Singapore is good friends with China and America, and this is the right position to take, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"Those in the foreign policy establishments will appreciate where we stand even though they may wish us to tilt towards one end or the other," he told 700 business leaders, academics and policymakers last night.
Mr Lee laid out the principles behind Singapore's foreign policy on both superpowers, in a 30-minute dialogue at the FutureChina Global Forum.
Newly returned from the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Germany last weekend, he also gave his reading of global trade winds and the business opportunities Singapore can seize amid China's growth.
He recounted his meeting and "good discussion" with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit, during which they talked about bilateral issues and areas for cooperation, such as the large projects between both governments and in human resources.
China may be world-class in many areas, but Singapore can still find niches in which to work with China, Mr Lee said at the forum organised by Business China, which aims to connect Singaporean and Chinese businesses and marks its 10th anniversary this year.
Singapore depends on trade. It is our lifeblood. If the lines are cut, we die. Because our international trade is 31/2 times our GDP, the highest ratio in
the world... we have a vested interest in keeping trade routes open and in having freedom of navigation on the seas. And in having an international rule of law which applies to freedom of navigation and making sure that the seas remain open. ''
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on why it is important to ensure the Strait of Malacca and Strait of Singapore stay open for the safe and free flow of
ADAPTING TO CHANGE
As (countries) grow more prosperous, capable, more open to the world, what we used to do and they used to find us useful for will change... As others
progress, we continue to make progress with and in some aspects ahead of them. And then we remain useful to them. ''
PM LEE, on Singapore's foreign policy principle and how bilateral ties evolve to adapt to the needs of both countries over time.
For a country to be successful, you have to maintain good relations with other countries, but also on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation. Businessmen have to take a different approach because you are not in the position of deciding what is best for your country - you are just looking for opportunities for your company. The more favourable conditions are, the more opportunities you have. Businesses can understand what the Government is trying to do, so that after the dinner over the maotai, if somebody asks you, you have a good answer. ''
PM LEE, on how businessmen can uphold Singapore's interests when they face pressure from their foreign counterparts during times of tension.
"I do not accept the principle that anything I can do, they can do better. The world is not like that, he said. "If you are strong at something, you are relatively less strong at other things, and there are other centres of prosperity, ingenuity and energy in the world. It will be like that with China also."
For instance, Singapore as a financial services hub is a natural base for infrastructure financing needed under China's massive Belt and Road initiative, he said when asked to give advice to local businesses keen to get a piece of the action.
The proposed Belt and Road infrastructure network aims to create land and sea trade routes to link Asia with Europe and Africa.
Moderator and Business China board director Robin Hu noted that some observers saw it as China's attempt at creating a Chinese economy outside of China, making nations beholden to it. Mr Lee replied that the Belt and Road was a constructive way for China to grow its place and influence in the world.
"It is win-win, linking to the countries around the region with infrastructure projects... in a way which enables the region to benefit from China's prosperity but at the same time to maintain the region's links with the rest of the world," he said.
The initiative is also open, he noted. "China will enhance its links with other countries. At the same time, other countries can do business with anybody in the world. It is not a closed group. It is an open, welcoming, intensification of mutually beneficial linkages," he added.
But its success hinges on the free flow of trade and goods, said Mr Lee, stressing a point Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean made a day before at the same forum.
"Singapore depends on trade. It is our lifeblood. If the lines are cut, we die," he said, noting that Singapore's trade is more than 31/2 times its gross domestic product.
Singapore therefore has a vested interest in making sure the seas remain open, particularly narrow straits like the Strait of Malacca and Strait of Singapore.
"If any country tries to restrict or go through with (restrictions) unilaterally or selectively... we would be completely opposed to that," said Mr Lee.
Asked if there was a danger of this happening, he said: "I don't think we are at risk of it happening, but I think some countries do worry that it could happen to them."
As for global trade, Mr Lee said: "We hope the US will... be prepared to see that trade is not win-lose, it is win-win. And you don't have to only do business one on one. You can do business with a group, or a regional union."
Both the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact without the United States, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership between Asean and six of its close partner countries, are still on the table, he said.
"I hope both will make progress. In the interests of Singapore, the region and the world," he added.