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.”
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.
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.
“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.”