SINGAPORE - Competition between major powers is inevitable, but constructive competition and cooperation are possible, necessary and beneficial for all countries, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Tuesday (Sept 14).
He noted that in recent months, US-China tensions have generated some discomfort and unease among countries in the region.
"Nobody wants to be forced to choose sides. For us, we hope that both the US and China will find a modus vivendi in the conduct of their relations, open channels of communication, manage tensions and frictions as and when they arise, and find a way to move forward despite their differences," he added.
Dr Balakrishnan was speaking at a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tanglin with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was in Singapore for a two-day working visit that ended on Tuesday.
Dr Balakrishnan said he was glad to hear from his counterpart that China seeks a cooperative relationship with the United States, as an equal.
"Both the US and China have strategic interests in this region, and are key economic partners with all members of Asean," he said.
Dr Balakrishnan added that Singapore welcomed the recent phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden.
"We hope that these discussions will continue, and will auger a new trajectory for a healthy relationship between the two powers. Ultimately, we would like to see the two biggest economies in the world coexist peacefully, and in an open and inclusive regional architecture throughout Asean, and this will be win-win for all of us," he said.
The ministers were also asked whether they saw recent high-level visits, such as US Vice-President Kamala Harris' visit to Singapore in August and Mr Wang's ongoing visit to the region, as part of diplomatic competition between the China and the US.
Mr Wang said there are some countries that are not accustomed to China's development. "It has created some concerns and even misjudgments towards China," he said, adding that this would affect the development of bilateral relations.
"The US may be in a such a situation. From China's point of view, we hope that the US can be like other countries, including Singapore, and understand that in this world, the US is not the only one with the right to develop, but other countries also have this right," he added.
Mr Wang also spoke of China's commitment to multilateral cooperation.
He said he and Dr Balakrishnan agreed that given the global uncertainty and the pandemic situation, the international community needs to work together, more than before.
Mr Wang added that it is necessary to promote mutual cooperation and discard the zero-sum approach of the past.
The world cannot be built upon one or a few developed countries, while other countries remain in poverty, he said, adding that this was unfair and unethical.
Dr Balakrishnan also noted that the 24th Asean-China Summit, due to be held at the end of this year, will be an opportunity to further enhance and deepen the partnership between countries in the region and China.
"Asean and China have had substantive relations with cooperation across many sectors, including public health, connectivity, smart cities and more," he said.
"Asean welcomes mutually beneficial engagement with all our dialogue partners, including China, within the inclusive framework of the Asean-led mechanisms. Asean welcomes engagement based on principles of Asean centrality and unity, and espouses an open, inclusive, and rules-based regional architecture anchored in international law, including the 1982 Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)," he added.
Dr Balakrishnan also said that from Singapore's perspective, both China and the US know that "we are good, long-term, all weather friends".
He added that while he and Mr Wang have known each other for six years, they have not always agreed on everything.
"But we have been old friends, close friends. And close friends are able to have open hearts, and we have been able to solve many things quietly and effectively. That is my hope for the future.
"I remain optimistic that greater engagement between both China and the US will be positive, and that their relations with South-east Asia will be conducted on the basis of mutual respect on the equality of countries and to look for win-win outcomes in all circumstances," he said.