Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Singapore envoy refutes China Global Times report on South China Sea

Republic did not raise dispute or arbitral tribunal ruling at NAM summit: Ambassador
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent, In Beijing, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2016

Singapore did not raise the South China Sea territorial dispute or a July arbitral tribunal ruling on the dispute at a recent multilateral summit in Venezuela, the Republic's Ambassador to China Stanley Loh said yesterday, in a letter refuting allegations made in a Chinese newspaper last week.

The actions and words attributed to Singapore are "false and unfounded", Mr Loh said in the letter about an article dated Sept 21 in the Chinese edition of the Global Times on the 17th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit.

The NAM was formed in 1961 by a grouping of newly-independent countries that did not want to take sides in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It meets once every three years.

In its report, the Global Times said that at the meeting held on Venezuela's Margarita Island, Singapore insisted on adding contents that endorsed the Philippines' South China Sea arbitration case against China in a document that will guide the development of the grouping for the next three years.

Singapore had attempted to strengthen the contents on the South China Sea, said the newspaper which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

Quoting unnamed sources, it said "the Singapore representative was flustered and exasperated, and made sarcastic remarks" on the stance of countries that opposed strengthening the contents on the South China Sea.

"The representative even used offensive words during the argument, and launched malicious attacks on the representatives of countries taking a fair position," the newspaper added.

Mr Loh, who described the report as "irresponsible" and "replete with fabrications and unfounded allegations with no regard for the facts", said Singapore is disappointed that such a report has been published.

He wrote to the Global Times yesterday to publish Singapore's rebuttal to its article but The Straits Times understands that it has not been published.

In his letter, the Singapore envoy said the proposal to update the South-east Asia paragraphs in the document was not done at the last minute nor by any single ASEAN country. Laos - as the current ASEAN chair - had conveyed the group's common position through a formal letter to Iran, the former NAM chairman, in July.

Yet, Venezuela, the current NAM chairman, had refused ASEAN's request to update the paragraphs related to the region.

This is a departure from the established practice in the NAM, which had always allowed for such regular updates without interference from NAM countries that did not belong to the region or external parties, Mr Loh said.

"The paragraphs on South-east Asia, including those referring to the South China Sea, have been part of the... document since 1992, and regularly updated based on the common position of the ASEAN countries," he added.

Contrary to what the Global Times had described, Singapore had adopted a "principled position" throughout and defended NAM principles and established practices, Mr Loh added.

During the meeting, Laos had protested on behalf of all 10 ASEAN countries to Venezuela "on its improper decision to reject ASEAN's updates".

It had also intervened in writing to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister after the meeting.

In that letter, Lao delegation leader Kham-Inh Khitchadeth expressed "deep regret" that the final document did not reflect current developments in the region with regard to the South China Sea.

"The question of South China Sea is a matter of vital interest for peace, stability, security and cooperation in South-east Asia," he added, and asked to put on record ASEAN's collective reservation that the relevant paragraph was not updated.

Excerpt of Lao delegation leader's letter to Venezuela's foreign minister
The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2016

Excerpt from a letter by Mr Kham-Inh Khitchadeth, the ministerial leader of the Lao delegation, to Venezuela's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Delcy Rodriguez Gomez, regarding ASEAN's unhappiness that the Non-Aligned Movement's (NAM) Final Outcome Document did not reflect current developments in the region with regard to the South China Sea. Mr Kham-Inh said ASEAN wanted to put its reservations on record and to incorporate these as an annex to the NAM document:

"The heads of state or government reiterated the call to solve all sovereignty and territorial disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful means, without resorting to force and/or the threat to use force, in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Charter of the United Nations.

In this context, they urged all parties to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety to build, maintain and enhance mutual trust and confidence, to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities, and to work expeditiously for the early adoption of an effective Code of Conduct, which would help to promote international peace and stability in the region, with a view to creating a positive climate for the eventual resolution of all contentious issues, as mentioned in paragraph 2 of the Joint Communique of the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, dated July 24, 2016.

They expressed their hope that all parties concerned would refrain from any actions that may undermine peace, stability, trust and confidence in the region. The heads of state or government shared serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments in the South China Sea and took note of the concerns expressed by some ministers/leaders on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, including the increased presence of military assets and the possibility of further militarisation of outposts in the South China Sea, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.

They emphasised the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation, that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.

They reaffirmed the importance of, and their shared commitment to, maintaining peace, security, stability, the freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea, as provided for by the universally recognised principles of international law.

To this end, they welcomed the adoption of the Guidelines for the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in July 2011 in Bali and the Joint Statement of the 15th ASEAN-China Summit on the 10th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in November 2012 in Phnom Penh.

The heads of state or government also welcomed the Joint Statement by the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN Member States and China on the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea on July 25, 2016, in Vientiane. They further welcomed the positive contribution of the consultations at ASEAN-China dialogues, and the regular exchange of views at relevant ASEAN-led fora, and encouraged their continuance.

The heads of state or government welcomed the progress made on some of the Early Harvest Measures, which includes adopting a 24-hour MFA-to-MFA hotline for maritime emergencies. They noted the ASEAN-China 25th Anniversary Commemorative Summit on Sept 7, 2016, in Vientiane, the 17th Joint Working Group on the implementation of the DOC on June 8, 2016, and the 12th Senior Official's Meeting on the implementation of the DOC on June 9, 2016, in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam."

Singapore 'did not raise tribunal ruling'
The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2016

Singapore's Ambassador to China, Mr Stanley Loh, has written to Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin in response to a Global Times article in Chinese dated Sept 21. We reproduce Mr Loh's letter and a translation of the Global Times article below.

Actions and words attributed to Singapore 'false and unfounded'

Global Times

Dear Editor-in-Chief Hu,

The Global Times (Chinese) article dated Sept 21, 2016, regarding the 17th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit attributed actions and words to Singapore which are false and unfounded.

Firstly, the proposal to update the South-east Asia paragraphs in the NAM Final Document was not done at the last minute nor by any single ASEAN country. There was a common and united ASEAN position. It was a consensus position of all 10 ASEAN members, based on agreed language from the Joint Communique of the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.

As the current ASEAN chair, Laos conveyed the group's common position through a formal letter to the former NAM chair, Iran, in July. Subsequently, Iran circulated ASEAN's updates to all NAM members on July 29.

Secondly, the NAM chair refused ASEAN's request to abide by the established practice in NAM for regional groupings to update the paragraphs of their respective regions in the NAM Final Document, without interference from non-regional NAM countries or external parties. If this important principle is not respected, any non-regional NAM member or external element could in future impose their views on any regional issue. This is not in the interests of the NAM and its members. The paragraphs on South-east Asia, including those referring to the South China Sea, have been part of the NAM Final Document since 1992, and are regularly updated based on the common position of the ASEAN countries.

