Singapore shouldn’t be bound by geopolitics

By Fan Lei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/18 20:58:39

The Singaporean government has shown a willingness to join the China-led Belt and Road initiative. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a recent interview with Australia's ABC Radio National that his country supports the initiative. In his official visit to China, Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan stressed Singapore has always been an "early and strong" supporter of the scheme. In addition, Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen delivered a goodwill message to promote the initiative during the Shangri-La Dialogue early this month, indicating that China-Singapore ties are heading in a positive direction. 

Bilateral ties between China and Singapore have become a hot topic since last year. Singapore's support for the South China Sea arbitration case as well as its positioning in China-US relations have been perceived as unfriendly to China. The 13th meeting of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation between China and Singapore held in Beijing on February 27 witnessed the amelioration of China-Singapore ties.

However, Lee's absence from the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which was held in Beijing last month, Singapore's week-long joint military drill with India and China's lower-ranking delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue have raised speculation about lukewarm China-Singapore relations. The leading countries in the international community are regarded as the epitome of power and influence, dominating those smaller and weaker nations. Small countries are fragile, often failing to achieve self-reliance in security and consequently resorting to greater powers or global institutional structures for protection.

However, a number of small states decline to be pushed around and some are even ambitious. A case in point is Singapore.

Singapore has been an important hub for business and cultural exchange based on its export-oriented economic and social systems since the 19th century. After the founding of the Republic of Singapore in 1965, the government's remarkable governance and flexible diplomatic strategies have won the country enormous global influence incommensurate with its size, transcended geopolitical constraints and shown how a small country can be a big player on the global arena.

However, despite the state-of-the-art military system it has developed in Southeast Asia, Singapore fails to ensure absolute security because of its limited size and adjacent leading powers. Therefore, the Singaporean government has adopted a balanced strategy.

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said in 1966 that if Finland was invaded major powers could ignore it because such an invasion would do little to affect the balance of power among them; however, it would be a problem for great powers if there was no Singapore, given its strategic importance.

This strategic importance underscores the significance of Singapore's geography and indicates the importance of its balancing diplomacy. In Lee's eyes, the US, USSR and China had played crucial roles in shaping the world order during the Cold War and as a result, he hoped they would continue to view Singapore as important in maintaining a stable balance of power.

Despite flexible diplomatic strategies, small countries can end up as pawns in the games played by big powers or fall prey to changes in international order. Such worries have prompted the Singaporean government to back what it considers to be the greatest world power - the US.

There is no doubt that China's rise has become the most influential geopolitical variable in the regional and global landscape. Singapore needs to address the resulting changes. China will likely outstrip the US in strength in the Pacific region and exert its effects on Singapore from a much closer proximity.

Therefore, the Singaporean government should adjust its domestic and overseas development strategies to adapt to the changes. The sovereign city-state has been dependent on China economically in recent years but has maintained close security ties with the US.

The Singaporean government underlines that it has developed cooperative relations, rather than an alliance with the US. On the other hand, when wooing the US to counterbalance China, the Singaporean administration has stressed that this does not to target China. Dr Ng has said Singapore's commitment to facilitating the use of its military bases by American forces does not indicate Singapore chooses to side with the US.

However, the strategic purpose behind the US' deployment of combat ships and anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft is seemingly self-evident and the impact on the geopolitical pattern in the region obvious, which may become a grudge between China and Singapore.

The fact that both hold different principles in safeguarding their national interests cannot constitute a fundamental strategic disagreement. The positive stance from the two foreign ministers on the Belt and Road initiative and Sino-Singaporean ties gives a new shine to bilateral relations. Openness, inclusiveness and cooperation may work effectively for the Singaporean government to transcend geopolitical restrictions. The joint efforts to build the initiative should become the biggest highlight in the China-Singapore relationship.

The author is a research fellow at the Center for Social Research at Shandong University of Political Science & Law and a research fellow at The Charhar Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: ASIAN REVIEW

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