Singapore warns of ‘escalatory spiral’ as US-China trust erodes

Singapore’s foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he’s observed on four separate trips to China in the past year that “attitudes have become more assertive” there, with a strong and growing nationalism and more “muscular” actions to defend international interests. (Photo by Bloomberg)

Singapore’s foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he’s observed on four separate trips to China in the past year that “attitudes have become more assertive” there, with a strong and growing nationalism and more “muscular” actions to defend international interests. (Photo by Bloomberg)

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(Sept 24): A continued lack of strategic trust between the US and China could create an “escalatory spiral” that leads to a potential mishap between the two nations at a time when tensions are flaring over Taiwan, according to Singapore’s foreign minister.

“The key missing ingredient in this relationship, from the perspective of a dispassionate third country, is that there is a lack of strategic trust between the US and China,” Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday (Sept 23) in New York at an event hosted by the Asia Society, according to prepared remarks. “I think the ultimate focal point for this is the Taiwan Straits, which is the reddest of red lines for Beijing.”

Balakrishnan said he’s observed on four separate trips to China in the past year that “attitudes have become more assertive” there, with a strong and growing nationalism and more “muscular” actions to defend international interests.

“As China’s strategic and economic influence has grown, so has their sense of vulnerability,” given that Communist regimes must respond to “the anxieties and the zeitgeist of their own societies”, he said.

Other highlights from Balakrishnan’s speech:

  • “There can be no good outcome for us in Asia if our countries are forced into two camps with a line in between.”
  • On the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, he said it “very studiously avoids any mention of market access. But anyway, to the extent that it reflects American acknowledgement that there are opportunities out across the Pacific and continued engagement — that is positive. Singapore will stand fully shoulder to shoulder on this endeavour. But you need to do more — that is the message”.
  • “Foreign policy and trade policy begins at home. You have got to embark on the necessary reform and investment in your domestic capacity. You need to build up social and political capital and then engage and re-engage the world with confidence. That is my pitch.”