The best way to prevent further US-China conflict is for Asia to forge a common cause and be a voice of moderation, said Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong yesterday.
Stressing that he was not calling for "Asia First", he said Asia must be part of the world, and countries that have a stake in the region, such as the United States, must continue to be deeply engaged with it.
Asia needs to band more closely together before it can begin to urge both China and the US to find their common cause. If it can do so, it will remove much of the suspicion of China's long-term intentions as a global power, he added.
ESM Goh was speaking at a symposium jointly organised by Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the United States' Brookings Institution and the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges.
Addressing about 100 business leaders and officials at The St Regis Singapore hotel, he observed how far China had come since his first visit there in 1971.
It had lifted more than 850 million people out of poverty in a single generation, "a feat unparalleled in history", he said.
But as Dr Bruce Jones, a fellow speaker and foreign policy director from the Brookings Institution explained, the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016 and the power expansion of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 19th Party Congress a year later set the stage for a realignment in the relationship between the two giants.
ESM Goh said China is pulling ahead in 5G technology and artificial intelligence, and the US has been considering economic and technological measures to slow China down.
The US is not reassured by China's repeated declarations that its rise and development will be peaceful, and is worried that it wants to propagate a model of "illiberal authoritarianism", he added.
A BETTER WAY FORWARD
Even an unbridled contest where allies are pressured to choose one side and exclude the other will be highly destabilising for the global multilateral system. The best way to prevent a conflict is to forge a common cause for the two superpowers to build a better world.
EMERITUS SENIOR MINISTER GOH CHOK TONG, on the danger of an all-out conflict between the US and China.
He added that the US does not understand why China's socialist political system has not liberalised along with economic reforms.
Meanwhile, China has concluded the US is out to contain its growth.
But Asia, in the eye of the storm, can be a voice of moderation - by embodying the shared values of peace and stability, and growth and prosperity, and maintaining an open, inclusive, rules-based multilateral order, he said.
It should find common cause not just in word but also in deed, through trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, he said.
"Our common cause is to get the US and China to play a 'positive sum game', not a zero sum game."
This voice of moderation must also be a strong Asian one, he added, and Asia must build up trust within itself and chart its own way forward.
Meanwhile, China can dispel the anxieties of the international community by working to strengthen the international system and ensure that Belt and Road projects are clean, green and inclusive.
It can also address US concerns about involuntary technology transfers and an unequal playing field between foreign and Chinese companies in China, he added.
He said that China's reforms, if accomplished comprehensively and prudently, will promote the growth and development of China, Asia and the world.
ESM Goh said an all-out conflict between the US and China on economic and technological fronts would be disastrous.
"Even an unbridled contest where allies are pressured to choose one side and exclude the other will be highly destabilising for the global multilateral system. The best way to prevent a conflict is to forge a common cause for the two superpowers to build a better world."