Home International US-China ties: Region big enough for both states, says Singapore envoy

US-China ties: Region big enough for both states, says Singapore envoy


Beijing, June 9, 2016: Singapore’s ambassador to China Stanley Loh rebuts claims by a Chinese academic that Singapore is taking sides against China in the South China Sea dispute.

Singapore, being a good friend of both China and the United States, does not see a growing Chinese role in the region as being at the expense of US contributions to the region, Singapore’s ambassador to China Stanley Loh has said.

In a letter published yesterday (June 8), Loh warned against being caught in a zero-sum mentality, saying Singapore agrees with what Chinese and US leaders have said – that the Asia-Pacific is big enough to accommodate both powers.

“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,” he wrote, referring to Xi’s remarks at the start of an annual Sino-US dialogue on Monday (June 6).

The Singapore envoy was rebutting the “completely wrong” view put forward by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Cheng Bifan that Singapore was taking sides against China on issues such as the South China Sea territorial disputes.

Dr Cheng’s commentary was published on June 1 in the Chinese edition of the Global Times, a tabloid linked to the Communist Party.

He was responding to an April 29 commentary in the Global Times by former China Aviation Oil chief executive Chen Jiulin, who urged Singapore to support China’s stance that the South China Sea disputes should be resolved through bilateral negotiations among claimant states.

Dr Cheng’s commentary, titled “Singapore has picked the wrong target in its balance of powers strategy”, cited actions by the Singapore government and remarks by its leaders as evidence to back his claim that Singapore was taking sides against China.

He criticised Singapore’s moves to let US military planes and naval vessels be based in the city-state.

“This has turned Singapore into a platform for the US to contain and deter China, and at times it seems even more anxious to boost hegemony in Asia-Pacific than the US itself.”

Dr Cheng said Singapore also “leaned towards Japan”, citing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks at a Tokyo conference in 2013 that China could lose its global standing if it were to use force in the East Asia Sea dispute with Japan.

“Singapore should reflect on this: Can it state clearly in what ways has China threatened its safety? Can it sustain the contradictory two-faced approach towards China?

“If the South China Sea conflict between China and the US deepens, and the US drags Singapore in, will Singapore remain safe?” he added.

Loh, in his letter published on the Global Times’ English and Chinese websites, said various Singapore leaders’ comments cited by Dr Cheng had been taken out of context and were “a gross distortion of what was actually said”.

According to media reports, the Singapore Foreign Ministry in 2013 said Lee had made his remarks – reported then by Global Times – in the context of a broader question on whether regional countries should band together to encircle China.

Lee had rejected such an approach as neither constructive nor helpful as every country in the region had benefited from China’s progress and hoped to cultivate good ties with Beijing. He also pointed out that Chinese leaders understood the need for the country to develop in a peaceful way that would not threaten its neighbours.

In his letter, Loh also cited how Singapore had supported China’s development over the years and also its initiatives like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

It had also played a “facilitative” role in cross-strait relations, such as hosting the first-ever meeting between the top leaders of China and Taiwan last November.

“This was possible only because Singapore has maintained a principled and consistent stand on this issue,” Loh wrote.

Similarly, Singapore, though not a claimant state, has taken a principled stand on the South China Sea, emphasising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight, which are vital national interests.

“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,” Loh said.

By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief In Beijing