Singapore

Singapore hopes US can stabilise relations with China: PM Lee

Singapore hopes the United States is able to stabilise its relationship with China, because Asia depends on stable ties between the two countries to have a secure and predictable environment to prosper, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He made the point in an online interview when American businessman David Rubinstein asked him what he would say to an incoming US president asking for advice on how to strengthen the country's relationship with Asia.

PM Lee said he would also encourage the next President, be it Republican President Donald Trump who is running for re-election or his Democratic rival Joe Biden, to develop a bipartisan consensus on US-Asian relations so that American foreign policy would last beyond the President's administration.

He cited how the previous Obama administration's re-balance towards Asia had been supported by many Asian countries, but the Trump administration had a different take on the issue, wanting Japan and South Korea to pay more for the US troops stationed on their soil.

"If you can establish a stable, predictable policy with bipartisan consensus, I think it would be a great help to all your friends and partners who want to be able to depend on you and to rely on you, without the risk that one day the big power may suddenly decide its interests lie elsewhere," he said.

PM Lee urged Washington to find a way to return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership mega trade pact it had withdrawn from at the start of the Trump administration.

Worries about the direction of US-China relations featured heavily in the interview on Asia's response to tensions between the two major powers and Covid-19, hosted by Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Council.

PM Lee described the US-China tensions as very unfortunate, saying: "Actions have been taken which have provoked counter actions, and the issues have metastasised and spread into all fields of the relationship...

"The way things have developed over the last several years, you have very many areas where there's not only contradiction but also deep distrust, and this is corrosive and it's making a very difficult relationship very dangerous."

He noted the relationship historically tends to get tangled with presidential campaigns in election years, but that things settle down after the new administration settles in. But this year's election - due on November 3 - and its aftermath may be different, he said.

"I'm not sure whether it will happen this time because the feel is quite different, and the degree of animus and... bipartisan consensus on treating China as a threat is quite extraordinary. I fear that it may carry on past the election and if it does, I think that bodes ill for the world."

PM Lee set out two outcomes, both of which worry Singapore. One, the US will collide with China and the other is the US will decide it has no stake in the region and leave Asian countries to their own defences. Singapore and other countries in the region want good relations with China while keeping their deep relations with the US, he added.

The dialogue was moderated by Mr Rubenstein, who heads the American private equity firm The Carlyle Group and is chairman of the US non-profit think-tank Council on Foreign Relations.

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