Singapore hopes US, China can move forward despite differences

Vivian says both are key economic partners with Asean, have strategic interests in region

Competition between major powers is inevitable, but constructive competition and cooperation are possible, necessary and be-neficial for all countries, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

He noted that recent 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 news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was in Singapore for a two-day working visit that ended yesterday.

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 augur 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."

The ministers were also asked whether they saw recent high-level visits as part of diplomatic competition between 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. "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. Other countries also have this right."

Mr Wang also spoke of China's commitment to multilateral cooperation. He said he and Dr Balakrishnan agreed that given global uncertainty and the pandemic, the international community needs to work together, more than before.

Mr Wang added that it is necessary to discard the zero-sum approach of the past. The world cannot be built upon one or a few developed countries, while others remain in poverty, he said, adding this was unfair and unethical.

Dr Balakrishnan also noted that the 24th Asean-China Summit later this year will be an opportunity to further enhance and deepen the partnership between countries in the region and China.

"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," 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 he and Mr Wang 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2021, with the headline 'Singapore hopes US, China can move forward despite differences'. Subscribe