III. Singapore-China Relations: Pressures From China

by Patrick Liew on June 23, 2017

History has taught us that there are no permanent friends or enemies.

Every country serves its own interests and if possible, they’ll put pressures on other countries to further its own agenda and aspiration.

China is no different and operates in very much the same way.

In recent times, there seems to be a spate of negative news about Singapore coming from various sources but not directly from the Chinese government.

China seems to be putting various pressures on Singapore

Some unhappy netizens have remarked that facing these pressures tantamount to watching a bully in action.

Everything said and done, China is not cutting or reducing its links with Singapore.

They could have done worst if they want to severe the relationship with Singapore or threaten our existence.

I believe many Chinese leaders do realize that Singapore has a track record of helping China and standing by and contributing to its economy.

(For further reading about how Singapore has contributed to China, please read my blogpost on:


Therefore, it can be surmised that China is using various pressures on Singapore as signals to Singapore and its people.

1. Why signals?

As a small nation, Singapore has to stay wisely neutral and promote a rules-based world.

We have to continue to be relevant and be an asset to the other countries, especially those that are influential on geopolitical spaces.

China is aware of our position. However, it is putting pressures on us to lean towards them.

It does not want us to pursue relations and activities that are deemed to be against their interests

Eg. Promoting Trans-Pacific Partnership, running joint military exercise with India, asking ASEAN for feedback about the judgement by the international tribune at The Hague, and working closely with the U.S. on many projects, etc.

All the above mentioned activities have been carried out for awhile and conducted in the open. And there are also justifiable reasons for these activities.

2. How is China putting pressures on Singapore?

China is putting pressures on Singapore to draw closer to them and is taking a three-prong approach to achieve this aim.

First, China is capitalizing on Trump’s de-globalisation and nationalistic drives to exert greater influence and control on geopolitical spaces.

It’s trying to influence Singapore through diplomatic channels, economic partnerships, and trade and commerce.

Secondly, China is aware of its growing strength, force and might.

It has a huge warehouse to store and offer cookies and candies to those who are willing to side with them.

Many countries, including some members of ASEAN are already starting to lean towards China.

There are some Singaporeans that believe that we should stretch out our hands for these goodies but they may not realise that these goodies do come with a price.

Thirdly, China is applying psychological and cyber-propaganda campaigns to influence our people.

These campaigns seek to invoke fear and anxiety and cause our people to become polarized and divided.

Some have even chosen to throw stones at our leaders.

It’s unfortunate that while our leaders can be effective and efficient, they may not be the best at communicating vital information and persuading our people.

Many of our leaders have chosen to remain relatively quiet about the pressures from China for reasons best known to themselves.

3. What’s driving China to put pressures on Singapore?

China has to adopt an inward as well as an outward approach to unite its people and move to a higher level.

Internally, it has to continue to inspire its people, grow the economy, and strengthen society.

For example, the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) is a source of pride and joy for its people.

The BRI can also help China build bridges to other countries and benefit from international trade with them.

On the external front, China has to ensure there are no real or potential road blocks to growing its economy and country.

(For further reading on the challenges facing China, please read my blogpost on:


China may have three major concerns about Singapore.

First, As Singapore is one of the largest investors in China and a key trading partner, it makes sense for China to put pressures on Singapore to lean towards them.

China may be concerned that our longstanding relationship with the U.S., India, and Taiwan will pose challenges to China’s growing influence in the region and beyond.

Secondly, as China is not a participant of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it may be concerned about potential challenges posed by the TPP to its external trade and relations.

Although the U.S. has decided not to support the TPP, the remaining eleven countries has decided to renew talks on how they can still go ahead with the TPP.

As a nation that depends on global trade, It’s in Singapore’s interest to promote free trade and encourage other countries to support it.

That’s why Singapore is an active promoter and participant of the TPP.

Similar reasons why Singapore is also supporting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which includes China.

The success of the TPP and RCEP will contribute to the strength and growth of Singapore’s future economy.

Thirdly, it is Singapore’s turn to chair ASEAN in 2018.

China may be concerned that Singapore will use its position to influence members of ASEAN to respond to China’s claim on a a large part of the South China Sea (SCS).

I’m by no means suggesting that Singapore has such an objective and an agenda to help achieve the objective.

Singapore is not one of the claimants of the SCS. However, the other major claimants are members of ASEAN.

China views the SCS as a strategic area because it’s a major route for China to trade with the world.

Also, the SCS acts as a military buffer between China and any unfriendly party.

However, a judgement has ruled against China’s control over disputed waters of the SCS. The judgement was passed by an international tribunal in The Hague in 2016.

China did not accept the judgement and continued to exert its control over the South China Sea.

As Singapore is not a claimant of any part of the SCS, we are not in a position to challenge China.

However, as a small nation, we have to support a rules-based world and not a world that’s ruled by strength, force and might.

We have to ensure that there’s open and safe passageway through the SCS because that’s one of the key routes for global trade.

In recent times, we seems to have improved our bilateral relationship. But there’ll still be choppy waters and challenges ahead.

Meanwhile, Singapore is continuing to grow and diversify its economy.

We are developing new capabilities, business models, markets and opportunities to achieve a more stable, secure and sustainable economy.

How then should we respond to pressures from China? Please read Part IV of this series of blogposts.


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

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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