Can Singapore be friends with China and everyone else?

By May 17, 2017Current

TL;DR – It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is celebrating its golden jubilee this year. As part of the celebrations, the RSN successfully organised the first International Maritime Review. Forty-six ships had gathered for the fleet review. That included the JS Izumo, a helicopter carrier from Japan.

This prompted an article on a certain website to question how China will react to Japan’s participation in the International Maritime Review. It claimed that Singapore will be “caught in the middle, again”.

And that article prompted a response from Ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan:

In case you can’t see the post, here is what Mr Bilahari said:

“Why should we not invite any country we want? If one country or another has issues with the other, what has that got to do with us? Must we continually define our national interests in terms of some other country’s interests or subordinate our interests to their interests? If we do so, does that not make us something less than sovereign? Isn’t that precisely what countries closer home want us to be? And why raise this issue in the first place? What agenda is this article promoting? It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding — out of ignorance or deliberate — of what foreign policy is all about!”

We want to be friends, while being principled

Singapore has the luxury of being principled in our foreign policy. While we are not rash in our interactions with other countries, we will not be bullied or intimidated. And thankfully so. Because if we can be bullied or intimidated, what will our immediate neighbours think?

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That said, we don’t go around picking fights. As long as other nations don’t threaten our long-term national interests, we are more than willing to be friends with them. That is the case with our immediate neighbours. That is the case with USA, Japan, India. And that is definitely the case with China.

Singapore-China relations still strong

And it seems that China isn’t as petty as some people make them out to be. Even though the JS Izumo took part in the International Maritime Review, China still received a delegation from Singapore to the One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit.

Not only that, China even sent Zhao Leji, Central Organisation Department Minister, to co-chair the 6th Singapore-China Leadership Forum.

There are speculations that Zhao Leji is the man to watch. There is a good chance of him making to the  Politburo Standing Committee, which is the most powerful decision-making body in China.

And if he does, that will be a good thing for Singapore. Because Zhao Leji affirmed the “strong and substantial relationship” between Singapore and China when he met PM Lee.

Good reasons to believe relations will remain strong

Beyond what one high-ranking official says, there are other reasons to believe why Singapore-China relations will remain strong.

First, Singapore has been China’s largest investor since 2013. Our investments into China take different forms. The most important consists of very large government-to-government (G2G) projects, such as the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco-City and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI). The CCI was started at the request of President Xi Jinping. It has been designated a priority demonstration project for the OBOR initiative.

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Second, Singapore remains a steadfast friend. We continue to promote better mutual understanding between China and the US.

We also play an important role in supporting the OBOR initiative. As a financial and infrastructure centre, Singapore can play a role in brokering OBOR related investments to developing countries in the region as well as partnering Chinese companies to go out to the region.

And that will be good for both countries

The strong relations between Singapore and China will benefit both countries. In many areas, Singapore can learn from China. The use of solar energy is one such area. Similarly, Singapore is still able to contribute to China in areas such as human resource development, social management and financial governance.

Given this mutually beneficial relationship, China can depend on our goodwill and friendship. We believe that we can depend on China on their goodwill and friendship too.


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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