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If Singapore has to choose between the US and China

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In the second week of January, The Independent posed a rhetorical question – if nations may be compelled to ‘choose’ if hostilities broke out in the South China Sea amid the growing angst of China’s unwarranted usurpation of Singapore’s military assets.

To the paper’s credit and delight that poser came home to roost when it was featured prominently at a conference yesterday.

A report carried by the Straits Times on 24th January 2017, quoted Professor Joseph Liow, dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies saying is unlikely Singapore will reach that crossroad.

China’s growing clout in the Asia-Pacific, and concerns that America’s engagement with the region will weaken should it turn inward, had led some observers to wonder whether countries in the region will have to take sides at some point.

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However, Prof Liow noted, among other factors that the scope of bilateral relations between the US and China has expanded and reaches beyond trade and exchange rate issues to include topics such as territorial disputes, climate change and counter-terrorism efforts, he pointed out.

China will not want the US to “entirely disengage from the region”, and neither does the US want to do so, Prof Liow told the annual Singapore Perspectives conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies.Singapore has long maintained that it does not want to choose between powers. What Singapore should do, said Prof Liow, is to “look into diversifying engagement … with external players of consequence in regional affairs”.

Singapore in 1989 signed a military pact with the United States allowing Washington to station a modicum amount of troops and bases in the country. Though Singapore faced no strategic threat at that time, the base lease and other military facilities along with the presence of servicemen was the Republic’s way of ensuring that freedom of the seas is unimpeded and the South-Pacific Ocean remains as a region of peace and tranquility.

In 1992, when the United States was evicted from the Philippines the city-state offered to host more of such military assets.

Singapore has one of the largest concentration of American businesses. Commercial ties between both nations have historically been taut.

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