SINGAPORE: US-China trade talks should take into account China’s increasing influence on the global stage and its “legitimate” interests in wanting to shape evolving norms, said Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday (May 15).
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Dr Balakrishnan said viewing China as an adversary to be contained will not work in the long term, as there is a whole spectrum of issues that require the cooperation of the two superpowers.
“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,” he 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.”
Noting that the US-China trade war has created great uncertainty and volatility in global markets, Dr Balakrishnan said Southeast Asia is viewing 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,” he said.
Singapore will be disproportionately affected by the US-China trade war, he added, because Singapore’s trade is three times its GDP.
US President Donald Trump last week ordered new tariffs on Chinese products, accusing China of reneging on commitments made during months of negotiations.
China denied the allegations and hit back with higher tariffs on a range of US goods.
SINGAPORE COMMITTED TO FREE TRADE
Many countries, including Singapore, believe in a rules-based multilateral system and free trade, said Dr Balakrishnan, who is in Washington on a working visit.
He cited the example 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,” said the minister.
“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 also pointed out that globalisation and the world order envisioned by the US has given the world seven decades of peace and prosperity.
A world that is split into rival blocs would jeopardise those gains, he warned, 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,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
“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.”