In the event of war between the US and China, Singapore will not be used by the US as a base to attack China, in the opinion of former Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo.
“I don’t think Singapore will be used as a base by the US to attack China,” said Yeo during a lunch talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong on March 9.
When former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was alive, he was clear that if there was a conflict between the US and China, Singapore will not be involved, Yeo pointed out. “I don’t think that position will change.”
Singapore has extensive military cooperation with the US. It is an open secret that a significant number of US warships call on Singapore. Singapore also has military partnerships with Australia, which is part of AUKUS, a security pact involving the US, Australia and the UK.
“We have intimate relations with both the US and China. Finding a balancing point is difficult. There may be no sweet spot,” Yeo said.
Singapore should combine with Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), of which it is a member, to strengthen its neutrality between the two superpowers, Yeo suggested.
Fears of war between the US and China over Taiwan have increased lately. On March 7, two Australian newspapers splashed big stories on their front pages with screaming headlines warning of a possible war with China. The Sydney Morning Herald’s front page headline was, “Red alert: War risk exposed”, while the Age’s headline was, “Australia must prepare for China war”.
On the same day, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was quoted by the Guardian saying, “Today’s Sydney Morning Herald and Age front-page stories on Australia’s supposed war risk with China represents the most egregious and provocative news presentation of any newspaper I have witnessed in over 50 years of active public life. It is way worse than the illustrated sampans shown to be coming from China in the buildup to the war in Vietnam in the 1960s.”
At a press conference in Beijing on March 7, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang said, “The US talks of ‘guardrails’ and ‘no conflict’ in Sino-US relations, in reality, the US does not want China to fight back or talk back when scolded, but this will not happen! If the US does not step on the brakes of the car but continues to hurtle down the wrong road, further restraint would not prevent the car from overturning and going off course, and inevitably fall into conflict. Who will then assume the blame for this disaster?”
If the US truly wants peace across the Taiwan Strait, the US should not use Taiwan to contain China and explicitly oppose Taiwanese independence, Qin said.
At a press briefing in Washington on March 8, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “Look, I’m not going to get into a tit-for-tat with the Chinese foreign minister.”
The US remains committed to its longstanding “one China” policy, which has not changed, Price said.
On March 6, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “Western countries led by the US are containing us, besieging us, suppressing us, posing an unprecedented severe challenge to our country’s development.”
Qin’s statement was a warning to the US to back off, Yeo commented. “For the first time, Xi mentioned Biden by name. The Chinese sent a signal to the Americans, if you are not serious, we will take a different approach. It was a shot across the bow.”
The Chinese are wondering whether the US has departed from the agreement between US President Joseph Biden and Xi to stabilize US-China relations when they met in Bali at the G20 summit last November, Yeo said. In Bali, US officials talked of setting guardrails to the relationship between the two countries.
The ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia will likely end in the partition of Ukraine, like the partition of the Korean peninsula into North and South Korea, Yeo predicted. If the Ukrainian armed forces make great advances, Russia may launch a big counterattack, and if Russian forces make great advances in Ukraine, NATO may step in, Yeo warned. Both sides should exercise restraint, Yeo urged.
The Ukraine war will accelerate the rise of a multipolar world with China as a rising power, Yeo predicted. The West, particularly the US, “at a visceral level is very uncomfortable” with the rise of China, Yeo said.
When asked if he would contest in Singapore’s presidential election later this year and Singapore’s next general election with the ruling party or another party, Yeo replied no to both questions.
Toh Han Shih is chief analyst of Headland Intelligence, a Hong Kong risk consulting firm.
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