Singapore PM says global anxiety over Beijing’s decisions is ‘not in China’s interest’
- Lee Hsien Loong, in a BBC interview, says China’s positions have won it some friends but also caused tensions with major powers
- The US and China will need to co-exist in Asia or else they – and the region – will be ‘in for a hard time’
Top US and China envoys to meet in Alaska, White House confirms
Lee said it was not possible to judge the domestic pressures that had led China to make the decisions it made.
“But I think internationally the position it has taken has won it some friends but at the same time, has led to tensions with major powers and with many other countries.”
Referring to public opinion polls such as those done by American think tank the Pew Research Center that tracked sentiments towards China in various countries, he said there was “significant uncertainty and anxiety over which way China is going and whether this will be good for them”.
“I do not think that is in China’s interest.”
But there was still a considerable risk of “severe tensions which will raise the odds later on”, Lee said.
Lee said domestic calculations were paramount for both Washington and Beijing.
“It is not so easy to say the external logic compels you to work together, because the internal logic may impel you to take a very hard line, and then you may find yourself at an impasse and clash. That can easily happen.”
Asked if the US had to accept that it was no longer number one, Lee said it was still number one economically but number two was not far behind.
“That is what is difficult for the US to accept,” he said.
Lee said he hoped other countries would see that China’s growth was an opportunity for all countries “to prosper together and to live in a stable world together”.
That, the prime minister said, was how many countries viewed China over the last 40 years as they benefited from its opening up.
Even American businesses like Walmart had advocated good relations with China because they saw the opportunities it offered, Lee said. But attitudes had shifted in the last five to seven years as these businesses saw that China had moved forward and wanted to see a more open environment where they got a bigger bite of the cherry, he added.
“It is understandable. China is in a new position now, and you have to set a different balance in your relationship with the world,” he said. “What the world was prepared to grant you in an earlier phase now has to be reworked, and that is quite difficult for a country to accept.”
While the US-China meeting in Alaska represents an effort by both sides to engage each other, it will come amid a series of high-profile meetings by Washington and Asia-Pacific countries that experts say is an effort to coordinate a united approach to counter China’s rising influence in the region.
Asked how he saw the two superpowers co-existing in the region, Lee said they would have to do so as neither would be able to put the other one away and neither would “curl up and die”.
China, he said, was not like the Soviet Union, which imploded in 1991. The Chinese economy was resilient, with people who had tremendous energy and creativity, and it was going to move forward and not give up, he said. But neither was the US, despite its serious political schisms and problems, going to die.
“It has got tremendous vitality and attraction for people around the world. It has come back from many difficult spots before. In that situation, I think unless the two powers decide to coexist, they are both in for a hard time, and so are we.”
Early in the pandemic, Singapore had placed orders for vaccines from multiple suppliers to hedge its bets and has since received and approved for use those by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Since December, more than 610,000 doses of vaccines have been administered.
Asked by the BBC about the perceived pressure, Lee said: “We are in the process of evaluating the vaccine. If it passes muster in terms of safety and effectiveness, we will use it.”
He said there was no basis to assume that a vaccine from China was good or not just because of where it comes from.
“We will use vaccines from any source. Vaccines do not carry a nationality. Is it good or is it no good? Does it work? If it does, then we will use it.”