Thirdly, contrary to the claim fabricated by Global Times, the Singapore delegation did not raise the South China Sea or the tribunal ruling at the NAM Summit. Singapore adopted a principled position throughout and intervened to support the common position of ASEAN and defend NAM principles and established practices. Singapore believes that it is detrimental to the unity, impartiality and future of the NAM to allow NAM principles to be undermined.

The following additional facts clearly refute the allegations in the article:
- Only a very small number of NAM members outside South-east Asia raised objections to ASEAN's updates at the NAM Senior Officials' Meeting at Margarita Island. However, substantive discussions were regrettably blocked.
- As chairman of ASEAN, Laos protested on behalf of all 10 ASEAN countries to the NAM chair on its improper decision to reject ASEAN's updates. Several other countries also objected to the breach of this well-established NAM principle.
- At the end of the 17th NAM Summit, Laos, as chair of ASEAN, wrote to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister to put on record ASEAN's collective reservation to a paragraph in the South-east Asia section of the NAM Final Document that was not updated. The ASEAN chair further requested that ASEAN's proposed language be annexed to the NAM Final Document. A copy of the letter from Laos as chair of Asean is attached.
We are disappointed that an established newspaper published this irresponsible report replete with fabrications and unfounded allegations with no regard for the facts. I request that, in the interest of professionalism, objectivity and transparency, Global Times publishes this letter in full in Chinese and English, so that your readers may be accurately informed, and the close friendship between our two countries will not be inadvertently affected.

Singapore's Ambassador to the People's Republic of China

Global Times: Singapore raises South China Sea arbitration at NAM summit of heads of state despite opposition
Published The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2016

The 17th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Venezuela closed on Sept 18, with NAM adopting the "Declaration of Margarita Island" which will guide the development of the movement for the next three years.

However, the Global Times understands from people who have attended the summit that in the course of consultations on drafting the document, Singapore had insisted on adding contents which endorsed Philippines' South China Sea arbitration case and attempted to strengthen the contents on the South China Sea in the document. Singapore did not succeed due to unequivocal opposition from many countries.

NAM was founded in 1961 and holds a meeting every three years. It reflects the desire of small and medium-sized countries to break free from the control of big nations and pursue national independence, and make an effort to retain influence on major developments in the world.

The current summit was held on Venezuela's Margarita Island in the Caribbean Sea, and was attended by about 1,000 representatives from 120 member states from NAM, 17 observer countries and 10 observer organisations.

Sources told Global Times that during the consultation process, several countries spoke and clearly opposed strengthening the contents on the South China Sea. The representative of Singapore was flustered and exasperated, and made sarcastic remarks on the stance of countries which objected to its attempt. The representative even used offensive words during the argument, and launched malicious attacks on the representatives of countries taking a fair position.

Moreover, during and after the foreign ministers' meeting, Singapore continued to complicate matters by openly challenging the ruling of Venezuela as the host nation, and this was met with unequivocal opposition from many countries. Many delegates expressed unhappiness with Singapore for ignoring the solidarity of NAM and openly challenging NAM's decision-making procedures and convention.

Due to Singapore's own self-interests, it continued its pestering during the consultation and meeting, repeatedly delaying the proceedings until late at night, leading to disgust among other countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Sept 20 that NAM, as a hallmark of developing countries seeking strength for themselves through unity, has played an important role in upholding world peace and facilitating common development. As an observer member of NAM, China has always endorsed the purposes and principles of NAM and attached great importance to the role played by it in international affairs.

He said that China will firmly support NAM in having a bigger say in international affairs, keep extending and intensifying the traditional friendship with NAM, and expand mutually beneficial cooperation. China will continue to stand by developing countries and make unremitting efforts to safeguard the common interests of developing countries, jointly build a new model of international relations featuring win-win cooperation and forge a community of shared future for mankind.

Singapore took over from Thailand as the "coordinator" for China-ASEAN ties last year for three years. However, Singapore's behaviour was eye-popping when the outcome from the so-called South China Sea arbitration case launched by the Philippines against China was released in July this year. Singapore was not a claimant state in the South China Sea dispute, but besides Vietnam and the Philippines, Singapore was the only ASEAN nation which gave explicit recognition to the so-called arbitration outcome. When China and ASEAN nations reached an agreement on a pragmatic statement which did not mention the South China Sea arbitration during the foreign ministers' meeting, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong again called on the relevant nations to "respect" the so-called arbitration outcome during his visit to the United States.

On Aug 15 and 16, China and ASEAN nations held the 13th Senior Officials' Meeting and the 18th Joint Working Group Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia. After the meeting, Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin affirmed that Singapore played an important role as the country coordinator in a reply to a reporter from Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao. At the same time, he said: "Singapore is not a party to the South China Sea, and we hope Singapore can actively promote and strengthen the cooperation between ASEAN nations and China, enhance the coordination and play a bigger role without intervening in the South China Sea."

Sources told Global Times that Sino-Singapore ties will certainly be affected if Singapore continued to intervene inappropriately in the South China Sea dispute.


Translated by Lim Ruey Yan

* Global Times editor defends article critical of Singapore
He says report involving South China Sea reflects 'the real situation'
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent, In Beijing, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2016

A Chinese newspaper editor has defended a report that criticised Singapore diplomats for raising the South China Sea issue at a recent multilateral summit.

Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin yesterday said he disagreed with Singapore's Ambassador to China Stanley Loh, who, in a letter to Mr Hu on Monday, refuted the allegations and said the daily's Sept 21 report "was replete with fabrications".

Mr Hu said the report on the Non-Aligned Movement's (NAM) 17th summit held in Venezuela two weeks ago reflected "the real situation" and that its sources were "serious and reliable". It was published in the Chinese edition of the daily.

He urged Singapore "to do a reflection and not pin labels on the Global Times, which reported the real situation".

The NAM was formed in 1961 by a group of newly independent countries that did not want to take sides in the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union.

In its report, the Global Times, which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party, said Singapore had raised the South China Sea territorial dispute and a July arbitral tribunal ruling on the dispute at the meeting.

Mr Loh on Monday said Singapore did not do any of those things and that the actions and words attributed to Singapore in the report were "false and unfounded".

Instead, Singapore adopted a "principled position" throughout the meeting and defended the Non-Aligned Movement's principles and established practices of asking to update the paragraphs on South-east Asia in a document that will guide the development of the grouping for the next three years.

But Mr Hu said as the envoy to China, Mr Loh was likely not at the meeting. "Maybe this was what your government wanted you to say," he added.

