US-China relations
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong. Photo: dpa

Neither US nor China can put each other down, says Singapore’s PM Lee

  • PM Lee Hsien Loong said both powers have presumed incorrectly they would win in any conflict
  • Over the years, Lee has been vocal in calling for the US and China to avoid a clash that could force smaller nations to choose sides
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong again warned the United States and China to de-escalate their tensions, saying both powers presumed incorrectly they would win in any conflict.

“The reality is, neither side can put the other one down,” Lee said on Tuesday, speaking by video link to the Aspen Security Forum. “I think that is a possible misunderstanding on both sides.”

The US is not in terminal decline, as some in Beijing believe, Lee said. Equally, “China is not going to disappear. This is not the Soviet Union”.

“I don’t know whether Americans realise what a formidable adversary they would be taking on if they decide that China is an enemy,” he said.

US Coast Guard renegotiating enforcement deal with China amid Pacific forays

Over the years, Lee has been vocal in calling for the world’s biggest economies to avoid a destructive clash that could force smaller countries like Singapore – with its open, trade-reliant economy – to choose sides.

Following the election of President Joe Biden last year, he said Washington should look to develop an “overall constructive relationship” with Beijing under a framework that would allow the countries to develop areas of common interest and “constrain the areas of disagreement”.
Lee told the forum that views had hardened in both the US and China, and that the Biden administration was also constrained as a result, even as it brought a more “reliable and predictable” approach to foreign policy than the presidency of Donald Trump.
Many US friends and allies wish to preserve their extensive ties with both powers. No good outcome can arise from a conflict
PM Lee Hsien Loong

“I think it will be hard to reverse the present trend toward more troubled relations, but many countries still hope that the deterioration in the relationship can be checked,” Lee said.

“Many US friends and allies wish to preserve their extensive ties with both powers. No good outcome can arise from a conflict,” he said.

“It’s vital for the US and China to strive to engage each other to head off a clash which would be disastrous for both sides and the world.”

US and Indonesia hold military drill as Washington focuses on Asean ties

The remarks come as the Biden administration seeks to bolster its presence in Asia as a counterpoint to a more assertive China.
Last month, the White House’s top official for Asia said Washington’s position in the region had “slipped”, losing ground to Beijing as the two nations disagree on everything from the South China Sea to technology and human rights.
The US has donated millions of Covid-19 vaccine shots to countries across Southeast Asia amid a surge in virus cases and last week sent Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines to reassure leaders of its commitment to engagement in the region.
Austin also vowed to challenge what he called China’s aggression. The US plans to follow up with a visit from Vice-President Kamala Harris to the region later this month.

Lee told the forum that US allies were now feeling a “palpable sense of relief” and looking for long-term foreign policy consistency.

“They hope for a reliable and predictable US which will provide a stable anchor for the international order.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: ‘No good outcome’ from US-China clash Singapore PM VP Harris to visit Singapore, Vietnam in a fortnight - PM Lee