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‘China knows it’s getting stronger’: George Yeo on US-China tensions|Talking Post with Yonden Lhatoo

‘China knows it’s getting stronger’: George Yeo on US-China tensions|Talking Post with Yonden Lhatoo

Singapore’s George Yeo hopes China will stay out of ‘long, dark tunnel’ as Russia and the West wade into nuclear talk

  • The ex-foreign minister is hopeful China will ‘have the wisdom and the statecraft to avoid entering’ the Ukraine war as it would put the world ‘in jeopardy’
  • He characterised the Ukraine conflict as a ‘proxy war’ that typically occurs before world powers edge towards ‘Armageddon’
Russia and the West are walking into a “long, dark tunnel” with their rising rhetoric about a nuclear confrontation, and China should exercise wisdom and statecraft to avoid going down the same path, Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo has said.
Characterising the conflict in Ukraine – following Russia’s February invasion of its smaller neighbour – as a “proxy war”, Yeo said China’s entry into the fray would put the world in jeopardy.
“With the incorporation of the four [Ukrainian] oblasts to the Russian federation, the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, I fear that Russia and the US and Europe are walking into a long, dark tunnel from which they cannot easily reverse,” Yeo said in an interview on Talking Post with the Post’s chief news editor Yonden Lhatoo.
Yeo comments came amid remarks by high-profile figures about the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

George Yeo on Singapore’s balancing of cultural ties amid China’s rise

In the latest salvo, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borell last week said Russian forces would be “annihilated” if President Vladimir Putin used nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Putin in September warned that he was not “bluffing” when he said he would use “ all available means” to protect Russia if its territorial integrity was threatened.
“This lighthearted talk of nuclear exchange is madness,” said Yeo, who has remained one of Singapore’s most followed public intellectuals since his retirement from politics in 2011. “Once you begin that exchange, there’s no stopping point, because the side that feels itself losing will become even more desperate. And then little by little, it will ratchet upwards.”
Yeo, who has remained a prolific commentator on China affairs since his 2011 retirement from politics, said he hoped the Asian superpower would “have the wisdom and the statecraft to avoid entering that tunnel”.

He added: “Because if it does, then the whole world would be in jeopardy. But I think the Chinese will find a way to stay out of this.”


Why Russia is using ‘kamikaze drones’ in Ukraine

Why Russia is using ‘kamikaze drones’ in Ukraine

Yeo, a military general-turned-politician, said before world powers dangerously edged towards “Armageddon”, there would be proxy or hybrid wars, such as the conflict taking place in Ukraine.

In such scenarios, countries “jostle for advantage, using the threat of war as leverage but not really wanting it to be made use of ultimately”.

However, when “we act dynamically against one another, we may end up in a position which we did not intend t0 be when we first started”, Yeo said. “I think this is what has happened in Europe. All parties have ended up in a position they did not wish for originally.”
In his new three-part book series Musings, Yeo shared his views on great power rivalry and Singapore’s place in the more contested geopolitical landscape.

Why do Singapore and Malaysia view China more favourably than the US?

Asked during the interview if the ongoing US-China tensions would eventually lead to “doom”, Yeo said he was not as optimistic as Singapore’s late independence leader Lee Kuan Yew.
The elder statesman had said that both the US and China were ultimately “rational”, but Yeo said he was unsure whether this was still the case, noting that ex-US president Donald Trump was brought into power by “mass emotions”.
Current US President Joe Biden is “weak”, Yeo said, and American society at large is divided by such mass emotion. “So China may be a rational player, [but] on the US side if something happens in the South China Sea, and the ship is sunk, hundreds of sailors lose their lives, I think the domestic reaction in the US will be so great it would be difficult for the White House to contain it.”

Hong Kong ‘not safe’ in 2019

Yeo, who served as chairman of Hong Kong-based Kerry Logistics Network from 2012 to 2019, also touched on the city’s political situation during the wide-ranging interview.

On the Beijing-imposed national security law (NSL), imposed in 2020 in the aftermath of the political turmoil a year earlier, Yeo said he was “relieved” when it was introduced.
Recalling the 2019 protests, Yeo said he and his wife were splitting their time between Hong Kong and Singapore during that period, spending at least a few days a month in the city state.


China’s Rebel City: The Hong Kong Protests

China’s Rebel City: The Hong Kong Protests

“In 2019, we no longer felt safe [in Hong Kong] and we were relieved when we came back to Singapore to be able to talk freely and to be able to eat in a restaurant late into the night”, Yeo said, adding that “Hong Kong was becoming strange to us” during that period.

“I was frankly quite disgusted by the way the Western media were lionising the violence, which they will never give allowance for in their own societies,” he said.

Yeo acknowledged that many Hong Kong residents, including his friends, were “still sullen” about the imposition of the NSL and were waiting to see what the longer term situation would be like.
His assessment was that the law had removed “one important question mark” about Hong Kong’s retention of the “ one country, two systems” model beyond 2047.

“Now that the National Security Law is in place, which is entirely reasonable, because all countries have that … this has now ensured that beyond 2047, there will still be one country, two systems [and it’s] likely to continue indefinitely because it’s in China’s interest.”