He also said Singapore "has gone too far on the South China Sea issue", and "has consciously or sub-consciously taken sides", being among the very small number of ASEAN nations that have actively promoted the South China Sea arbitration.

"Singapore is siding more openly with the US and Japan on the South China Sea issue," he wrote.

He ended the letter by saying he hopes "Singapore can play the role of country coordinator of China-ASEAN relations well, and win the respect of Global Times readers and the Chinese public at large".

Commenting on the exchange, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang yesterday said the ministry has noted the reports, and that the Non-Aligned Movement's summit was not a suitable forum to discuss the South China Sea issue.

"Some individual countries insisted on playing up the issue of the South China Sea in the final document, but this was not accepted by most of the Non-Aligned Movement's member states," the spokesman said at a press briefing. The contents also did not reflect the common understanding - including that of China's - surrounding the South China Sea issue, he said.

China and Singapore "should understand and respect each other's position when it comes to important issues surrounding each other's core interests", he added.

In a reply to Mr Hu's letter late last night, Mr Loh said the crux of the matter is that the Global Times report "did not accurately reflect the proceedings at the recent NAM Summit".

While the newspaper relied on unnamed sources for information, Singapore took part in all the proceedings at the summit, Mr Loh added.

* Reporting on NAM meet inaccurate: Singapore envoy
The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2016

Singapore's ambassador to China, Mr Stanley Loh, yesterday responded to the Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin's statement.

Dear [Editor-in-Chief Hu,]

I refer to your response to my letter of 26 Sept 2016.

The crux of the matter is that Global Times' report dated 21 Sept 2016 did not accurately reflect the proceedings at the recent NAM Summit. Global Times did not attend the meetings and had to rely on information from unnamed sources. In contrast, Singapore is a member of NAM and had participated in all the proceedings at the summit. Consequently, I have related the facts and this account can be verified by the public record of the meeting.

By the way, you misread my letter. The NAM Chair did not reject Singapore's request. In fact, the NAM Chair improperly rejected ASEAN's collective request to update the South-east Asia paragraphs to reflect the consensus of all 10 ASEAN member states. That is why Laos as Chair of ASEAN wrote to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister to put on record ASEAN's reservation to a paragraph in the South-east Asia section of the NAM Final Document. You failed to mention this ASEAN Chair letter which I had enclosed in my earlier letter to you. I have appended it again for your attention.

The other points you had raised are not relevant to the issue of the veracity of Global Times' report. Singapore has consistently adopted a clear and principled position. Our leaders have already addressed those issues on numerous previous occasions at meetings with your leaders. Our positions are not identical, but neither are we opposed. So we need to understand each other's position, accept differences and work towards enlarging shared interests with one another.

Once again, I request that Global Times publish my letter of 26 Sept 2016, including its annex, in full, in the print version where your report was first published. This is so that your readers can be fully and accurately informed in the interest of honesty, professionalism, objectivity and transparency.

Stanley Loh
Singapore's Ambassador to the People's Republic of China

Other countries also wanted NAM document updated
Several, not just Singapore, had asked for text drafted by ASEAN to be added
By Kor Kian Beng and Chong Koh Ping, In Beijing, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Singapore was not alone in pressing for updates on the South China Sea issue to be made in the Final Document of the recently concluded Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Venezuela.

The Straits Times (ST) understands that several other countries did so as well, including Indonesia, a fellow ASEAN member. All 10 ASEAN countries are NAM members.

Indonesia, a founding member of NAM, had reached prior agreement with rotating chair Venezuela to include the proposed text drafted by ASEAN through consensus in the document, sources told ST.

But after Ecuador blocked the proposed text on behalf of countries it would not name, Venezuela refused to let the 10-member ASEAN bloc table the issue for discussion. Instead, it adopted paragraphs that were in the final document of the last summit in 2012.

After ASEAN's efforts were rebuffed, the Indonesian delegation headed by Vice-President Jusuf Kalla spoke in objection during the summit.

Indonesia had also urged Laos, the current ASEAN chair, to raise objections to Venezuela for rejecting the proposed update and for disallowing any discussions at the summit, sources said.

Singapore had read out the entire proposed text at Laos' request as the latter did not have the documents on hand at the time, they added.

ST understands that the proposed text had contained references to ASEAN leaders' "serious concerns" over recent and ongoing developments in the South China Sea, such as land reclamation and increased presence of military assets. But it also noted recent progress made between China and ASEAN on managing the dispute.

The involvement of Singapore - represented by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Defence Maliki Osman - at the NAM summit was reported by the Global Times newspaper on Sept 21.

It led to an exchange of letters earlier this week between Singapore Ambassador to China Stanley Loh and the newspaper, which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

The Sept 21 report, published in the paper's Chinese edition, claimed Singapore had insisted on adding contents which endorsed the Philippines' South China Sea arbitration case in the final document. It quoted sources as saying "the Singapore representative... made sarcastic remarks" on the stance of countries opposed to the move.

On Monday, Mr Loh, in a letter addressed to the paper's editor-in- chief Hu Xijin, said the "actions and words" attributed to Singapore in the Global Times report were "false and unfounded". He pointed out that it is a tradition in NAM for countries of a region to update their respective sections in the final document without external interference.

He asked that his letter be published in full in Chinese and English in the Global Times so that its "readers may be accurately informed".

On Tuesday, Mr Hu defended the report, which he said was written based on information from sources who are "serious and reliable".

He also suggested that Singapore should "do a reflection and not pin labels on the Global Times, which reported the real situation".

In his reply the same day, Mr Loh said, among other things, that the Global Times report did not accurately reflect the proceedings at the summit. He again asked for his first letter to be published.

Yesterday, Global Times published Mr Loh's first letter in full in its Chinese print edition, along with Mr Hu's response on Tuesday and the Sept 21 report.

NAM was formed in 1961 by a grouping of newly independent countries that did not want to take sides in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It now has 120 members. China is an observer.

The exchange of letters has attracted the attention of some netizens here, with some questioning Global Times' credibility and others critical of Singapore's stance on the South China Sea issue.

A netizen with the nickname Beijing Lugong said on Weibo, a Chinese microblog site, that the daily and its editor should not claim to represent the Chinese people.

"The Chinese government did not authorise you and your newspaper to issue a statement on its behalf," he said.

But there were also those who said Singapore should stay out of the issue since it is a non-claimant state in the territorial dispute.

Media expert Qiao Mu told ST that he is not surprised by the Global Times report, as the paper is known for stirring up nationalistic sentiments among Chinese readers.

Text disputes

Sept 15

Ecuador, as NAM facilitator for South-east Asia, makes counterproposals on behalf of unnamed countries to the proposed text on the South China Sea dispute drafted by ASEAN through consensus. When Ecuador refuses to name the countries despite being asked to do so, ASEAN members reject the counter proposals.

