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Success in US-China competition will be determined by ‘power of their example, rather than example of their power’: Chan Chun Sing

SINGAPORE: Success in the US-China competition will be determined by which country can exercise global leadership through “the power of their example, rather than the example of their power”, said Minister of Education Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday. 

Speaking at a lecture organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), themed Singapore Amid Great Power Rivalry, Mr Chan said that success will not be determined by “who is able to knock the other down”. 

“Neither will be able to do that to the other, not decisively, and not without causing damage to oneself. Nor should that be their primary focus,” he said.

Instead, success will be determined by the country that can best manage its domestic challenges and exercise global leadership, he added.

“Whoever can create more and better opportunities for the world, whoever can provide leadership for a more connected world, whoever acts in enlightened self-interest to benefit the world, rather than narrow self-interest to benefit only itself, will succeed through the power of their example," Mr Chan said.

Although the US-China competition has often been compared to US-Soviet Cold War competition, this is “misleading” despite “superficial similarities”, said Mr Chan. 

“The US and the Soviet Union led two separate systems and competed to see which system will prevail. The US and China are both vital components of a single global system and compete within that system,” he added.  

“Competition within a system is fundamentally different from competition between systems.

“China is also not the Soviet Union. Thus, a strategy of containment based on an expectation of economic collapse is not viable. On the other hand, the US is not in terminal decline despite all the obvious current challenges confronting its body politic.” 

Global leadership is needed now more than ever to lead the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuild and reorganise disrupted supply chains and assure access to critical supplies like vaccines, said Mr Chan. 

There are also many other pressing challenges, including climate change, he added.

“There is tremendous opportunity for both the US and China to focus on these global challenges and exercise their respective leadership to win the world over.” 

The rest of the world must understand that it has the “responsibility and agency to shape the outcome we desire" – for the world to remain inclusive, open and interconnected, where countries are vested in each other's success. 


“For a start, we can avoid a zero-sum mentality. It is a false dichotomy that one side must lose, for the other side to win. We can send a clear message that we will act on principle, and do not wish to be corralled into taking sides,” he continued. 

“We act in accordance with our own enlightened long-term interests, which may not always align with the specific interests of either the US or China.” 

Most countries want to be partners and grow relationships with both the US and China, Mr Chan noted. 

“Taking sides regardless of issues and context, breeds irrelevance. And if one is irrelevant, it will almost certainly require taking sides,” he added. 


Singapore seeks to be a “relevant partner” to both the US and China, as well as the rest of the world, said Mr Chan, addressing Singapore’s stance on the matter. 

“They are our friends and we want both of them to do well, and to be active and constructive players in our region and the world. We want to value-add to those relationships. We do not take sides as default, without regard to the issue and context,” he added. 

“Instead, we take principled positions in our own long-term national interests to uphold the rule of international law in the global order, so that might does not equal right.” 

When Singapore decides on its positions on this basis, it will be the “reliable, steadfast and consistent partner” that others have come to know Singapore as. 

Singapore supports "inclusive, open, rules-based and connected" global security and economic architectures, said the Education Minister. 

Singapore believes that these principles best support the country’s interests to enhance its survival and success, said Mr Chan. 

"We will work with like-minded partners to achieve this. For us, they include countries, corporates, and international organisations, who must all share in this endeavour to build a better world," added the minister.

“Instead of being mired in existing and old debates, we should transcend our differences to fulfil the potential of a global shared agenda.” 

Source: CNA/hw(mi)


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