BEIJING: Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Tuesday (Oct 22) urged the United States and China to find common ground, so as not to risk global instability.
Dr Ng made the call in a speech at the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, amid a deepening rift between China and the US over issues like trade and technology.
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“The US and China need to find some common ground while agreeing to disagree on other issues, so as not to risk global instability,” Dr Ng told the annual security conference.
“Our world needs both the US and China, not only to ensure progress and stability but also to deal with common security challenges such as climate change, nuclear threats and terrorism.”
Dr Ng acknowledged that finding common ground would not be “easy going”. However, given that the alternatives are “far worse”, the US and China must choose to act, as this challenge at its heart, is a political one.
Pointing to the reasons for the friction, Dr Ng said the US wants to address shortcomings and perceived unfairness in rules and international trade practices.
It also wants to champion the democratic ideals that the country upholds, while the Trump administration believes other countries should do more to protect vested interests.
On the other hand, China is hoping to preserve the current World Trade Organization rules-based multilateral trading system. The country also recognises that it has to protect its interests as it expands.
“Taken at face value, both narratives do not necessarily conflict, at least not geographically. The US and China share no land border or compete for any physical resource as high stakes,” said Dr Ng.
“And yet, the world finds itself in the midst of a strategic rivalry which, for this generation, will be the single-most critical issue that determines the fate of our world, countries and citizens at large.”
He added that it is difficult to imagine a single winner or a quick resolution to the differences.
The worst consequence could be a “destructive collision”, whether economically, militarily or both.
As a small country, Dr Ng said Singapore is watching with “deep concern” as larger powers position themselves more aggressively against each other.
“Singapore will maintain its strong friendships with both,” said Dr Ng. “But it is also acutely aware that the farther the US and China pull apart, the harder it would be for all countries to keep to this principled and neutral position.”
Dr Ng recalled a historic meeting between then US President Richard Nixon and Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong that began the thawing of frozen positions on both sides.
Despite critics, this led to an improvement of the Sino-American relationship with the establishment of diplomatic ties.
President Nixon had in a toast to Chinese leaders said: "There is no reason for us to be enemies. Neither of us seek the territory of the other. Neither of us seek domination over the other. Neither of us seek to stretch out our hands and rule the world."
“These words ring true then as they do now," said Dr Ng.
"The world looks to the enlightened leadership of both the US and China to forge a world that is safe, open, inclusive for this generation and the next."
The annual Xiangshan Forum brings together high-level defence and military officials in Beijing, with discussion focused on security and defence issues in the region.