Sept 17-18

During the summit, Venezuela blocks discussions on the proposed text and instead adopts paragraphs from the 2012 final document. The move prompts countries like Indonesia and Singapore to raise objections.

Sept 18

Laos, as ASEAN chair, protests to Venezuela for rejecting the updates. It also writes to Venezuela's foreign minister to record ASEAN's reservations over the text in the final document that was not updated.

China's People's Liberation Army defence adviser criticises Singapore
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Sunday Times, 2 Oct 2016

Beijing should make Singapore "pay the price for seriously damaging China's interest", said a Chinese defence adviser days after a spat erupted between a Chinese newspaper and a Singapore envoy.

Professor Jin Yinan, a director at a defence university run by the People's Liberation Army, told state-owned China National Radio on Thursday that Singapore has actively pushed to make the South China Sea issue an international affair.

The Republic has provoked confrontations between China and the United States to show its relevance, he said.

"China's retaliation against Singapore is inevitable, not just in the public opinion sphere... We should take some actions, to strike back or impose sanctions, to show our displeasure," Prof Jin was quoted as saying.

His remarks followed an exchange of letters last week between Singapore Ambassador to China Stanley Loh and the Global Times over the words and actions of Singapore officials at a multilateral summit.

In a Sept 21 report, the Chinese newspaper had singled out Singapore for raising the South China Sea issue and the July arbitral tribunal ruling ata recent world summit.

Experts told The Sunday Times that Prof Jin's view reflects an increasing frustration among a certain growing quarter in China.

"Beijing accepts that Singapore can have different opinions, but it doesn't want to see Singapore rushing to the fore," said Sino-Asean expert Xu Liping from the Chinese Academy of Social Science, referring to the South China Sea issue.

Jinan University analyst Zhang Mingliang said this public spat has drawn an "unprecedented wave" of negative criticism against Singapore, especially among netizens. Yet, he views this as a superficialepisode that will blow over soon. "It's not likely to have any substantial impact on bilateral ties," he added.

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday reiterated a call to step up cooperation in the South China Sea at a maritime cooperation roundtable in Hawaii.

Referencing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC), he said in his speech that "all claimant states and the overall situation in the South China Sea have fallen short of the hopes and standards set by the DOC".

The DOC is a key agreement to guide peaceful resolution of disputes and cooperative behaviour in the South China Sea signed by Asean and Chinese leaders in 2002. "We need to address this problem quickly before it escalates," he added.

In an interview yesterday, Dr Ng noted that the July arbitral tribunal ruling is legally binding under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. But other than legal claims, there are also practical concerns to deal with in this key waterway, such as accidents by non-military ships, he said.

He added: "For Singapore as a non-claimant state, our main interest is whether with or without the ruling, how do you make sure that the region is still stable and that you have mechanisms to prevent any escalations."

Global Times report: A bid for eyeballs or a move to pressure Singapore?

By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2016

BEIJING • Concerns about relations between Singapore and China have flared again, after the Global Times claimed that Singapore had pushed to include an international tribunal's ruling on the South China Sea in the final document of the recent Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit.

In a report in its Chinese edition on Sept 21, the newspaper cited sources as saying that Singapore had insisted on adding contents endorsing a Hague-based arbitral tribunal decision on July 12 which dismissed China's territorial claims in the vital waterway.

Singapore's Ambassador to China Stanley Loh, in a letter dated Sept 26 to the tabloid newspaper's editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, said Singapore did not raise the South China Sea issue or the tribunal ruling at the summit in Venezuela.

Still, the Global Times report prompted some Chinese commentators and netizens to publicly call for tough measures to "punish" Singapore. Some Singaporeans, especially those based in China, have also wondered why Singapore, which is not a claimant in the territorial row, is risking Chinese ire by allegedly pushing the South China Sea issue.

To understand the motivation behind and significance of the Global Times' attacks on Singapore, a correct perspective of the newspaper, its modus operandi and its standing in China is critical.

The Global Times is officially a party-linked media outlet run by the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. This means it is supposed to toe the official line and reflect the government's stance on key issues.

But being a commercial newspaper means that it adopts a looser editorial policy to attract readers and advertisers.

The problem is that in trying to set itself apart from other similar publications, the Global Times has honed a market niche - and gained a notorious reputation - for its nationalistic, sensational and aggressive coverage of China's foreign relations.

The most controversial section of the newspaper is its opinion pages, which publish editorials written by its editor-in-chief or ghostwritten at times on his instructions.

It thrives - attracting eyeballs with language that often borders on being crude and offensive - by criticising foreign countries seen as China's strategic rivals or as acting against its national interests.

Its Chinese and English editions attract different readerships. The former, launched in 1993, now has a daily circulation of two million; the latter came out in 2009 and now has a daily circulation of 200,000.

Those who read the Chinese edition are mostly college-educated, white-collar males who like the paper's nationalistic tone.

Foreign diplomats, journalists and scholars tend to read the English edition to get an idea of what Chinese officials may be thinking or planning to do, but which they are unwilling to articulate publicly.

Some believe the Global Times has at times been used as a proxy for the government or officials in sending signals - mostly warnings - to other countries.

But its style is controversial even in China, with a media studies professor likening it to a rabid lapdog for the state. Many Chinese scholars and diplomats frown on the paper and criticise it for not understanding how diplomacy works. The government has also taken it to task before over its reportage.

Given such mixed feelings about the newspaper, it is difficult to tell when the Global Times is acting on its own and when it is reflecting the official stance. Similarly, it is hard to tell the extent of state involvement in or backing for its Sept 21 report criticising Singapore.

Last week, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman commenting on the spat accused "some individual countries" of insisting on playing up the South China Sea issue in the final document.

But beyond that, the saga has largely been ignored by state media such as the Xinhua news agency and China Central Television.

Still, one should not dismiss the Global Times report or view it in isolation. The report is but the latest in a series of attacks directed at Singapore.

In June this year, the Global Times published a commentary by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Cheng Bifan, who said Singapore was taking sides against China on issues such as the South China Sea. It prompted a rebuttal by Mr Loh.

In August 2013, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs rebutted a Global Times report that it said "grossly distorted and misreported" remarks that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made at a forum in Tokyo about China's territorial disputes and relations with its neighbours.

Each report has been followed by a discernible increase in the volume and intensity of vitriol in the Chinese media and cyberspace, particularly over Singapore's close ties with the United States and support of American military deployment in the region.

There are several possible reasons for this. First, the Global Times could be trying to attract readers, knowing that publishing critical reports appeals to nationalistic sentiments and will elicit a response from Singapore.

Second, its reportage could be part of a long game by some quarters in China to diminish Singapore's international standing and, in turn, discredit its implied support of the tribunal ruling through calls for international law to be respected.

