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Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan during the Asean foreign ministers meeting in Cambodia this month. He says he is worried about rising US-China tension spiralling out of control. Photo: AP

Singapore’s foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan worries US-China tension may ‘spiral’ into war

  • Balakrishnan says he doesn’t believe the two nations ‘are setting out to wage war on each other, but I do worry there is a very real risk’
  • He told The Straits Times the worsening relationship between Washington and Beijing reminded him of what transpired before WWI
Singapore is concerned that the United States and China could be locked in an “escalatory spiral” of countermeasures that would lead to eventual war, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday, in the latest indication that superpower tensions are weighing heavily on the minds of the region’s governments.
There are some hopes that the tension could ease by the end of the year, as observers expect President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden to hold their first-ever in-person summit.
Asked about the state of US-China ties in an interview with The Straits Times, Balakrishnan suggested that things have not been moving in the right direction and that the risk of a mishap or miscalculation was rising.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during an Asean meeting in Cambodia on August 5. Photo: Reuters

“I do not believe any one of them are actually setting out to wage war on each other, but I do worry there is a very real risk,” he said.

“Each party unilaterally deciding what its national interests are and what its response or counter response to the other party will be may inadvertently set itself up for an escalatory spiral.”

Balakrishnan said the worsening relations between Washington and Beijing reminded him of what transpired before World War I. He pointed out that the major powers then had not intended for war but a “series of steps, incidents, mishaps and this locked-in spiral led to a terrible situation”.


“That’s why I remain so concerned about the prospects of global peace,” he cautioned. “The world has entered a very dangerous phase.”


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The minister was also asked about foreign influence in Singapore. The matter has been a key talking point in the country over the last year, after authorities enacted a new law to combat malignant foreign interference. In his annual policy speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated the need for citizens to be wary of social media disinformation from external players.
Observers have said pro-China messaging, on issues such as Beijing’s rivalry with Washington, has been on the rise on platforms like WeChat. Officially, Singapore authorities have maintained that their warnings about foreign interference are not aimed at any one country.
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Beijing in February. Photo: via AFP

In his remarks on Friday, Balakrishnan did not name any nation, but he acknowledged that there were “clearly” actors attempting to influence Singapore’s citizens and stressed the need to check that messages received are from credible sources.

“We are all exposed to a very wide variety of messages. A significant number of which, in fact, originate outside Singapore whose objective is not necessarily the long-term interests of Singapore but to further their objectives,” he said.


“What (the) PM is telling and reminding all of us is, please be aware these things are going on. We are receiving it and (it is) precisely because we are a multilingual, multiracial, open society [that] we are more vulnerable.”