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Asia must be 'moderate voice' in US-China rivalry, and help them to be frenemies: Singapore's Goh Chok Tong

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 5 days ago Bhavan Jaipragas
Goh Chok Tong sitting in front of a window: Singapore’s former prime minister Goh Chok Tong. Photos: Zakaria Zainal © Handout Singapore’s former prime minister Goh Chok Tong. Photos: Zakaria Zainal

Asia’s smaller countries must avoid taking sides in the intensifying United States-China rivalry and instead urge the two world powers to "moderate their positions”, Singapore’s former prime minister Goh Chok Tong has said.

Goh, who boosted the Lion City’s ties with both Washington and Beijing during his 1990-2004 stint in power, said regional countries needed to band together to be a "moderate voice” and help avert a "catastrophic clash between the US and China”.

"This ‘moderate voice’ is not a bloc or new grouping, but simply the voice of moderation,” Goh said in a keynote speech at a conference in Seoul on Tuesday. A transcript of the former prime minister’s speech was published on the Singaporean foreign ministry’s website.

"As many countries as possible should play a part in this, especially Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand,” Goh said.

"It is in our interests to encourage the US and China to moderate their positions and consider the interests of global peace and stability,” he said.

The veteran politician said the "moderate voice” nations needed to do three things.

First they need to "throw out the negative shackles of history” and hold regular retreats among leaders.

Second, Goh said the countries needed to identify and protect "shared values”, which were "peaceful existence, prosper-thy-neighbour and respect for an inclusive rules-based international order”.

"For example, we should be more vocal in calling out the dangers of a fragmented technology space, and work together to create neutral, common technology platforms,” he said.

Thirdly, countries needed to strengthen multilateral institutions such as trade blocs, Goh said.

He called for the speedy conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) treaty, and repeated calls for the US and China to join the other big regional trade pact – the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Goh, who was speaking on key risks facing Asia, said he was of the view that the US "now sees China as a long-term strategic threat to its global supremacy and hence its national security”.

"On its part, China has come to the conclusion that the US will not allow it to grow and challenge its status as the global superpower,” he said.

"The recent turbulence over trade tariffs, technological competition and allegations of technological espionage are only the latest manifestations of this strategic rivalry between the US and China.”

Citing three scenarios including all-out conflict, a more controlled "unbridled strategic conflict”, and one where the major powers were "frenemies”, Goh said the third option was the best.

"In all three scenarios, Asia’s resilience will be tested. There will certainly be collateral damage in any clash between the US and China,” he said.

Asian countries must "take action to encourage the US and China towards the third scenario of competition and cooperation, and reiterate the position that the Pacific, and certainly the world, is large enough for these two superpowers to work together,” he said.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. 

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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