IV. Singapore-China Relations: How Then Should We Respond?

by Patrick Liew on June 27, 2017

Since opening its door to the world, China is mindful that trade and commerce has played an important part in its economy and contributed to its growth.

Trade and commerce is a part of and an extension of its foreign relations.

This is unlike the U.S.’ position which treated and continue to treat trade and commerce as a power play and a bargaining chip for foreign control and even dominance.

However, in recent times, it seemed like China is changing its position and seeking stronger geopolitical influence through trade and commerce.

Case in point, Deng Xiaoping’s position to “setting aside dispute and pursuing joint development” and “peaceful settlement of territorial disputes” does not seem to be China’s current position.

Despite judgment by an international tribunal in The Hague that went against China’s control over disputed waters of the South China Sea, it continues to bulldoze its way in the South China Sea.

President Xi Jinping has even threatened to go to war with Philippines or for that matter, any other country that wants to carry out the tribunal’s judgement.

China’s current position is not well received by some members of ASEAN that are claimants of the South China Sea as well as many other developed countries.

Historically, it’s generally true that China does not have an expansionist policy.

However, it cannot be denied that in the name of unity, peace, prosperity and progress, the Chinese leaders of time past have murdered and meted extreme cruelty on many of its own people

In ancient times, it has also practiced a tributary system in their dealings with neighbouring countries.

To these countries, the tributary system is in many ways more humiliating than being conquered.

1. Singapore – A Pawn?

China knows that SIngapore holds a credible position in both regional and global geopolitical arenas.

We have been deemed to be a partner and perhaps an important partner to China’s economy and growth.

Singapore can be one of the nodes and routers in helping China influence the region and the world at large.

China is capitalizing on Trump’s nationalistic drives to persuade or even pressure us to change our foreign policy and direction.

They want us to stand on their side or at the least, lean towards them.

Hence, there’s a chess game going on between Singapore and China.

Our bilateral relationship will more likely than not blow-hot-and-blow-cold and it may even go through choppy waters ahead.

We need to think through our relationship with China carefully and deliberate over every move.

An unwise move may put us on a losing end for a long time.

2. How Then Should We Respond To China?

Stay quiet? Bow or bend to China? Suck up to them for cookies and candies?

a. First and foremost, come hell or high water, we have to stay calm.

We have to close ranks as one united people.

This is not the time to throw stones at our leaders or at one another.

That can be the very trap that unfriendly parties have set for us.

They may want to see our country becoming polarized and divided.

As a result, it may strengthen their position and enhance their bargaining power against us.

b. As a small nation, we have to send a clear signal that we take an objective, neutral, and principles-based position.

If we flip-flop on our stand, we’ll not be taken seriously.

Or worst, we may find ourselves being bullied and shoved around the geopolitical stage in the future.

c. We cannot adopt a transactional or a short-term approach.

Neither should we compromise or be seen to compromise our stand, or bend or bow to threats and troubles.

If we pivot to more powerful countries or suck up to them because we want their favours, we may open ourselves to unfavorable treatments in future.

We may end up with short term gains but we may expose ourselves to great risks and liabilities in the long term.

d. We need to strengthen our national education programmmes and continue to train our people effectively and continually behind closed doors.

We have to ensure that our people do not become complacent or overly-contented.

If they underestimate or worst, become desensitized to potential threats and troubles around and ahead of us, it will not bode well for us.

When our people become more politically-matured and better informed, they can make better decisions.

e. At the same time, we should continue to strengthen our total defence.

We should continue to cultivate friends internationally and leverage on their strengths and resources.

However, let’s be mindful that they may not necessarily come to our aid in times of trouble or come to our aid in time.

Ultimately, we have to depend on ourselves to fight for our own survival and success.

We should be like a bee.

People will not mess around with a bee because they know it will sting. But on the other hand, bees serve many useful functions and contributes to people and the environment.

f. In recent times, China is opening its cookies and candies-filled warehouse and offering some of these good stuffs to win friends and favours.

Should we stretch out our hands for goodies?

Let’s be honest. There are no free lunches.

When we join the queue, we are obligated to return favours to them.

If we import debts from a stronger country, we may have to pay a huge price in the long term.

g. As part of its chess game, China has been sending negative signals to us – not through official sources – but directly and indirectly through different channels.

These channels include Global Times, a diplomat, detention of our Terrexes, and the One Road One Belt Summit.

