Singapore warns US against anti-China rhetoric | Connect Asia

Singapore warns US against anti-China rhetoric

Singapore warns US against anti-China rhetoric

Updated 10 February 2012, 15:23 AEDT

Singapore has warned the United States that any suggestions of a strategy to contain a rising China could cause strife in Asia.

Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam has told an audience in Washington DC that US domestic politics "resulted in some anti-China rhetoric" which could be damaging in the region.

And he said the US should not focus only on its military presence in the region to the exclusion of other dimensions of US policy.

US President Barack Obama has recently set a priority on Asia, with the US military seeking closer cooperation with the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia.

So how is this being received in the region?

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Ernest Bower, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Centre for International and Strategic Studies in Washington DC

BOWER: I think he reflected a view that we find across Southeast Asia, which is that the Southeast Asians don't want the Chinese and the Americans to be in conflict, they don't want to have to choose between China and the United States. And neither do they want sort of a G2 condominium where there's too much harmony, so I think the analogy that was used at one point in the dialogue was elephants making love, or elephants at war crush the grass underneath. So I think he reflected that view.

COCHRANE: And on the issue of other dimensions of US policy, what was he getting at there?

BOWER: I think Singaporeans are good friends of the United States, I think they were just reminding Americans that the rhetoric that comes out of political campaigns and the media sometimes sort of frames Asia policy in black and white terms or rather more stark terms than the professionals who exercise and implement our foreign policy use everyday. He warned that this rhetoric can have the effect of polarising the relationship and certain groups in China may be reading the press and reading some of these comments and feeling like the United States' moves are meant to somehow contain or constrain a growing China, which I can tell you is not the intent of American strategy in Asia.

COCHRANE: This is the view from the Singaporean Foreign Minister, the ants not wanting to get trampled by the elephants in a sense, but the other nations around the region, Philippines as we've just heard in the news headlines getting a second warship to help control its territorial waters. There is a desire from some nations for more US involvement, especially as China increases in the South China Sea. Do you think there are different views on this issue?

BOWER: Sure, I mean I think so. We are very conscious that Australian polling but done by the Lowy Institute earlier this year on the question of whether they'd welcome an American base, a military base in Australia was 55 per cent in favour. So pretty strong interest I think across the region in having the Americans re-focussing on their security presence, which has served the region well since the Second World War. But I think others are much more sensitive. But I do think the point that sort of carries across borders is don't make us choose, we want to enjoy China's economic growth but we want China to sort of join the neighbourhood and make rules and play by rules that are made up by everybody in the Asia Pacific, and not sort of given down from the big new economic powerhouse. So there is some commonality that I find around the region.

COCHRANE: And we would certainly hope it would be the case that there doesn't have to be a choice. But on some prickly issues, and in particular territorial disputes in the South China Sea, do you think that there might come a point where nations will have to choose and that there could be potential flashpoints over that?

BOWER: I hope not, we talked a lot about this, we do talk a lot about this in Washington at the policy level and we talk a lot about it when the Singaporeans were here. I think the view is that everybody hopes not and that the South China Sea has a great potential to be a sort of a connector, it already is the through-way for two-thirds of world trade, so the sea lanes of navigation and communication are vital. I don't think personally that the South China Sea has to come into conflict. I think there's a great hope that the disputing countries can find a code of conduct; ASEAN and the Chinese are sitting down to sort of negotiate this now. I would guess that it's in China's interest to secure access to water, power, energy and food, and if they can do that I think we'll avoid conflict in this region.

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