Third, perhaps most worryingly, it may be an attempt by some quarters to put pressure on nations to choose sides between China and its strategic rivals such as the US.

Many Chinese have high expectations that Singapore, being a Chinese-majority society, should side with China. Some also strongly believe that Singapore should repay the economic benefits gained from China's rise in the past few decades, often forgetting how Singapore has contributed to China's development through bilateral cooperation projects and supported Chinese initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Bilateral trade and investments have also benefited both sides.

Even as the dust settles over the latest saga, experience has shown it is unlikely to be the last, unless steps are taken to improve the situation.

Both sides should note that diplomacy is better conducted behind closed doors and not through the megaphone of the media, which could only aggravate relations.

Singapore has to be mindful of being fair and principled in dealing with all big powers. Feedback from Chinese officials suggests that while they understand Singapore's independent foreign policy, they are nevertheless growing increasingly doubtful about its neutrality.

Cooler heads also need to prevail at the people-to-people level.

Chinese defence adviser Jin Yinan's call for sanctions against Singapore is counter-productive.

Hostility would only increase a country's business risk and scare away foreign investors. The Chinese market holds appeal for Singapore companies, but a slowing Chinese economy also needs foreign investments.

Thankfully, the call by Professor Jin, a major-general and former director of the strategic research institute at the National Defence University, has not gained much traction in China. Also, under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Singapore-Sino bilateral cooperation has deepened. A new government-led project was launched in Chongqing and new areas of collaboration are being explored.

Many Singaporeans may want or hope that their Government would take a more low-key approach towards the South China Sea issue since Singapore is a non-claimant.

But they need to understand that doing so could put Singapore's own interests - respect for international law, freedom of navigation and a united Asean - at risk and potentially cause more harm over the long term.

The NAM saga, be it a case of misreporting or misunderstanding, has already done some damage. It has led to a growing unease about China's rise and assertiveness.

The Singapore-China relationship, which is steeped in mutual trust among top leaders and is a multifaceted one, is bigger than the South China Sea issue. Even so, it is prudent to prevent a vicious circle of mistrust and suspicion from forming.

Bitten by a dog? Don't bother biting back

By Qiao Mu, Published The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2016

Lashing out at those one disagrees with seems to be a fad of late. There was the falling out between Chinese cross-talk star Guo Degang and his pupil Cao Yunjin, as well as the debate between two United States presidential candidates who found fault with each other.

Now, the people of China and other countries have begun lashing out online. These include Mr Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, and Mr Stanley Loh, Singapore's Ambassador to China. The spat has ranged from news reports to letters, with both men employing diplomatic rhetoric or news reporting practices to make their point in no uncertain terms. Netizens took sides, with expressions of support and taunts, behaving as if they were watching a show.

The incident began with a report in the Global Times which claimed that at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Venezuela, Singapore insisted on adding content which endorsed the Philippines' South China Sea arbitration case, but it was met with objections from several countries. The words used in the report were critical and derisive of Singapore.

Ambassador Loh swiftly issued an open letter to Mr Hu, saying that it was an "irresponsible report replete with fabrications and unfounded allegations with no regard for the facts". He pointed out that the proposal was not Singapore's but the consensus position of all 10 Asean members as conveyed by Laos, the current Asean chair. He said that the Global Times report did not accurately reflect the proceedings of the summit, and Singapore was willing to offer its record of the meeting as evidence.

The Global Times stands naturally on China's side on the South China Sea issue. Singapore's main ethnic group may share a common language and ancestry with the Chinese in China, but in terms of geopolitics and economics, Singapore is closest to the Asean nations as it is an important member of the grouping.

China and Singapore also have different systems, and both countries established diplomatic ties as late as 1990. Although the overall relationship is friendly, as the ambassador said in the letter, both countries have different interests and positions on the South China Sea. He asked the Global Times to publish his letter so readers might be accurately informed, and the close friendship between both countries would not be inadvertently affected.

It is natural for Chinese nationals to defend China's interests in the South China Sea. This article will not discuss the South China Sea dispute raised in this incident, but will analyse from the angle of professional journalism the Global Times' report and Mr Hu's reply. Another premise is that the Global Times is a market-oriented commercial newspaper. It does not represent the Chinese government and Mr Hu is not a Chinese leader.

Ambassador Loh said that he was "disappointed that an established newspaper published this irresponsible report replete with fabrications". He has overvalued the status and credibility of the Global Times. Although the newspaper is run by the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily, it relies entirely on market circulation and advertising revenue, and not government funding and subscriptions from public expenditure like its parent newspaper. It seldom discusses China's domestic issues, the rights of the people and welfare demands, but focuses on foreign relations and international issues so as to fan nationalism and cater to the ordinary readers who are interested in such matters.

There are three "wonders" in China's media sector. According to the People's Daily, China is the best in the world; according to Reference News, the world says China is the best; according to the Global Times, the world is jealous that China is the best. It means that the Global Times and the other official media are singing in chorus, playing either the good cop or the bad cop to promote the rise of China and expose the containment of China by other countries. The Global Times has adopted the same method on many countries and many issues. It gets eyeballs by fabricating stories, distorting facts and writing sensational headlines.

The journalism sector has never regarded it as part of the mainstream media, but sees it as a tabloid with no professionalism and journalistic integrity. On this incident, all the news from the Global Times came from "informed sources". No other media outlet has reported on the NAM meeting. The Global Times has not been able to provide the names and posts of its so-called sources, leading many people to wonder if its report was based on hearsay or deliberate fabrication. If you read the Global Times frequently, you will find that it often mixes news and facts with views and opinions. It has few professional journalists, and most of the contributors are stringers with unknown occupations who produce copy-and-paste reports.

In Mr Hu's letter of reply to the ambassador, he did not respond to questions on whether the paper had sent reporters to cover the NAM meeting and whether it understood the procedures of the meeting. Instead, he stands on the political high ground and lectures Singapore about damaging China's interests and the need to maintain friendly bilateral relations.

In democratic societies, the media is the public's watchdog and monitors the government so as to safeguard public interests. The Global Times has run a commentary in the past with the headline, "The media should be the watchdog of national interests." The paper is using the phrase "national interests" in a country where popular sovereignty does not exist. The Global Times calls itself a dog, so if a dog were to bite a man, would it be right for the man to bite the dog back?

Ambassador Loh should keep a low profile as there is no need to help the Global Times in its sensationalism. It is just a tabloid out to make money by selling nationalism, a paper which lacks professional news ethics and does not represent the government. A Chinese Foreign Ministry official sidestepped the issue when asked about this incident, and stressed that China and Singapore should understand and respect each other.

