Relations between Singapore and China haven’t been good lately thanks to the Lion City’s endorsement of the International Court of Justice’s July ruling against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, China’s perception that the city-state is cosying up to the United States and Japan to contain its rise, and the recent seizure of armoured vehicles in Hong Kong on their way from a military exercise in Taiwan back to Singapore.

Beijing demands Singapore abide by ‘one-China’ principle after military vehicles seized in Hong Kong

As a small country dependent on external trade and the goodwill of much larger nations, it probably wasn’t Singapore’s intention to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. The current chill in ties is perhaps as much a result of misreading the situation as an inopportune turn of events. Hopefully, this will be a temporary blip in an otherwise healthy relationship between the two countries.

Singapore’s position in the world is reminiscent of Jingnan, a small state in central China during the turbulent period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, in the 10th century. Located in present-day Hubei and surrounded on all sides by bigger neighbours, Jingnan rulers had to resort to nimble diplomacy and cunning to survive among the warring states.

China has always kept mum on Singapore’s defence ties with Taipei, so why is it complaining now?

One of the strategies Jingnan employed was to swear fealty to all the dozen or so other states and maintain neutrality. Jingnan’s centralised location also made it a trading and transport hub that did business with everyone. The state of Jingnan managed to last 57 years, quite a feat for a tiny territory in turbulent times.