By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond
PM Lee, during a toast at the recent White House state dinner in Washington DC on 2 Aug, said some words which appear to have made China quite unhappy.
During his toast, PM Lee said he remembered meeting Obama back in May 2007.
“You were in the midst of a hard-fought presidential campaign, and not yet the front-runner for the Democratic nomination,” PM Lee said to laughs. “But I was struck by your focus, your informed interest in Asia, and your desire to cement America’s role in it.”
“Your years growing up in Indonesia gave you direct experience of Southeast Asia’s cultures and challenges,” he continued.
“As President, your personal leadership and decision to rebalance to Asia has won America new friends and strengthened old partnerships, including with Singapore,” he added. In other words, PM Lee welcomes the US to adopt a strategy to “rebalance” the Asia Pacific.
He went on to call President Obama as the “America’s first Pacific President”.
China responds immediately
Two days later on 4 Aug, China immediately issued a response through Global Times owned by the People’s Daily news group which comes directly under the purview of the Chinese Communist Party (https://theindependent.sg.sg/chin
News published by the group frequently provides direct information on the policies and viewpoints of the Chinese government. The Global Times was created to focus on international issues from the Chinese government’s perspective. As such, opinion pieces featured in Global Times carry considerable weight in representing the position of the Chinese government.
The Chinese cautioned PM Lee in an article (http://opinion.huanqiu.com/sh
“Lee Hsien Loong addressed Obama as the American ‘first Pacific President’. Such flattery (‘戴高帽’) given to Obama directly does not concern us (‘倒也没啥’),” the article said.
“The key is he praised the American strategy to ‘re-balance Asia-Pacific’ and publicised that all Southeast Asian countries welcome such American ‘balancing’. Because the ‘rebalance Asia-Pacific’ strategy is pointed at China to a large extent, Lee Hsien Loong is clearly taking side already.”
The article noted that Singapore as “a little red dot on the map”, views Indonesia and Malaysia as “giants eyeing” (‘虎视眈眈的巨人’) on Singapore. As such, it heavily depends on the US for security. But at the same time, it doesn’t want to offend China, especially when China is its largest trading partner.
The task of toying (‘玩弄’) with balance becomes important. And when it couldn’t handle the balancing at times, its instinctive reaction is to “grab hold of American fat legs” (‘抱美国粗腿’), it added.
The article criticised Singapore for wanting everything. While toying with “balancing”, it would occasionally jab China – at least the ordinary Chinese people view Singapore’s actions with discomfort, it said. As the contention between China and US intensifies in the South China Sea, the case of Singapore standing with the US may become more likely, it opined.
“We believe Singapore would not be willing to choose sides as it certainly would not be compatible with Singapore’s interest,” it added. “If Singapore completely becomes an American ‘pawn’ (‘马前卒’) and loses any of its resilience to move between US and China, its influence will be considerably reduced. Its value to the US will also be greatly discounted.”
China: Our tolerance also should have a limit
“With regard to the difficult position Singapore is in, China, on one hand, may have to be broad-minded. Let us use big country way to resolve problems between China and US. And with regard to Singapore, this ‘little red dot’ which sometimes is forced to look up to US (‘被迫多看几眼美国的脸色’), we do not need to overly fuss about it (‘我们不必过度计较’).”
“But on the other hand, our tolerance also should have a limit (‘我们的包容也应是有底线的’). Singapore should not push it (‘新加坡不能太过分’). It cannot play the role of taking the initiative to help US and South East Asian countries to go against China over South China Sea matters. It cannot help American ‘rebalancing Asia-Pacific’ strategy, which is directed at China’s internal affairs, by ‘adding oil and vinegar’ (‘添油加醋’), thereby enabling US to provide an excuse to suppress China’s strategic space as well as providing support to US.”
“Singapore can go and please the Americans, but it needs to do their utmost to avoid harming China’s interests. It needs to be clear and open about its latter attitude,” it cautioned. Singapore’s balancing act should be to help China and US to avoid confrontation as its main objective, and not taking side so as to increase the mistrust between China and US, it added.
Singapore clearly has failed to do this by a long shot (‘新加坡显然远没有做到这一点’), it concluded. The article gave the example of Singapore allowing US to deploy its P-8 reconnaissance aircraft to Singapore, which from the view of the Chinese, increases the tension in South China Sea.
“Singapore needs more wisdom (‘新加坡需要更多的智慧’),” the article concluded.
Does Singapore get anything by siding with the US?
It’s known what Singapore will get out of siding with the US over the South China Sea issues but certainly PM Lee himself has tasted some great dishes during his dinner with President Obama.
They included a main course of high-end American Wagyu beef dressed with roasted yams, wilted baby kale and young heirloom carrots. The meat was seared in Vermont butter and served with bone marrow in the form of a light crust.
Another dish was the Maryland blue crab salad tossed in an Asian citrus curd and rimmed with slivered baby cucumbers. It was garnished with a tuile made using powdered crab shells and Old Bay. The salad course showcased heirloom tomatoes from Ohio paired with lime basil from Michelle Obama’s garden, as well as mangoes, cucumbers, green papayas and soursop sorbet.
Dessert was peach sangria cake accented with palm sugar, coconut milk and fragrant kaffir lime leaves and dressed with White House honey.
PM Lee also got to taste hand-made, spun-sugar orchids and roses prepared by White House Executive Pastry Chef Susie Morrison. California and New York red, white and sparkling wines were also served.
To top it all, he was specially entertained by Grammy Award winner Chrisette Michele who is a R&B and soul singer-songwriter at the dinner.
There is a saying which said, “When elephants go to war, the ants get trampled.” Hence, it’s better to stay neutral over the South China Sea issue which has got nothing to do with Singapore in the first place. The last thing an ant would want to do is to side with one elephant and provoke a war between the two.