The writer is a professor of media studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University. The article appeared on his Tencent Weibo page. Translated by Lim Ruey Yan.

Global Times, published by Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, recently ran an article accusing Singapore of raising the South China Sea disputes at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit held in Venezuela on Sept 18. Singapore's Ambassador to Beijing Stanley Loh wrote to refute this. Global Times editors and Chinese officials then weighed in. What is at stake in this spat? In the first article, a Chinese academic says the issue points to Beijing's pent-up frustration with Singapore. In the second article, a Singaporean academic lays bare the politics of retaliation.

Start of China's coercive diplomacy towards Singapore
By Feng Zhang, Published The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2016

The recent diplomatic dispute between Singapore's ambassador to China and the Global Times newspaper is highly unusual in the history of China-Singapore relations.

It is not, however, an extraordinary event from the perspective of recent Chinese policy towards the South China Sea. Nor is it surprising given the overall direction of China's foreign policy this year.

Understanding what's at stake - and, in particular, getting right the signal Beijing is trying to send - will be crucial for the two countries to steer the relationship on a steady course and prevent it from further deterioration.

Singapore's ambassador to Beijing Stanley Loh wants the Global Times, the Chinese government and people, and perhaps also the outside world watching how China treats a small power like Singapore, to appreciate the truth of the matter and refute the Global Times' accusations.

His argument was that the Global Times report was false and unfounded because, contrary to its assertion, Singapore did not raise the South China Sea or the arbitration ruling at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit. In his second letter, Ambassador Loh again emphasises the veracity of his accounts of the proceedings at the NAM summit.

In his response to Ambassador Loh's first letter, Mr Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, does defend the accuracy of the report. But that passing defence stands in striking contrast to a substantive interpretation of Singapore's position over the South China Sea - almost appearing as a stern lecture on how Singapore should behave itself.

Ambassador Loh, in his second letter, replies that the political points Mr Hu makes are not relevant to the issue of the veracity of the Global Times report. He is correct technically, but quite wrong politically.

If Singapore is unable to grasp what's at stake in the dispute, it would bode ill for the Singapore-China relationship.

Whatever the Global Times' initial motivation for running the story, it is beyond doubt that the gist of the report has the backing of the Chinese government. Thus, when responding to a question about the dispute, a spokesman from China's foreign ministry declared unambiguously: "It is a clear fact that a very small number of countries insisted on playing up South China Sea-related contents in the NAM Final Document."

On whether this incident is going to affect China-Singapore relations, this spokesman emphasises that the two countries should mutually understand and respect each other's core interests and major concerns.

The spokesman avoided the question of whether Singapore raised the South China Sea or the tribunal ruling at the NAM summit - a factual question of fundamental importance to Ambassador Loh.

But this omission speaks volumes about China's attitude. From Beijing's perspective, what's at stake in the dispute is not so much truth as a factual matter as political arguments based on convenience for venting China's cumulative grievances against Singapore this year.

Ambassador Loh wants to address the dispute as a simple, verifiable factual issue. But for China, it's politics from the start. Even if Singapore did not raise the South China Sea issue at the NAM summit, the mere fact of its activism on Asean's behalf to update the South China Sea-related paragraph in the NAM Final Document is provocative enough for a pent-up outburst.

To put it bluntly, Beijing is not so much interested in getting the record straight as in sending a diplomatic signal that it wants Singapore to understand. The signal is essentially this: know your place and don't mess with us in the South China Sea.

The Chinese media's treatment of facts may be cavalier, but the perception that Singapore is siding with the United States, the Philippines and Vietnam in opposing China, and thus overreacting in the South China Sea is now widespread inside China.

From two Singapore senior diplomats' accusation of China's attempts to split Asean in April, to the failure of its foreign minister to appear at a joint press conference with the Chinese foreign minister at the special China-Asean foreign ministers' meeting in June, to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's description of the South China Sea arbitration ruling as "a strong statement" in August, Singapore appears to keep provoking China - or at least that is the viewpoint of some in Chinese quarters.

In this kind of political environment, the argument that Singapore is only adopting a principled position lacks credibility to those who think Singapore is taking sides. Many Chinese policy elites now agree that Singapore has already chosen its side over the South China Sea issue - against China - and that it must pay a price for damaging China's interests.

It is thus not surprising that Beijing is now beginning to apply a sort of coercive diplomacy to pressure and even punish Singapore into acquiescing with China's position. The NAM incident is the culmination of the deterioration of China-Singapore relations this year, but it is only the beginning of a new Chinese approach of coercive diplomacy towards Singapore.

The Chinese may think that this approach may compel Singapore to succumb, but it might well backfire by driving it further towards the US. Regardless, Beijing wants Singapore - and perhaps other regional countries as well - to understand that the rise of China has reduced these countries' manoeuvring space between China and the US.

The underlying signal is that it is now time to come to terms with the reality of Chinese power and accommodate its interests or otherwise face consequences.

The Global Times' report, regardless of its veracity, is nothing less than an explicit warning and bashing of Singapore's activism on the South China Sea issue. For Singapore, that must be an essential takeaway from this incident, however it disagrees with the Chinese approach.

Dr Feng Zhang, a Chinese national, is a fellow in the Australian National University's department of international relations and an adjunct professor at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in China.

The four Rs behind the unhappiness
By Shashi Jayakumar, Published The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2016

In perpetuating a falsehood - that Singapore had insisted on adding contents endorsing the Philippines' South China Sea arbitration case against China in the final document of the recent Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit - the Chinese media apparatus and the Global Times are twisting facts to pander to their own internal nationalistic constituency and agenda.

The reality is that Venezuela, the host, did not allow regional states to follow the customary practice of settling and updating the relevant regional paragraphs (in this case the South-east Asian portion), despite a a combined Asean request to the NAM chairman. What happened at NAM was no more, or no less, than the violation of long-established NAM principles.

Now that Singapore has - entirely within its rights - made its stand clear and given the facts, the various intimations coming from the Chinese media and those linked to the state apparatus suggest that they are not, after all, interested in establishing the facts surrounding the NAM, but more interested in registering a deeper unhappiness with Singapore that has been accumulating for some time now.

What, then, is this underlying unhappiness?


Chinese President Xi Jinping himself has recently said that the United States and China should "cultivate common circles of friends". Singapore intends to be in these circles, friends to both countries. There cannot possibly be objections to this.

Except that there are. China appears to be annoyed by Singapore's influence within the circle of friends that it has. It does not want Singapore to have this kind of influence. To China, only big powers should have this kind of influence, it seems.

Occasionally, some of the true Chinese thinking comes through in the diplomatic arena. At the July 2010 Asean Regional Forum, a senior Chinese official memorably declared: "China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact."

