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‘Sandwiched’ in the US-China trade war, Singapore does not wish “to be forced into making invidious choices” – Vivian Balakrishnan

"We hope that both sides will work out a strategic response that will take into account China’s increasing influence and weight in the international arena, and that both sides will find the way to accommodate each other’s legitimate interests,” said the Foreign Affairs Minister

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Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister, noted that as the US-China trade war generates huge skepticism and unpredictability within global markets, Southeast Asia countries must view developments with great concern.

“And one point is that for us in the middle, and especially for smaller countries, we do not wish to be forced into making invidious choices.”

The minister further said that US-China trade talks must seriously consider China’s increasing influence on the global stage and its “legitimate” interests in wanting to shape evolving norms.

Dr. Balakrishnan likewise stressed that to look at China as an opponent to be restrained or held back will not be feasible in the long term, as there is an entire gamut of concerns that needs the collaboration and involvement of the two superpowers.

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“We hope that both sides will work out a strategic response that will take into account China’s increasing influence and weight in the international arena, and that both sides will find the way to accommodate each other’s legitimate interests,” Balakrishnan said.

“Competition with China is inevitable, but it does not have to be a zero-sum game. Constructive competition should take place within the bounds of established international norms and an adherence to international law.”

The minister further underscored how Singapore will be disproportionately affected by the US-China trade war as Singapore’s trade is three times its GDP.

Zealous towards laissez-faire and deregulation

A number of nations, including Singapore, commit to a rules-based multilateral system and free trade, Dr. Balakrishnan said.

The minister made mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which the US pulled out of, and how the other nations later came together to support a rebooted Pacific trade pact called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

“So although America pulled out of the TPP, fortunately Japan stepped up to the plate,  managed to corral all the other eleven,” he said.

“In the case of the CPTPP, Japan had to take a politically difficult decision to open up its agriculture sector. Vietnam had to update its labour and environmental standards,” he added.

“Nevertheless, their willingness to take these hard decisions shows that the region has signalled our commitment to greater trade liberalisation and economic integration, and we continue to leave the door open, and to keep reminding the American leadership that we hope you will come back and assume your leading place at the table.”

Dr. Balakrishnan likewise stressed that globalisation and the world order conceptualised by the US has provided the world 70 years of amity and economic affluence.

He further warned that a world divided into rival blocs could imperil what has been gained, even as the world deals with disruption in society and a technological revolution.

“If America remains a confident, open and inclusive conductor, co-conductor, cheerleader of this new emerging global architecture, then a golden age awaits us,” Dr. Balakrishnan said.

“The US has built a large reservoir of goodwill, especially in my part of the world, and we believe the US remains well-placed to continue to reap the benefits of my region’s economic dynamism. After all, you sowed the seeds of security, prosperity, friendship based on mutual respect, a long time ago,” he added.

“My appeal to the United States, is to double down, and reap the rewards together.”

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