US, China Must Work Together: Singapore PM

By The Irrawaddy 3 June 2019

Yangon—Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cut a middle path through the growing rivalry between the U.S. and China on Friday at the Shangri-La Dialogue—Asia’s biggest security conference, held annually in Singapore and attended by representatives from more than 40 countries, including China and the U.S.

Here are the main takeaways from the conference.

Lee said that “when the lines start to get drawn, everybody asked, are you my friend or not my friend? And that makes it difficult.”

He called on both China and the U.S. to accept and adapt to a rising China.

“China’s growth has shifted the strategic balance and the economic center of gravity of the world, and the shift continues,” he said. “It is natural that the two powers will vie for power and influence, but competition should not inevitably lead to conflict.”

“We hope the U.S. and China find a constructive way forward, competing certainly, but at the same time cooperating on major issues of mutual interest.”

Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe, the highest-ranking Chinese official to attend the conference in eight years, said that China “hold[s] different views with the U.S. on several issues, and firmly opposes its wrong words and actions concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea.”

“China has never provoked a war or conflict, taken land or invaded another country,” he added. “China has never preyed on others. We shall not let others prey on or divide us either.”

U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan called the U.S. “a Pacific nation.”

“We are a resident power, with deep economic, cultural and personal connections that inextricably link us with the growth and vitality of the world’s most dynamic region,” he said.

Shanahan didn’t name China explicitly in his remarks but made his target clear by referencing Beijing’s campaign to put advanced weapons systems on disputed islands in the region.

“Perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the vital interests of states across this region comes from actors who seek to undermine, rather than uphold, the rules-based international order,” he said.

“If these trends in these behaviors continue, artificial features in the global commons could become tollbooths. Sovereignty could become the purview of the powerful,” he added.

“America’s annual two-way trade here is US$2.3 trillion [3,508 trillion kyats], and U.S. foreign direct investment is $1.3 trillion—more than China’s, Japan’s and South Korea’s combined,” he said.

Gen. Wei Fenghe told delegates Beijing would not yield an inch of territory, and any foreign interference was doomed to failure.

He specifically called out the U.S. and its Taiwan Relations Act, the 1979 law which permits Washington to provide defense weapons to the Taipei government and help defend the island from invasion.

Wei defended China’s detention of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in Xinjiang province on economic and security grounds.

“The policy of China in Xinjiang is absolutely right, because over the past more-than-two years there [hasn’t been a] single terrorist attack in Xinjiang. The living standard of the local people has improved,” he said.

Lee struck a more moderate tone.

“The U.S., being the preeminent power, has the most difficult adjustment to make. But however difficult the task, it is well worth the U.S. forging a new understanding that will integrate China’s aspirations within the current system of rules and norms,” he said.

“The bottom line is that the U.S. and China need to work together, and with other countries too, to bring the global system up to date, and to not upend the system. To succeed in this, each must understand the other’s point of view and reconcile each other’s interests.”

The only question is: was anyone from the U.S. or China listening?

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