As Chinese analysts closely tied to Beijing have made clear in recent years, Singapore should rethink its "strategic positioning". One researcher with a Chinese state-linked institution was reported recently as saying that "Singapore should think twice about its security cooperation, especially with the United States, and strike a better balance between China and the US".

This is code for simply saying that Singapore should be cognisant of China's ascendency and future dominance. Singapore, the Chinese argument runs, should "have the foresight" to gradually move away from the US and closer to China.

At the heart of the issue is an attempt to shift the goalposts, and a fundamental lack of respect for Singapore's polite but firm refusal to accede.


Professor Jin Yinan from China's National Defence University has said that Beijing should impose sanctions and retaliate against Singapore "for seriously damaging China's interests".

Speaking during an interview with state-run China National Radio, he said last week: "It is inevitable for China to strike back at Singapore, and not just on the public opinion front… Since Singapore has gone thus far, we have got to do something, be it retaliation or sanction. We must express our discontent."

On one level, this type of talk can hardly be considered surprising. So much of Beijing's current rhetoric is about retaliation. The state-linked media has, for example, said that the US will "pay the price" for its decision to put an advanced missile defence system in South Korea, while one needs to look no further than to Taiwan (where the number of Chinese tourists has reduced considerably) to see an example of soft-power retaliation at work.

At another level, the threat should be taken seriously, even though Prof Jin is not a high-ranking official. Actual retaliation or sanctions cannot be ruled out.

The threat, however, should be seen within the wider context of the strategy of pressurising smaller nations. We should understand that the coercion of countries attempting to pursue their own independent foreign policies is by no means a strategy confined to Chinese diplomacy. It is a facet of realpolitik at least as old as the Peloponnesian Wars - as its chronicler Thucydides famously noted, "Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must".

The crucial difference here, of course, is that Singapore is not weak. But all the same, the attempts to hit out at Singapore to serve as a lesson to other Asean countries; to intimidate them so that they will not dare to speak up.


Fundamentally, then, what is at play is a lack of respect for Singapore's sovereign interests and its foreign policy. Allied to this is the belief, long pointed out by canny observers, that Singapore is a Chinese country that must cleave to Chinese interests.

Singaporeans should watch for attempts to exert psychological pressure on various parts of the domestic constituency. There is no place for anyone to take an ambivalent stand on this very important issue, and indeed the public needs to be informed on what is at stake.

Singaporeans, thus, will be aware of the realities of big-power geopolitics and the not-so-subtle power play attempt by big powers to exert influence on Singapore, and understand how a sophisticated citizenry should respond. This may be the beginning of a period of sustained psychological pressure with the aim of affecting our social resilience. We should watch out for united front tactics and attempts to recondition the perceptions of the Singapore people.

Just as we have withstood attempts by other big powers, including the US, to bully us in the past, we must be principled even in the face of threats to "punish" us. If we do not distinguish the issues clearly, there might be a serious split in domestic consensus in our island republic on Singapore's independence of action and its future place among regional and international players.


Prof Jin also criticised the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, suggesting that Washington's rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific should be ascribed to advice given by Mr Lee to US President Barack Obama. Mr Lee had lost Beijing's respect, said Prof Jin.

But Mr Lee did not care for, or want, respect. He was a pragmatist. He wanted to do the right thing - by Singapore. He played no power games and gave advice, when it was sought, to leaders both in Washington and Beijing. These plain facts are known to Prof Jin, but he has conveniently chosen to ignore them.

I have studied Mr Lee's thinking in depth in the course of my research. I was also part of a team that interviewed Mr Lee for the book, published in 2013, that became One Man's View Of The World, the essential summation of his thinking on geopolitics and world affairs.

We had multiple interview sessions on China - the most devoted to any one country. Never once in our conversations was there the sense of his taking sides between China and the US. Mr Lee hoped for a stable, prosperous South-east Asia and was constantly occupied in our interviews with how this could be done. He recognised the interests of both Beijing and Washington. But he did not once forget Singapore's interests, either. There was substantial overlap, he saw, between the latter and the interests of the two big powers, but they were not the same.

I asked Mr Lee during one of these interviews about one particular incident.

During Mr Lee's 1976 visit to China, he met then Chinese Premier Hua Guofeng. Mr Hua tried to present Mr Lee with a book by an academic which gave a slanted, pro-Chinese account of the 1962 India-China War. Mr Lee refused to accept it, saying: "Mr Prime Minister, this is your version of the war. There is another version, the Indian version. And in any case, I am from South-east Asia - it's nothing to do with us."

One might also add: In China's relations with other countries, on a matter which had nothing to do with Singapore, Mr Lee did not want to take sides.

In the Lee Kuan Yew era, a modicum of respect was given to the man and there was a larger willingness by the Chinese to understand the tenets of Singapore's foreign policy - which is to be friends with all the countries who want to befriend Singapore. China could accept these realities those years ago. But now, in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era, this appears to be changing. Singapore will not consent to this. That is the nub of the issue.

In our interviews with him as well as publicly (during the 2011 Singapore Global Dialogue, for example), Mr Lee did ponder aloud scenarios where China might become pushy and aggressive too quickly, attempting to bring forward the day when states such as Singapore are asked to choose sides.

These ruminations now seem prescient. But if it is indeed Beijing's intention to accelerate this scenario, one cannot help but wonder if the right calculation has been made.

Forcing Asean countries to choose sides would be contrary to Beijing's long-term interests. If so forced, it is unclear whether the divide will be in China's favour.

Singapore has not changed. China has changed. Recognising this fact does not mean bilateral spats will go away. But the recognition itself can help to manage and temper them.

Dr Shashi Jayakumar is head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

China's South China Sea stance must be able to withstand the Singapore test
Singapore has neither the ability nor intention to hurt China. If China is willing to listen to its Asian neighbours and make adjustments, it will be the stronger for it.
By Zhu Feng, Published The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2016

Relations between Singapore and China, and Singapore's South China Sea (SCS) policy in particular, have recently become a hot topic in Chinese media.

Following a war of words between Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin and Singapore's ambassador to China Stanley Loh, the Chinese media quoted remarks made by a Chinese military expert who stressed the need to "make Singapore pay the price". Singapore momentarily turned into an Asean country that was deliberately "making things difficult" for China on the SCS issue, and many commentators urged punishment for Singapore the "troublemaker". Even so, it is simply not necessary to hurt Sino-Singapore ties over Singapore's policy on the SCS.

