The United States and China must work out a new model of constructive cooperation for the world to arrive at another stable global order, said Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Thursday (May 30).
Mr Heng, who is on a three-day visit to Japan, was addressing the 25th Nikkei Future of Asia conference themed “Seeking A New Global Order – Overcoming The Chaos”.
Mr Heng said both countries must rebuild trust in their relationship, which he described as the most important bilateral relationship that is key to continued peace and prosperity both in Asia and the world.
“For any relationship to be sustainable, there has to be some give-and-take from both sides.
“Both sides must make an effort to avoid escalation by managing their domestic politics. Each party needs to understand the domestic constraints and red lines of the other side for negotiations to be constructive,” he said.
Mr Heng added that both countries should also recognise that their present differences go beyond trade and address each of these issues in a meaningful but separate way, instead of allowing trade and non-trade issues to complicate each other.
In order for the US and China to work out a new model of constructive cooperation, Mr Heng said the US needs to adjust and recognise that while China is a competitor, it is also a valuable partner, which can share the responsibility of providing international public goods.
“More fundamentally, the US has to accept that it has no better option but to work with China, because trying to contain it will result in worse outcomes,” he said.
“Thus the US should strive for a new equilibrium with China – a new global balance that brings together the legitimate interests of both powers. One that continues to embrace a rules-based multilateral system so that all countries, big and small, will have their voices heard and their sovereignty respected,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Heng said China will need to “accept that its increased strategic and economic weight comes with greater international responsibility”, adding that China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a positive step in this direction.
While China has said it will continue to open up, Mr Heng said it will need to convince sceptics that it will do so by accelerating economic liberalisation, levelling the playing field for foreign businesses and continuing to participate constructively in efforts to improve the multilateral trading system.
“China needs to demonstrate that its peaceful rise will indeed benefit the rest of the world, including the US, and be prepared to shoulder additional international responsibilities,” he said.
Mr Heng said that Asian countries, and almost all other countries around the world, do not want to have to choose sides.
“We want to be able to openly trade, exchange technology, invest in or receive investment from all countries. This is an important foundation in a rules-based multilateral system,” he said.
ASIA MUST TAKE GREATER RESPONSIBILITY: DPM HENG
As the two largest economies work out a new model of cooperation, Mr Heng said the rest of Asia needs to step up and take on greater responsibility in shaping the global order.
He urged Asia to redouble its efforts to strengthen the rules-based, multilateral trading system that underpins its growth, as well as to work with the global community to uphold this system.
This can be done through trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which are crucial initiatives that bring the region closer.
Mr Heng also said that Asia’s strategic weight is growing, with Asian economies’ share of global GDP projected to double from 26 per cent in 2000 to 50 per cent by 2050.
“This is an opportunity for Asia to shape an international order in a way that will support the development and stability of Asia and the world,” he said.
The goal for all countries to work together can only be realised if everyone is part of one globalised system, said Mr Heng, adding that this is precisely why the US and China have to work together.
“This will not work if the world is fragmented into two blocs, with separate systems, technologies and economies. Every country – big or small, developed or developing – needs to come together and play its part. Only then, can we be more than the sum of our parts,” he said.
SINGAPORE, JAPAN REAFFIRM GOOD BILATERAL RELATIONS
As part of his Japan visit, Mr Heng also met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday.
They reaffirmed the good bilateral relations between Singapore and Japan, adding that the two countries are working to expand cooperation in new areas like infrastructure development in third world countries.
The two leaders also reaffirmed the countries’ commitment to strengthen the open, inclusive and rules-based multilateral trading system.
Mr Heng also commended the leadership role played by Prime Minister Abe and Japan in steering the CPTPP to fruition after the US pulled out, adding that he looked forward to Japan exercising the same leadership for the RCEP.
He urged Japan, which has invested in excess of US$400 billion in Asia to date, to continue its investments to help the region grow.
Additionally, Mr Heng expressed Singapore’s support towards Japan’s priority areas in ageing, smart cities and data governance.
Mr Heng, who is also Singapore’s Finance Minister, met his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso on Thursday as well, where they reaffirmed the close cooperation between both countries in bilateral and multilateral frameworks.