The United States, China and the world need to be careful to avoid rejigging the new global system on a purely transactional basis, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday, hours after US President Donald Trump imposed fresh tariffs on US$200 billion (S$274 billion) worth of Chinese goods.
"That narrow path leads to acrimony and myopia, and ultimately grief," Dr Ng told the US business community in Singapore at a lunch event held by the American Chamber of Commerce.
Instead, he called for a global order underpinned by a unifying vision that brings people and countries together and that perpetuates the same virtuous conditions for growing trade, reducing poverty and raising standards of living.
"It is quite clear that the US and China will play key roles in the coming decades to shape globalisation for the world. How both sides navigate the bilateral relationship, and how the rest of the world responds to it, will significantly affect the global order to come," he said.
Dr Ng also made the case that "wheeling and dealing", whether in commerce or international relations, should be underpinned by some sort of moral code.
America's moral authority and unifying vision for a post-World War II world enabled the region and the world to accept its leadership, and also explained its extraordinary influence in Asia after WWII.
Dr Ng outlined how the US' unifying vision benefited the world, the region and the individual.
Globally, it expanded trade and finance and lifted people out of poverty through the promise of an inclusive and fair trading system, anchored on the rule of law.
U.S.-CHINA RELATIONSHIP KEY
It is quite clear that the US and China will play key roles in the coming decades to shape globalisation for the world. How both sides navigate the bilateral relationship, and how the rest of the world responds to it, will significantly affect the global order to come.
DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN
Regionally, it eased the struggle of colonised nations to achieve independence and self-determination, propelling Asia's powerhouse economies to achieve economic growth and social development.
"Even China benefited from the US' unifying vision of a free, fair and open global trading system... (and) the very fact that China now wants to protect the very system speaks volumes of how essential that system is to everyone's growth," said Dr Ng.
At the individual level, it encouraged the fulfilment of a person's potential, with rising education standards and open immigration policies spawning many of today's dominant ideas in technology and commerce, such as those of Google's Russia-born co-founder Sergey Brin, now an American.
Now, however, the geopolitical order is changing.
Dr Ng said: "We have to accept that new rules will be written as power configurations alter.
"Nonetheless, to ensure continued stability and progress for all countries, we will have to work to ensure these new rules for Globalisation 2.0, whether in trade, finance or security, will be open, transparent and accountable."
In the question-and-answer session, Dr Ng was asked how Singapore can position itself amid this shift in geopolitical dynamics.
He said: "We are not here to teach, we are not here to pretend we are larger than we are. Whether we evolve a better system depends on the US and China primarily, the (world's) two largest economies.
"You have heard of the saying that the weak suffer what they must. It has always been the big powers that decide the rules. We hope they do it in enlightened self-interest."