PHOTO: MCI
DPM Heng Swee Keat speaking to Chinese Communist Party cadres at the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong, one of China’s top party schools. PHOTO: MCI

With both the United States and China playing indispensable roles in ensuring peace and stability, and addressing global problems, Singapore hopes the two major powers would be able to find areas of cooperation amid competition, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

He called such a relationship "coopetition", saying: "Competition can be constructive if managed well as it can spur innovation and drive progress." But it could also become disruptive if it degenerates into conflict and rivalry, he said.

"We hope that China and the US can develop a relationship based on 'coopetition', and be able to cooperate in mutually beneficial areas while competing," he said, addressing US-China trade tensions at the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (Celap) in Shanghai.

Hostilities between the world's two biggest economies have ratcheted up since trade talks between them broke down in Washington earlier this month.

Both sides have imposed heightened tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other's imports. Washington has also blacklisted Chinese tech giant Huawei, restricting its dealings with US firms.

Mr Heng said the escalating tensions were worrying as Sino-US ties were the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who is on an eight-day visit to China, was speaking to about 150 Chinese Communist Party cadres at Celap.

The academy is one of the top four party schools in China and trains mid-to senior-level officials.

Mr Heng said countries should strengthen international cooperation in areas of common concern as no one country has all the resources and expertise it needs.

This was one of the three principles of Singapore's governance he shared in his 30-minute-long speech in Mandarin, in which he also paid tribute to China and Singapore's longstanding and close friendship built on mutual trust.

The other two principles are being able to adapt to change, and being bold to plan long-term.

On being adaptable, Mr Heng said no policy was applicable to all contexts and times. "We should take calculated risks and dare to change when circumstances require," he said.

But to do this well, governments must put people at the heart of their policies, he said, adding that Singapore consults its citizens and engages leaders of different segments of society.

Lastly, governments need to take a long-term view in planning, he said, which gives them the "runway" to respond to future challenges.

He said these three principles will help governments respond to three global structural shifts: the declining support for globalisation, rapid technological advancements and ageing populations.

"One complex outcome is the reduction of inequalities across countries, but an increase in inequalities within countries," he said.

Later in the day, Mr Heng travelled to Guangzhou, in southern Guangdong province, where he met the provincial party boss Li Xi.

Today, he will visit the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2019, with the headline Heng Swee Keat urges US, China to find areas of cooperation amid competition. Subscribe