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Singapore

If US-China relationship breaks apart, it could end period of peace and prosperity: Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister also spoke about the situation in Myanmar and expressed concern that the country is sliding into civil war.

SINGAPORE: If the relationship between the US and China breaks apart, it could spell the end of a period that has been characterised by peace and prosperity as well as relatively low inflation and interest rates, said Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday (Aug 5).

“Once you split apart, it means higher prices, it means less efficient supply chains, it means a more divided world or more disrupted and dangerous world, so those are the stakes,” he added.

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to reporters at a virtual interview on the last day of his visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where he attended the 55th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting.

The meeting, which had been expected to focus on the crisis in Myanmar, was overshadowed by tensions in the Taiwan Strait after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week.

China has furiously condemned Pelosi’s trip, which was the highest-level US visit to Taiwan in 25 years.

In a show of force, Beijing began its largest military exercises around Taiwan on Thursday, which continued Friday, firing ballistic missiles and deploying fighter jets and warships.

When asked about his assessment of tensions on both sides, Dr Balakrishnan said that the US and China are not looking for conflict, but for political reasons, both sides have had to take a stance.

Stressing that everyone has a stake in the global integrated economic system, Dr Balakrishnan said: “I know you have to compete, maybe confront but we all have skin in this game and we do want America and China to get along.

“My own personal observation is (that) they are not looking for conflict but I have to tell all Singaporeans right now, this is a dangerous, dangerous moment for the whole world."

Dr Balakrishnan met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting on Friday.

They discussed regional and global issues, including US-China relations and recent developments in the Taiwan Strait, according to a press statement by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Dr Balakrishnan also emphasised the need to avoid miscalculation and accidents, which could lead to an escalatory spiral and destabilise the region.

"He encouraged greater engagement by the senior leadership and dialogue by all sides to build strategic trust," said MFA.

MYANMAR CRISIS

Turning to Myanmar, Dr Balakrishnan said the situation is “very dire”, expressing concern that the country is sliding into civil war.

“There's been no progress on our five-point consensus. In fact, the timing of the recent executions or even the earlier bombing ... so soon after Prime Minister Hun Sen visits Myanmar ... reflects a high level of cynicism or even outright disrespect for the role of ASEAN,” he said.

“The point is, we can't interfere but if they do not see that there is value in dialogue, national reconciliation and making use of ASEAN’s good officers, then I'm afraid it's a very dire situation," he added.

“How long will this go on for? I have heard estimates between four years and 20 years. I don’t know but I’m pessimistic."

In a joint statement published on Friday, ASEAN ministers said they are “deeply disappointed” by the limited progress and lack of commitment by the Myanmar military authorities in implementing the five point peace plan.

"We extensively discussed the recent developments in Myanmar and expressed our concerns over the prolonged political crisis ... including the execution of four opposition activists," the statement added.

What is the Five-Point Consensus?

The five-point consensus was agreed upon among ASEAN's leaders as well as Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing in April last year.

The points are:

First, there shall be an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint.

Second, constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.

Third, a special envoy of the ASEAN chair shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the secretary-general of ASEAN.

Fourth, ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the  ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management.

Fifth, the special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

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ASEAN ministers recommended assessing the progress in the implementation of the peace plan in November during the ASEAN summit and deciding on the next steps.

“We reiterated our commitment to peace and stability in the region and expressed ASEAN's readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful, and constructive manner, including in the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” the statement said.

Responding to a question from the media about how ASEAN would define and measure progress before the summit in November, Dr Balakrishnan said that the bloc is “formulating some options” that will be put on the table when leaders meet, but added that he is not at liberty to reveal what these options are.

“I remain pessimistic about what additional pressure would do," he said. "In the end, they have to see that this is a dead end and the only way the country can move forward, is by national reconciliation.”

Besides the situation in Myanmar, ASEAN ministers also discussed the war in Ukraine.

In the joint statement published on Friday, they reaffirmed the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine.

This marks the second time that the regional bloc has publicly done so, with the first in May during the ASEAN-US Special Summit.

In the statement, they reiterated their call for compliance with international law and the United Nations Charter, and supported the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General in the search for a peaceful solution.

“We also called for the facilitation of rapid, safe and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for those in need in Ukraine, and for the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel, and persons in vulnerable situations,” the statement said.

Source: CNA/vl(gs)

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