The "clash" between Singapore's ambassador to China and a well-known Chinese media editor was originally a good thing. On Sept 27, Singapore's English newspaper The Straits Times translated and ran the Global Times' criticism of Singapore's actions at the 17th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit; and then on Sept 28, the Global Times published the full rebuttal letter from Ambassador Stanley Loh together with the reply from editor-in-chief Hu Xijin. Opinions from both sides went back and forth and doubts were clarified in a public manner. Initially, it was a positive way for the Global Times to demonstrate the openness and honesty of the Chinese media. However, just because both countries differ on their understanding on the SCS and on Singapore's actions at the NAM summit, it does not necessarily mean that Singapore is "anti-China". Nonetheless, Chinese media has continued to launch "crusades" calling for China to "punish" Singapore. This misrepresents the state of Sino-Singapore relations and goes to show that some people are perhaps just too narrow-minded and biased in their world view.

What is Singapore's policy on the SCS? First, Singapore is indeed a critic of China's SCS policy. This is a fact. But in general, Singapore is considered to be a relatively reserved "critic" of China's policy. The Singapore Government takes a principled stand and stresses respect for international law when it comes to resolving the SCS disputes. It has made no mention of both the historical evolution of sovereignty in the SCS and of historical facts about China being the first to propose territorial claims over the SCS islands. As China's neighbour in Asia, Singapore claims neutrality in its stand on SCS sovereignty disputes, but in only recognising the law and not the historical issues in the SCS, Singapore is being unfair to China.

On many occasions on the global stage - whether bilateral or multilateral in nature - Singapore's declaration of its policy on the resolution of SCS disputes definitely leaned towards the United States and other Western countries. But Singapore's stance on the SCS still took Singapore-China relations into consideration, and it was certainly not a high-profile, no-holds-barred critic.

After the SCS arbitration ruling was announced on July 12, Singapore's Foreign Ministry issued a relatively reserved response and did not sing loud praises of the deeply flawed ruling. At the Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting held in Vientiane on July 25, Singapore showed support for China by not mentioning the arbitration ruling in their joint statement after China and Asean reaffirmed their commitment to the Declaration on the Code of Conduct in the SCS.

Second, when it comes to China's actions in the SCS, Singapore is a great worrier. Due to professional research requirements, I often visit Singapore and am very familiar with the Singapore Government and the society's stand on the SCS. Singapore's concerns about China when it comes to the SCS primarily reflect the Western characteristics of Singapore's political, social and cultural education; Singapore is, without question, the most "Westernised" country in Asean. Its concerns also reflect the traditions of Singapore's foreign policy and strategy premised on finding a balance between East and West, more often than not by representing Western values and interests to review and interpret issues in the East. That is due to Singapore's history, strategy and geopolitical environment. This unique approach to diplomacy has remained unchanged from the time of Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew through the term of its second, Mr Goh Chok Tong, until today with Mr Lee Hsien Loong at the helm.

Third, Singapore is a "cooperator" on China's SCS policy, for though its stance is on the side of the West, it clearly understands that both Eastern and Western perspectives must be taken into account and doing so is in line with Singapore's interests. China is Singapore's largest business partner and brings significant benefits to Singapore in terms of investment, tourism and business partnerships. More importantly, as a business-oriented country situated in the Strait of Malacca and a free economy, Singapore cannot avoid broad yet close economic, trade and social links with China, nor does it want to see crises or military clashes in the SCS. To ensure Singapore's prosperity, stability in the SCS must be maintained, and that means keeping up coordination among various parties and, in particular, cooperation with China.

Despite its frequent declarations of neutrality on the disputes over the SCS islands and maritime rights, Singapore has clearly chosen sides, as evidenced by its foreign and defence policies. Singapore is a military ally of the US and has allowed US littoral combat ships to be stationed at its Changi Naval Base. In addition, the US was granted approval to deploy its P-8 air reconnaissance aircraft from Singapore's Paya Lebar Air Base to conduct surveillance in the SCS.

After delivering a keynote speech at the Special Session of the Nikkei 22nd International Conference on The Future of Asia last Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters that Singapore must never be seen to be "playing multiple sides" on an issue. He also expressed concern over China's rise and the geopolitical situation in East Asia. These remarks show that Singapore has already "chosen sides" on regional politics and defence issues.

Furthermore, as a country with a Chinese-majority population in South-east Asia, Singapore has pushed for a united Asean to play up "Asean-centrism" in East Asian politics so as to maintain a prominent position in the Asean community. Singapore has also long chosen to consciously keep a distance from China in both its foreign and defence policies. In the short term, the Chinese media and public need not harbour any illusions about Singapore's SCS policy and the diplomacy and strategy behind it. It would be naive to think that China can force Singapore to change sides by going on the offensive. Punishing Singapore will yield the opposite effect.

The Chinese government and its people are firm in their belief on the need to safeguard China's sovereign and maritime interests in the SCS. However, we are indeed facing a "Singapore test" in maintaining our rights amidst the current complex and challenging circumstances in the SCS. The core of this test is not how much trouble Singapore stirs, but how much we can influence the thinking behind Singapore's policymaking in a way that inclines our small but important Asian neighbour to empathise more with us and understand China's SCS policy.

To achieve this, we should not lash out whenever others say things China does not want to hear. Nor should we retaliate or punish whoever is not saying or doing things according to China's wishes. To put it plainly, Singapore does not have the ability or intention to hurt China. On the contrary, if we are willing to listen carefully to different voices, opinions, concerns and criticisms among our Asian neighbours and then respond cordially and adjust our own policies and actions to work towards a common goal, only then will we be considered a strong China.

Professor Evelyn Goh, a Singaporean academic and also a professor of strategic policy studies at the Australian National University, stated in a recent interview with The Economist that if China maintains a munificent approach towards its periphery, not just pushing for "win-win"relationships or extending its economic embrace, Asian countries will truly welcome the return of the king. I completely agree with Prof Goh's opinion.

Diplomatic work is basically work that focuses on building human relations. The way to win people's hearts and minds as China rises is to cross the hurdle of the "Singapore test".

Singapore is still an Asian country that China should respect. If we have to retaliate and punish another country every time a war of words breaks out, then China will either be seen as acting high and mighty and prematurely asserting a hegemonic mentality in foreign diplomacy, or starting to suffer from the chronic illness of strategy fatigue.

The writer is the executive director of the China Centre for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea and also dean of the School of International Relations at Nanjing University, China. The article first appeared in the Chinese online edition of The Financial Times on Oct 4, 2016. Translated by Kua Yu-Lin.

* Please note that unlike Japan, Australia and the Philippines, Singapore is not a treaty ally of the US, as stated in the article above. Singapore is instead a major security cooperation partner of the US.

Full Text of Ambassador Stanley Loh's Letter to Global Times Editor-In-Chief Hu Xijin, in response to an article by Global Times (Chinese) dated 21 September 2016

Full text of Ambassador Stanley Loh's letter in response to Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin's response dated 27 Sep 2016

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