At Singapore Perspectives 2019, George Yeo, the country’s former Foreign Minister, weighed in on the ongoing conflict between the world’s two superpowers: China and the United States. He offered his thoughts on how Singapore can find sure footing in the midst of the trade tensions between the two.
At the event, which was organized by the Institute of Policy Studies, Yeo recognized that it may take a while for the tension between the two largest economies to simmer down. He added that the relationship between the two countries bears close watching since if it is mishandled, it could have considerable consequences.
The former Foreign Minister talked about President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, wherein the US has chosen to focus on bilateral relations with other countries, and has taken steps backward from inter-country organizations such as the UN and the WTO, something that Yeo believes will be to the US’ disadvantage in the long run.
The answer, he opined, is more trade and not less. Yeo specifically talked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which former US President Barack Obama had supported as a countermeasure against China’s growing influence. But the current US President has withdrawn from the TPP.
What other countries such as Singapore and Japan must do, according to Yeo, is to convince China to join the TPP, which would, in turn, motivate the US to return to the partnership.
“We must do this artfully,” Yeo said, “coordinate the negotiations so that they join at the same time. Whatever China is prepared to give to the U.S., we say ‘give it to the TPP.’ If the TPP includes China and the US, the WTO will have to follow in its wake. And we will have a safer world.”
While he does not think that China will eventually wage war against the US, Yeo acknowledged Singapore’s position in the middle of the two superpowers, and therefore its obligation to help build bridges between them.