Singapore-China relations not a zero-sum game, says Foreign Minister

Singapore-China relations not a zero-sum game, says Foreign Minister

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan says the recovery of Singapore’s military vehicles from Hong Kong is best handled through legal processes while reiterating support for the One China policy.

vivian balakrishnan china

SINGAPORE: Relations between Singapore and major powers like China should not be seen as a zero-sum game, and Singapore welcomes a rising China, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament on Monday (Jan 9).

“We believe in an interdependence … that promotes collaboration and win-win outcomes,” he said in response to a question on the country’s relations with China since the November seizure of nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles belonging to the Singapore army. The vehicles were en route to Singapore following military exercises in Taiwan when they were held in Hong Kong.

“In international relations, it is natural for countries to want other parties to act entirely in line with their own national interest,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “As a small state, Singapore will from time to time encounter such expectations from other countries, and many of these will be much bigger than Singapore. This is realpolitik.

“However, it is important for us to conduct our foreign policy as a sovereign, independent nation ... This is essential for our international credibility, our standing, our relevance and usefulness to our partners and friends.”

He added: “We must also maintain our emphasis on upholding international law and scrupulously respecting agreements entered into with other countries. This attitude to international law and scrupulously respecting agreements is basic to the rules-based international order that benefits all countries, and is especially crucial for our long-term survival and independence as a small state."

Dr Balakrishnan underlined the city-state’s adherence to the One China policy since diplomatic relations were established in 1990, and spoke of bilateral economic relations, stressing Singapore’s role as China’s largest foreign investor and conversely China as Singapore’s largest trading partner.


He said he did not believe in “megaphone diplomacy”, when asked by Member of Parliament (MP) Zaqy Mohamad about the perceived discrepancy between the Chinese government’s actions and its media’s portrayal of Singapore.

In the days following the Terrex seizure, Chinese daily Global Times ran several editorials questioning Singapore’s growing relationship with the US as well as its take on China asserting itself in the South China Sea.

“I don’t believe in engaging in a whole lot of invective, and in conducting affairs in a way which generates more heat than light,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

He also said there had not been any formal restriction of market access to China for Singapore parties as a fallout from the incident, after Mr Zaqy pointed to complaints from industry clan associations.

“I want to encourage that these interactions on business, commercial, cultural, educational, and people-to-people level continue,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “We should insulate these from issues that will come up from time to time.”

He added that Singapore had not directly opened dialogue with China over the Terrexes, in expectation that the law would take its course.

“It is best this matter be handled through the proper legal process,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “There is no need to politicise it. There is no need to engage in megaphone diplomacy.

“Let's have some patience and give this matter time to resolve through an appropriate legal or judicial process,” he urged.


Later, opposition leader Low Thia Khiang asked Dr Balakrishnan if China’s economic and military progress had led to the country becoming “arrogant” and “aggressive”.

“This emergence of China as a manufacturing, service and consumption hub provides enormous opportunities to the rest of the world,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “We must welcome a rising China, a stronger China, and an economically more integrated China.”

He added: “This is where we have to learn to take things in our stride. We are a tiny city-state. We are a multiracial society. We are located in the centre of Southeast Asia."

“This is where we, from time to time, have to courteously and respectfully differ, and remind everyone, big or small, to please let Singapore be Singapore,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “We may be small, but we are an independent, sovereign nation. We have our own permanent interests. We want to maintain our independence. We want to have as many friends as possible."

This entailed occasionally standing up to big powers in polite disagreement, he noted.

“We cannot be at the beck and call ... of any single superpower ... If that means from time to time I have to have a difference with you, so be it. But I am not against you. I am completely in support of your rise … Do not force us to make invidious choices,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Source: CNA/jo