Big powers like China should not expect smaller states to fall in line

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 5:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 10:27pm

I refer to Ms Laura Zhou’s article, “The South China Sea shadow over Beijing’s ties with Singapore” (August 15).

It fascinates me to read the repeated insistence of academics like Shen Shishun that as a Chinese-majority Asian nation, Singapore should become closer to China than the US, even as Chinese officials call on the city state to maintain an “objective and fair position” on the South China Sea disputes.

What does the Middle Kingdom mean by an “objective and fair position”? One in which all its neighbours “Finlandise” their policies according to Beijing’s, or worst, toe its line like client states? Is it only the God-given sovereign right of big and wealthy powers like China and the US to “toy with issues of major principle” regarding international law, order and security?

The fact is, as a multicultural sovereign state, Singapore values its ties with all friendly nations, including China and the US. That folks like Shen should even allude to regionalism as a tenet of bilateral relations shows how out of touch they are with a more globalised world, which increasingly acknowledges a rules-based value system of justice and equality, regardless of race, language or religion. The regular bluster, vitriol and threats from Chinese media sources and netizens against anyone who begs to disagree with their country is completely out of this world!

As far as I know, there is no more objective and fairer stance on the South China Sea disputes than one which adheres to the United Nations security-principled order that all member states, including China, have subscribed to.

It would be extremely useful for such members of the Chinese intelligentsia to help the average global citizen, like me, better understand their government’s posturing in words and actions on the issue.

It’s fair to argue that multilateral trust-building is absolutely necessary to achieve the Chinese dream of prosperity, via its “One Belt, One Road” vision. After all, don’t we all live in a “democracy” of independent and interdependent nation-states, where there is room for all to agree to disagree on some matters?

Asia is not China, neither is China, Asia. The region is neither a backyard nor collateral damage for superpower rivalry.

No party should indulge in the fantasy of repeatedly skirting international law without risking a pushback from the rest at some point.

Countries which claim to be staunchly against hegemony should not behave like one. Only then will they get the respect they deserve without any need to demand for it.

International relations can scale new heights if all countries learn to play by the rules based on mutual respect.

John Chan, Singapore