Spat reveals true stance of Singapore to Chinese public

By Liu Zhun Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/30 0:03:40

The recent public sparring between Singaporean ambassador to China Stanley Loh and Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin has raised quite a stir in both the Chinese and international media. The heart of the issue is whether Singaporean delegates attempted to shoehorn the South China Sea arbitration issue onto the agenda at the 17th Non-Aligned Movement summit in Venezuela.

The spat has been analyzed through different lenses. Western media, such as the Financial Times, believes it exposes Beijing-Singapore strains. In my view, the squabble has revealed the true face of Singapore to the Chinese public.

Singapore maintains a special position in the worldview of many mainland Chinese. The majority of its population have Chinese ancestry, and it values Chinese traditional philosophy and ways of life, although it is a modern state built on the basis of Western democracy.

Amazed by Singapore's successful economic performance and state governance, the mainland Chinese praise Singapore as "the best governed of all Chinese societies," and have developed an intimacy with it. Accordingly, they believe Singapore must feel the same as China due to their profound connections and that it should side with China in international issues.

Unfortunately, Singapore doesn't feel such brotherly affection for China. Its "Chineseness" doesn't mean it is pro-China or even understands China's position in international disputes.

As a "little red dot" located in a place of profound strategic significance, Singapore has mastered pragmatic diplomacy well. It has spared no efforts to maintain a geopolitical balance in the region.

Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew is a fine example of this mastery of pragmatism. He played an important role in advising China to reform and open-up, but was also concerned about China's rise, publicly calling for the US to pivot to the Asia-Pacific. Meanwhile, he stuck to a de facto authoritarianism, regardless of criticisms from Western democracy.

Despite their Chinese ancestry, Singaporeans have fully embraced the Western world, sharing similar values and looking at global affairs from a Western perspective. They find more common ground with the US than with China over regional matters.

Singapore's role must be re-oriented among the Chinese public, which should abandon any impractical illusions toward the city-state in terms of political affairs. It must be treated as an ordinary player in international politics and a close military partner of the US in the Asia-Pacific, which China can work with for mutual benefits, and can also be tough with when it crosses the line.

Posted in: Observer

blog comments powered by Disqus