A commentary by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Researcher Cheng Bifan, entitled “Singapore has picked the wrong target in its balance of powers strategy,” published in the Global Times Chinese edition on June 1, 2016, suggests that Singapore has taken sides against China. This view is completely wrong.
Singapore is a good friend of both the US and China. We do support the US engagement in the region. The US has been a benign force that has undergirded stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific since the end of World War II. China too has benefitted from this regional stability and prosperity, which has provided the conditions for China’s rapid growth since its opening up in 1978.
We are also supportive of China’s peaceful development. We welcome China’s active participation in a rules-based international order and look forward to it playing a growing and constructive role in regional prosperity and peace.
Hence, Singapore has supported China’s development, even through the difficult post-1989 period. We began discussions with China on the first government-to-government cooperation project, in Suzhou, in 1992. Singapore was one of the first Asean countries to participate in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. We also look forward to cooperating with China and other stakeholders on the One Belt and One Road initiative.
In cross-Straits relations, Singapore has played a facilitative role. We hosted the Wang-Koo talks in 1993 and the first ever meeting between the top leaders from both sides last year. This was possible only because Singapore has maintained a principled and consistent stand on this issue.
China-Singapore ties have broadened and deepened over the decades. We have supported China’s development as China’s needs and priorities evolved. Following the Suzhou project, both sides launched flagship government-to-government projects in Tianjin and Chongqing.
We should avoid getting caught in a zero-sum mentality. Singapore fully agrees with what the leaders of both the US and China have said – that the Asia-Pacific is big enough to accommodate both powers. We do not see a growing Chinese role in the region as being at the expense of US contributions to regional stability, security, and prosperity. As recently articulated by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the US and China should “cultivate common circles of friends” and Singapore is part of this common circle of friendship.
China’s rise will cause a major shift in the strategic environment, especially for small countries like Singapore. We hope that possible friction points, such as the South China Sea, will not derail the overall positive trajectory. Singapore has taken a principled stand on the South China Sea, emphasising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight, which are vital national interests. We are not a claimant state and do not take sides on competing territorial claims. We support the peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS.
I note that Cheng cited comments by various Singapore leaders. These comments were taken out of context and are a gross distortion of what was actually said.
The author is Singapore’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.