Evolving empathy between China and Singapore!
| 13 Apr 2017
| NOP Bureau National

Evolving empathy between China and Singapore!
Dr. SudhanshuTripathi
Despite being very much asymmetrical as regards their geographical contours as well as overall capacity and power, both Singapore and China continued to maintain their close bilateral relations for the past many years though that took an unfortunate plunge in 2016, particularly after The Hague Arbitration (International Court of Justice) ruling of 12th July over South China Sea dispute. Though the Chinese consider close kinship with Singaporeans as around 78 percent of them are of Chinese descent and that arouses a false perception in China about Singapore as a Chinese nation and also in the West which refers Singapore as the “Third China”, but Singapore is,in fact, a multi-racial country rather a city-state or port city. It is because of these misperceptions that Singapore deliberately took time to become the last of the five founding members of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for establishing diplomatic relations with China. Today the city-state is marked by an unique blend of authoritarian state-capitalism with open markets and amazing socio-economic progress, low crime rate, high standard of hygiene&cleanliness, modern urban planning etc., which have,indeed, mesmerized many countries in the world.

Indeed, Singapore is well aware of its tiny city-state status flanked by the much bigger neighbors, like Malaysia and Indonesia, and also the predominant regional hegemon as China, it remains particularly cautious about its security and national priorities which,lest,may not get overshadowed by that of the regional alliance system -the ASEAN. In fact, the communist victories in Indochina and Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1975 and 1978 respectively made the island-state afraid of the mounting communist threat in the Southeast Asia and, consequently,reinforced its view that the United States should play a dominant role in maintaining security and stability in the region. In fact, Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yewwell understood the importance of having the support of an“overwhelming power on its side.” Because of its limited strategic space as a city-stateand also suffering a kind of threat from communist North Vietnam and China, besides being sandwiched between Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore has always advocated and supported the American presence in the region as a potent security guarantor vis-à-vis mounting Chinese interference and assertions in East Asia - as Beijing has territorial disputes with almost all countries in the region - and with the goal in hand,it has also cultivated strong economic and security links with the global Super Power.As a matter of fact, the US-Singapore security ties date as far back as to the 1960s, when Singapore actively supported American war endeavours in Vietnam. In the same way, the economic relations between the two are vigorously marching ahead asthe United States is Singapore’s second most important trade partner after China. The island state has also attracted major investments from the United States due to its much practiced bold open-door investment policies and highly developed business infrastructure facilities, much to the liking of foreign investors. Indeed, more than 1300 U.S. companies have already invested in Singapore, and over 300 have also set up their regional headquarters there with many more still awaiting their turn.And for thisvery end, Singaporehas so far sincerely maintained its rhythm with the US through its cordial overturestowards Washington ever since its inception while considering America as an effective counter-balancing power in the evolving regional security architecture against theChinese aggressive and imperialist-expansionist misadventures and bullying tactics based upon its brute military power, not only in its vicinity but also in the Asia-Pacific to cover the entire Indo-Pacific region and even beyond.
Although the bilateral relations between Singapore and China were moving on the right track and both celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between them in 2015, wherein the Presidents of Singapore and China exchanged visits into one another country and also agreed to elevate their bilateral relations to an "All-Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing With The Times", but the so-gained momentum witnessed a severe jerk, the very next year.First, the Chinese were quite upset over Singapore’s support for the International Court’s arbitration on South China Sea,and then by Singapore’s alleged attempt to get this very ruling included into the Final document of the 17thNon-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit at Margarita (Venezuela) in September 2016. Though Singapore’s ambassador, Stanley Lohdenied raising the South China Sea disputein the NAM Summit butthe Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang repeatedly accused Singapore -though without naming it - of unnecessarily harping on the issue and deliberately dragging Beijing into the so-arisen controversy,therebycausing to arouse a very unfortunate public spaton the global stage. Again in November 2016, the subsequent impounding of the nine Singaporean Armed Force’s armoured vehicles bythe customs department of Hong Kong,while in transit from Taiwan,further deteriorated their already tense relations because China considered it as an act of violation of the one-China policy and local rules of Hong Kong. The episode evenrattled many Singaporeans and left them askance about their prime minister’s strategic judgment. Although Singapore has not been a partyagainst China in this South China Sea dispute, yetthe NAM Summit episode did incite anxious alarms among Chinese officials who became worried andsuspicious over Singapore’s hostile attitude. However,the gravity of all these incidents and their likely impacts upon their mutual relations must be assessed against the backdrop of their emergence as sovereign countries in the comity of nations.