At the same time, many of our people have received videos, articles, comments, and images that stir fear, sow discord, and cast doubts on our leadership, systems, values and aspirations.

Are the flux of negative signals accidental and coincidental?

Could it be possible that these signals are being used to pressure our leaders to change our nation’s foreign policy and chart a different direction?

Or pressure our people to put pressures on our leaders to achieve the same objectives?

Whatever you choose to believe, remember that the Chinese leaders are experts in psychological warfare.

They are experienced in mounting propaganda battles against their adversaries for much longer than the history of Singapore.

If you are a recipient of these signals, please don’t forward them.

If you have to forward them, please do not generate any fears, doubts and uncertainties.

Share how the recipients can respond to these signals in a positive and constructive way for their own good and for the good of the nation.

h. Having said all that, we should continue to engage China and demonstrate to them that we have stood by them, even during their hard times.

We will continue to stand by them but we will stand by them based on sound principles and for our mutual interests and for the greater good of the world and the environment.

China’s strong economic growth in recent times has prevented its country from becoming unsafe, unstable and insecure.

The growth in the economic pie has also neutralized social disorder and civil unrest.

These challenges are the big elephants in China’s room.

Therefore, we should seek to contribute to their economy and country.

In doing so, we prove to them that we are authentic friends and that they can count on us regardless of the weather and circumstances.

i. We should continue to make known to China that we act in good faith and our intentions are clear.

For example, if they want to hear genuine feedback about the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), they can count on us to offer them fair and honest opinions, including tough and inconvenient views.

Our feedback will not be based on serving our own interests. We are not doing it for the cookies and candies.

We will also not tell them what they want to hear.

When China knows that our policies are for its greater good, we’ll be able to have a more stable, secure and sustainable relationship with them.

j. In a bigger picture, we should not play any chess game with any country.

If anything, we should play a game of GO to ring fence ourselves and secure our future.

For example, we should continue to support a world that is governed by laws, rules and principles and not by strength, might or force.

We should continue to encourage individuals, groups and organizations to support a rules-based world order so as to achieve greater good for humanity and the environment.

Cooperate, collaborate and co-create solutions on a multilateral basis such as working closely with ASEAN and other international institutions.

Promote alliances and agreements with likeminded countries and organizations so to develop win-win relationships and improve law and order in the world.

By doing that, we can ensure that bigger and stronger countries will not be able to unduly dominate the global community and exercising inappropriate influence over our future.

k. As a country with limited natural resources, we have to develop longer-term plan, work harder and smarter, and become more successful.

We have to stay relevant and be friendly to all countries, especially during their times of needs.

Continue to value-add to the world, and be a vital and if possible, an indispensable member of the global community.

Diversify and strengthen our economy so that we do not have to rely on or be overly-dependent on any country or group of countries.

As we continue to progress, we should develop new business models, markets, systems, technologies, and infrastructures.

We should never be overly-reliant on our geographical position, and current economy, port, airport, and other resources.

In the final analysis, the new economy is not just about roads and railway tracks.

The higher value-added services are not necessarily in the physical distribution and delivery of goods.

The multilateral arrangements and free trade agreements and technological and financial backbones play an important role in the future economy.

They say that China is the factory of the world. India provides the front office.

Singapore should aim to be the honest broker for governments and project and wealth manager for large enterprises and high net worth individuals of the world.

If we play our game right, we can be the toll gate of global trade.

We can be the hub and spoke, and the node, router and connector of international commerce.

To rephrase a quote from Rahm Emanuel, do not let the challenges we are facing with China go to waste.

Let’s leverage on the challenges to further bond ourselves as one united people so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.


Related Articles on:


Can A Small Country Survive?

I. Singapore-China Relations: A Walk Back Into Time

II. Singapore-China Relations: Challenges Facing China

III. Singapore-China Relations: Pressures From China


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

Please ‘Like’ me on https://m.facebook.com/patrickliewsg

Please visit my website, http://www.patrickliew.net

Follow me on:

Visit my Inspiration blog at https://liewinspiration.wordpress.com/

For my opinions on social affairs, please visit my Transformation blog at http://hsrpatrickliew.wordpress.com/

Let’s connect on instagram.com/patrickliewsg
– via @patrickliewsg

– via @patrickliew77

My LinkedIn

Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


Powered by Facebook Comments

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: