MR ARTHUR FONG: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether any damage has been caused to bilateral ties between China and Singapore by the incident of the illegal strikes of the SMRT Chinese drivers.

REPLY:

Madam Speaker. The actions by some of the SMRT drivers from China have been and are being dealt with in accordance with our laws. Our laws apply equally to all Singaporeans and foreigners residing in Singapore, so we see this strictly as a matter of law enforcement and do not expect the incidents to affect relations between Singapore and China. Thank you.

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Dr LIM WEE KIAK: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs what are the implications for Singapore in respect of the outcome of the recent US presidential election as well as the leadership renewal in China.

REPLY:

Madam Speaker, Dr Lim asks about the implications for Singapore in respect of the outcome of the recent US Presidential election as well as the leadership renewal in China. First, if I may look at the US, Singapore and the US have consistently enjoyed good relations through successive Administrations. The relationship is anchored by strong cooperation. We have many areas of common interests across a range of issues. The institutionalization of the US-Singapore Strategic Partnership Dialogue in 2012 is an example of the ever-strengthening bilateral links. Both sides continue to engage each other and carry out high-level exchanges to maintain the good personal relationships that already exist at several levels, and we continue to further broaden and deepen the current state of good bilateral relationships.

The US’ continued presence in Asia has contributed to the region’s prosperity and security. One strength of the US’ Asia-Pacific strategy over the last 30 years has been that it is essentially bipartisan, and remaining steady and consistent through successive Administrations. With President Obama’s re-election, we can expect continuity on US policy on Asia and the President’s first overseas visit after re-election was to our region, amongst others to attend the 7th East Asia Summit and 4th ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting. That sent a strong signal of his Administration’s continued commitment to this region. We hope that the new Secretary of State will also make an early visit to the region and participate in ASEAN meetings.

Now looking at China. We enjoy a close and cooperative relationship with China and we do not expect the relationship to be affected by the leadership transition. Indeed, we expect it to be strong. Many of the new Chinese leaders are already familiar with Singapore and our leaders. Our relations are built on a foundation of strong, regular institutional links, for example the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation and we have common interests on a wide range of issues. The strength of our relationship is evidenced by frequent high-level exchanges and close cooperation on several bilateral projects, for example the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco-city and others at the provincial level for example the Guangzhou Knowledge City as well as the Provincial Councils with provinces like Jiangsu and Sichuan. The business-to-business as well as people-to-people links are also robust. And we look forward to continue working well with the new Chinese leaders to further strengthen ties between the two countries. Thank you Madam.

SPEAKER: Ms Irene Ng.

MP IRENE NG PHEK HOONG (TAMPINES GRC): Thank you Madam Speaker. Sir, the maritime disputes in the South China Sea have become increasingly contentious and tense. And adding to the complexity is the growing Sino-US competition for influence in this region. I would like to ask the Minister two supplementary questions given Singapore’s interest in freedom of navigation and in preserving the peace and stability of our region. First, can I ask the Minister for his assessment on how the leadership transitions in both the US and China and the shifting domestic politics in both these countries will affect the fundamental positions of the countries on the South China Sea dispute and the dynamics of the dispute. Second, can I ask the Minister if he is concerned that with the growing US-China competition in this region, that divisions within ASEAN may widen and call into question its aspirations for centrality in the region.

MINISTER: I think, first on the leadership changes and the shifting balances as well as the growing nationalism, and how that might impact on the region. I think fundamentally we must expect all countries to act in their own interests. That must be so for big powers. And the way Singapore has put the message across is that peace and prosperity in this region for the last 50 years have been maintained by a number of principles, primarily by making sure that the region is stable. And stability has been brought about by a strong American presence, as well as an acceptance by everyone that open trade, free trade and building up linkages, creating an ASEAN architecture and regional architecture on that base, have been the fundamentals of prosperity. And that should continue. That it is in America’s interest, as well as China’s interest, that we have a strong and credible ASEAN and that we have freedom of navigation across both sides and we are putting forward a number of ideas for that. For example, encouraging claimant countries, the various countries which are claimant in the South China Sea, to agree to a Code of Conduct that everyone can be a party to. The issues relating to sovereignty, who owns what, are not likely to be resolved in our lifetime. So really, the approach is to try and put that on the backburner, and agree on a way in which countries can relate to each other and cooperate with each other, and what can be done and what cannot be done. That would preserve peace. And we welcome the growth of China. It has been an unmitigated positive for all of Asia. We have over 50 billion dollars invested and China’s growth is a continued fundamental for our own success and for the region’s success. And the US and China will have to find a way of dealing with each other that doesn’t affect the peace in this region. And we believe that broadly, that will be achieved.

Now as regards specifically on ASEAN, there will always be a temptation for one country or another to see if they can get closer to some ASEAN countries. Again, we must expect all major countries to act in their own interests. But we have made the point quite forcefully. That a united ASEAN better serves the interests of the major powers because ASEAN, with 600 million people and growth at about some 5% or so, and with a regional economy close to US two trillion dollars, is poised for take-off. If our ASEAN vision comes through and the connectivity comes through, we will have roads, railroads, better connections, and the economies will become intermeshed. As a result of which, it provides tremendous opportunities for the US, Japan, China. So a united, prosperous, successful ASEAN is in everyone’s interest. A divided ASEAN is in no one’s interest. And that’s the message that Singapore continues to give. Thank you.

SPEAKER: Dr Lim.

MP DR LIM WEE KIAK (NEE SOON GRC): Thank you Speaker. I’d like to thank the Foreign Minister for his reply. I’d like to ask the Foreign Minister what is the implication as to the change of the Obama Administration’s leadership, among them, particularly the Secretary of State as well as the Defence Secretary – somebody who had served in the Vietnam War before. Does he sense that there will be a change in the outlook towards ASEAN, as well as what are the implications of the new leadership in China on US policy and the US itself, and how does it impact Singapore on the whole?

MINISTER: At this stage, of course, we do not have a (new) Secretary of State or Secretary of Defence. Nominations have been made. If those nominations go through, we assume, I think we have reasons to believe that the American policy towards Southeast Asia and East Asia will continue to be what it has been so far. The policy the last time round was put together by the Administration together with the State Department. And as I said earlier, these policies are based on national interests which don’t vary from Administration to Administration. And US policy towards Asia has essentially been bipartisan, so we expect that that will continue.

As regards (to) the dynamics of the US relationship with China with new leaderships in both countries – as the Member might know, I made a major speech in Turkey last week or the week before. And our own assessment is that the US and China now have many touch-points, many bilateral routes of engagement, and they understand the need to accommodate each other and each other’s interests and work out a modus vivendi that would not endanger peace. There are certainly risks – I mean you see newspaper reports of tensions rising, of potential clashes, and so on. So, let us not underestimate the risks. In fact over the last few years, the risks have grown. But fundamentally, we believe that it is in both their interests and our interests that they come to some accommodation. Whether they will indeed do so, whether everything will be peaceful, I cannot assure you. If that doesn’t happen and tensions rise, it can be pretty severe for the region and for us. And regular incidents of aircrafts confronting each other, of course, impact on how we view the situation.

NMP NICHOLAS FANG: Thank you Madam Speaker. Thanks Foreign Minister for the insights into the changes in both individually the US and China. I’d like to ask a bit more explicitly – does this actually mean that the relationship that Singapore has maintained with both those powers will continue to be maintained in the way that the balance and the emphasis (has been) or does the Minister expect the changes in the relationship to evolve going forward, and shift the balance between how we engage both the US and China? Thank you.

MINISTER: The relative weight of China is growing. I’m not one of those who believe that the US is in permanent decline. But nevertheless, the respective levels of influence, there will be a relative shift. And Singapore’s position has consistently been to be good friends of both. That is in our interest and that will continue to be in our interest. Would that be a challenge-free approach? It really depends on how the state of relationship between the US and China develops. It could develop in a way that makes it challenging for all of us who are friends with both countries and we will just have to adapt to that. Thank you.

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