Understanding the challenges that face a modern Beijing

Updated: 2014-06-16 08:35

(China Daily USA)

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Q&A | K.Shanmugam

Editor note: China Daily recently interviewed Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam. The following are excerpts of the interview.

Q: How do you evaluate the current bilateral relations?

A: Our strong economic relationship has become even stronger. Last year we were the largest foreign investor in China and your second-largest trading partner in ASEAN. You are our largest trading partner.

Our political relationship is very strong. And on the people-to-people relationships, tourism and other areas, the picture is rosy.

This year, our prime minister will visit twice: for APEC and the China-ASEAN Expo. Our president has been invited to the Youth Olympics in Nanjing this year, and next year we hope to mark the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship and the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence, with high-level state visits.

There was a "war of words" between China, the United States and Japan during Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. What's your perception?

Regional maritime issues were discussed during the Shangri-La Dialogue. That relationship between Beijing and Washington is the most critical relationship in the world. The second most important relationship in this region is that between Beijing and Tokyo. All three have to live with one another. That requires wisdom of the three capitals (Washington, Beijing and Tokyo).

China is a rising power. That is the fact. China doesn't want any external trouble right now, because the biggest issues facing China are within China. China is very rich, but has 1.3 billion people to manage. The development of the country still has some way to go. So given all these complications, most of us believe China doesn't want any external distractions. It is going to require wisdom, tact and diplomacy (for China) to deal with the current issues.

Understanding the challenges that face a modern Beijing

If Japan becomes too nervous, there's always a possibility of Japan arming itself even more. Is that in China's interests? Is that in the interests of Southeast Asia? Obviously not.

What are China's major challenges?

We tell the others, Americans and others, they have politics, but Chinese leaders also have politics. China's leaders cannot to be seen as soft on giving up sovereignty. You have a huge amount of internal challenges, you also have lots of netizens, and you have to manage and not to be seen to be soft. So the outside world ought to understand the huge challenges faced by Chinese leaders. That's why I said it's going to require a lot of wisdom in the three capitals.

What's ASEAN's role in dealing with maritime disputes between China and other ASEAN countries?

ASEAN as a whole doesn't intervene and cannot intervene regarding merits of territorial claims. Those are to be dealt with between the claimant states and China. It is in our vital interests that there's no serious physical clash, no rising tension, and disputes are sorted out in a peaceful way between the claimant states, in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS. ASEAN does not point fingers. It's neutral and credible. That can be ASEAN's role.

What's your opinion on the number of regional trade pacts, including the China-ASEAN FTA and the TPP? Are they competing with each other?

We are a significant global trading nation and one of the original members of the TPP. Subsequently, others came in and the US wants to come in. Singapore has publicly said that we think China should be part of the TPP. We would welcome China's participation when it is ready.

At the same time, we have encouraged China to upgrade the China-ASEAN FTA. We also actively encouraged China to broaden and deepen the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Our approach is, the more such arrangements, the better it is.

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(China Daily USA 06/16/2014 page3)

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