China-Singapore summit a proof of willing partners within ASEAN

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, February 27, 2017
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Zhao Leji (R), head of the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, meets with Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 26, 2017. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi)

The Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, the highest level of bilateral cooperation between China and Singapore starts today, February 27. Singapore Deputy PM Teo Chee Hean arrived in Beijing on Sunday for a three day visit at the invitation of China's Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. Both leaders are co-chairs of the platform, which is for promoting dialogue between China and Singapore.

This is a good development, and at this stage it is important to remember, that ASEAN neutrality is key for a Chinese grand strategy and Chinese policy makers should keep that in mind, and work to bolster that. There have of course been challenges regarding geopolitics, despite which, trade and economic relations between the two Asian countries continue to flourish and China is the biggest foreign investor in Singapore. Singapore is also among the top trading partners of China.

Mr Teo sounded extremely cautious and diplomatic when he said that there are bound to be differences; given each country in the region has a different history and different sensibilities -- a nod at the current geostrategic questions in the Asia pacific.

However, he maintained that there are broader chances of cooperation. "The fundamental position of our two countries, that we share a common interest in the peaceful growth and development of our two countries and the region, remains the same. Our common interest in building a peaceful and growing region is much greater than any occasional differences of views," Teo was quoted to say.

In a further interview with Xinhua, Mr Teo stated Singapore's constructive engagement with China and seeked Chinese positive influence in the region. Singapore's position as the coordinator for ASEAN-China relations, in this regard, is beneficial. Teo also constantly maintained his support for the One China policy, which has recently been under a renewed spotlight after the election win of U.S. President Donald Trump, and which China considers as one of its cornerstones of diplomacy.

Singapore's intention of having China as a trade and investment partner is also going to soothe Asian markets, as Mr Teo maintained that Singapore welcomes Chinese investment in infrastructure and railways between Singapore and Malaysia. Other agreements between China and Singapore that were signed were related to water resources management, digital media and healthcare, research and development of "smart city" plans.

This is going to be fundamentally a key element, in a Chinese grand strategy in Southeast Asia, whereby the local powers are at best friendly, or at worst indifferent to geostrategic pulls. Singapore is, by that geostrategic logic, an ally to the Chinese position in Asia. ASEAN neutrality is the key strategic importance for Chinese policy makers, and how to maintain that neutrality is a cause of concern and planning.

Recent history has shown that individual countries can hijack the agenda of ASEAN and the focus might shift from trade and development to geostrategic confrontations. Chinese policy should ideally be to consistently hedge on and focus on trade. With American withdrawal from the TPP, and subsequent market turmoil, there will be a lot of demand for a steady balance in the region, and Beijing can be uniquely poised to provide that market stability and investment and security.

There are two kinds of rising powers according to IR theory. One is a random monolithic expansionist power, which relies on strength to grow and coerce other countries to follow. The other is a perceptive, cooperative but growing power, secured enough and astute enough to know the power of economic forces, and how to use them in a geostrategic region. The aspiration of Beijing should be commensurate with her economic prowess, but with careful consideration as to not alter too rapidly the balance of power in Asia. The China-Singapore summit proves that there might be more willing partners.

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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