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To favour US over China or vice-versa: A “painful choice,” says PM Lee

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The PM said that most of the south east Asian countries have China as their biggest trading partner which puts them in a tricky position

With the continuing tension between the US and China, Asian countries are placed in a difficult situation and will be pressured to choose which side to go, when that happens, it will be a very “painful choice” to make, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview with CNN aired Sunday (Oct 6).

“It is not a happy engagement right now, but (the US) is not pulling out from the field. I think what we would like to see in Asia is the US engaged actively, not only with China but also with other Asian countries.”

“All of them have China as their biggest trading partner. So if you ask them to choose and say I therefore must cut off my legs with my biggest trading partner, I think you will put them in a very difficult position,” said Mr Lee, adding that Singapore, while not an ally of the US, also has its biggest trading legs with China.

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Previously, Mr Lee said that Singapore will act in its own interests when it comes to navigating the stormy technological and economic conflict between the two superpowers.

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Asked about the impact of the trade war on Singapore, given its position as a staunch US partner and its close economic links to China, Mr Lee said: “We see that as a problem for us, but in fact, it is a problem for the world.

“All of us have depended on stable US-China relations, increasingly close US-China co-operation, investments, trade as well as flows of talent and ideas. The way things are going now, that benign trend is being disrupted and perhaps even turned around. I think that is bad for the world.”

On the Hong Kong chaos

Asked about the turmoil in Hong Kong, Mr Lee felt sorry for Hong Kong’s situation as it is a city with plenty of talent, enterprise and potential.

“They are right on the doorstep of China and China has been a backstop for them, which enabled them to grow and to overcome many economic rough spots. But at the same time, they are part of China and this is a big psychological change, which is not easy for the population to get used to,” Mr Lee said.

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“Fundamentally, it is a question of hope for the future for the young people. If these are not radically addressed, it is very difficult to overcome the problems,” he added.

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When asked if he was surprised that China has not shut down the protests with force, the  prime minister said he was not.

Giving his take on the escalating protests, which began in June, Mr Lee said China is now confronted with an uncomfortable problem: “If (the Chinese) do the wrong thing, (they) can make things a lot worse. I think they are very conscious of that. -/TISGu

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