While the People's Republic of China came into existence in 1949 after the successfulculminationof Mao’s led communist revolution into the country,the Republic of Singapore was established in 1965which consists of 63 islands including the main island PulauUjong. From 1965 until the late 1970s, political relations between China and Singapore were unfriendly and acrimonious mostly due to the city-state’s persisting inclination towards the US. Beijing also condemned the leaders of Singapore as the running dogs of the imperialist America, the UK and other imperialist powersin the West.Ever since establishing diplomatic relations in 1990, both Singapore and China have forged close bonds in areas as diverse as that of trade, finance, and investments etc. because both aimed at rapid economic progress and prosperity as the sole objective to strengthen and consolidate their respective national power and socio-political stability.Indeed, the trade and investment ties between the two countries grew steadily over the years, and China became the largest trading partner of Singaporein 2014, with bilateral trade in goods reaching a significant mark of $86 billion. In fact, the Singaporean investment in China reached $7.23 billion in the year 2013, thereby making the city-state asthe largest investor of China. Remarkably, Singapore is still the top investment destination for China in the East Asia.Obviously, while acknowledging Singapore's continuing confidence in the booming Chinese economy, both the governments recently concluded an historic agreement to launch a third flagship project in the western region of China; whichis focused over Chongqing with a view to boost regional connectivity by experimenting with new policies on lowering financing and logistics which can then be expanded across the entire China. Thus Beijing has certainly emerged as an influential powerin South and Southeast Asia by effectively promoting regional integration strategy through various bilateral and multilateral fora and that has furtherelevatedits dominant position in the region.
It is against this scenario, the recently held meeting between Singapore’sDeputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Heanand China’s counterpart Zhang Gaoli may be viewed a significant development in the onward course of improving bilateral relations as both of them need each other perhaps much due racial similarity.Whereas Singapore’s fast economic growth model is a potential paradigm attracting Beijing towards facilitating a pro-business environment in its own interests, Singapore’s own security concerns including fear of getting isolatedin the region have inevitably pushed it towards China. This is so because almost all countries of Southeast Asia like Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have already unitedto cooperate with Chinawhichclearly testifies the Beijing’s rising acceptability among the ASEAN nationsdespite the bitter acrimony that erupted following the Hague’s arbitration ruling, rejecting Chinese sovereign claim over South China Sea, in favour of Philippines.Both Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli and Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, co-chaired the 13th meeting of China- Singapore Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation; a high-level institutional mechanism established in 2003 to oversee the entire range of bilateral cooperation thereby signaling the return of their bilateral ties back to their normal course of development after the aforesaid rupture in the relations between the two countries.The high-level meeting provided a good opportunity for the two sides to take concrete steps toward substantiating the proposed partnership between them as the two nations have had good prospects for enhancing and broadening cooperation with renewed thrust both at bilateral and multilateral levels.
Both the leaders also co-chaired meetings on three government flagship projects between China and Singapore viz. the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-city and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative,manifesting their eagerness to cast aside their recent differences and start afresh to concentrate on deepening and diversifying theirso-carried meaningful co-operations.Thiswill, to a large extent, prove to be a boon for not only boththe nationsbut also for the entire region of the Asian continent as an opportune moment when the global geo-politics is said to be moving towards the East. In order to carryon the so arrived fresh momentum in their refurbished relations, the two sides must carefully manage to resolve theirexisting differences in an honest spirit of mutual respect and care towards each other’s sensibilities,while at the same time, both must cast an extralook over their respective national interests and concerns. More specifically, as an international shipping hub, Singapore can play an important role in China's Belt and Road Initiative launched as a model of an economic integration agenda with the world by aligning its development strategies with that of China and actively pushing for bilateral cooperation in such fields as infrastructure, finance and information technology. Similarly China has always valued its ties with Singapore, viewing it as an important partner for economic cooperation and a bridge between China and the other countries of ASEAN in South East Asia. Thus for their bilateral ties to steer clear of unwanted hardships and unnecessary disruptions in all times to come, the key, obviously, lies in observing mutual respect for each other's core interests and accommodation to each other's major concernsin the honest spirit of sharing and caring by both the nations.

(Writer Dr. SudhanshuTripathi is Associate Professor, Political Science, at MDPG. College, PRATAPGARH (UP). He can be contacted at sudhanshu.tripathi07@gmail.com

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