Sunday, 2 June 2019

Shangri-La Dialogue 2019

China, US must avert conflict or fallout will be damaging, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
World economy may be hurt unless the two sides can settle their differences, he says
By Rahul Pathak, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2019

A lack of strategic trust is at the heart of the mounting tensions between China and the United States, making it hard to resolve their differences.

But going down the current path would be a serious mistake on both sides, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The entire world's economic growth may take a hit, major international problems could stay untackled and the benefits of globalised markets lost, he said last night in his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

"We should therefore do our utmost to avoid going down the path of conflict and causing enmity on both sides that will last for generations," he told an audience of defence leaders that included US Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan and China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe.

Both countries have recently imposed tariffs on each other's products, but PM Lee indicated that the problems ran deeper.

"If both sides treat their trade dispute purely on its own merits, I have no doubt their trade negotiators will be able to resolve it," he said.

"But if either side uses trade rules to keep the other down, or one side comes to the conclusion that the other is trying to do this, then the dispute will not be resolved, and the consequences will be far graver than a loss of GDP (gross domestic product)."

The result, he said, would be a more troubled and divided world.

In the 45-minute speech, PM Lee touched on South-east Asia's history to show how its countries thrived after integrating into the world economy.

But his focus was on the more immediate issue of globalisation coming under siege on account of strains in the US-China relationship, which he called the most important in the world.

While smaller countries like Singapore had no choice but to strengthen multilateral institutions, they, like others, were wondering what the future holds, he said.

He said there is no strategic inevitability about a US-China face-off. "But at the same time, if such a face-off does happen, it will be nothing like the Cold War," he said, referring to the long-drawn struggle between the US and the former Soviet Union, which had sought to export communism to the world.

On where a conflict between the US and China could end, he noted that it took 40 years for the Soviet bloc to collapse, under the pressure of enormous defence spending.

"It is highly improbable that the vigorous Chinese economy will collapse in the same way," he said.

China was not capable of taking down the US either.

"Even short of outright conflict, a prolonged period of tension and uncertainty will be extremely damaging," said PM Lee, as issues such as the Korean situation and climate change could be tackled only if both China and the US participated.

"In economic terms, the loss will be not just a percentage point or two of world GDP, but the huge benefits of globalised markets and product chains."

He said China had extensive economic and trade links with the rest of the world, unlike the Soviet Union, whose dealings were largely confined to its own bloc.

In fact, many of the US' major allies in Asia, including Singapore, have China as their largest trading partner, and they all hope that the US and China will resolve their differences. "They want to be friends with both," he said.

While the consequences of such a conflict were grim, its roots also ran deep. The US saw China as a strategic competitor that had taken advantage of it for too long, while many in China saw the US as trying to thwart its legitimate ambitions.

"The fundamental problem between the US and China is a mutual lack of strategic trust," PM Lee said.

"This bodes ill for any compromise or peaceful accommodation. But to go down the present path would be a serious mistake on both sides."

Leaders in both countries also faced powerful domestic pressures as attitudes hardened and neither side wanted to appear weak.

"But ultimately, it is in the interests of both the US and China to reach such an accommodation and to persuade their domestic publics to accept it," he said.

While smaller nations like Singapore could work together to deepen economic cooperation, he said US-China ties would still define the tenor of international relations for years to come.

"In our own generation, we must work together to maximise the chances that countries will have the wisdom and courage to make the right choices," said PM Lee.

Other nations need to adjust to China playing a larger role, says Lee Hsien Loong
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2019

China may still be decades away from becoming a fully developed advanced country, but it cannot wait decades before taking on larger responsibilities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

Other countries, including the United States, must adjust to China's larger role, accept that it will continue to grow and that it is neither possible nor wise to prevent this from happening, he added.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, PM Lee noted that China's growth has shifted the strategic balance and the economic centre of gravity of the world, and that the shift continues.

China and the rest of the world have to adapt to this new reality, he said. "China has to recognise that it is in a totally new situation created by its own success. China can no longer expect to be treated the same way as in the past, when it was much smaller and weaker," he added.

Having gained much from the international system, China now has a substantial stake in upholding it and making the system work for the global community, he said.

Chinese leaders have spoken up strongly in support of globalisation and a rules-based international order. "China must now convince other countries through its actions that it does not take a transactional and mercantilist approach, but rather an enlightened and inclusive view of its long-term interests," he said.

For example, when China joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001, its merchandise trade accounted for only 4 per cent of world trade. This has since almost tripled to 11.8 per cent.

"This is why the trade arrangements and concessions that China negotiated when it joined the WTO are no longer politically wearable for other countries," he said.

China is classified as a developing country at the Geneva-based institution, which lets it subsidise agriculture and set higher barriers to market entry than more developed economies. The US has asked for countries such as China to pare down such privileges.

Last night, PM Lee said: "It is in China's own interest to prevent the international framework of trade from breaking down, and to implement timely changes that bring about greater reciprocity and parity with its trading partners and that are more consistent with present-day China's more advanced state of development."

A similar shift has taken place in how the behaviour of China, now a major power with the world's second-largest defence budget, is viewed in the security arena.

PM Lee said it is natural for China to want to develop modern and capable armed forces to protect its territories and trade routes, as well as aspire to become not just a continental but also a maritime power.

"At the same time, to grow its international influence beyond hard power and military strength, China needs to wield this strength with restraint and legitimacy," he said.

He noted that friction between China and other countries would arise from time to time. Citing overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea, PM Lee said China should resolve these disputes peacefully, in accordance with international law.

"It should do so through diplomacy and compromise rather than force or the threat of force, while giving weight to the core interests and rights of other countries," he said. "Then, over time, it will build its reputation as a responsible and benevolent power that need not be feared."

The rest of the world must also adjust to a larger role for China, said PM Lee.

"Countries have to accept that China will continue to grow and strengthen, and that it is neither possible nor wise for them to prevent this from happening," he said.

He added that as a major stakeholder in the international system, China should be encouraged to play commensurate and constructive roles in global institutions such as the WTO. He said: "If China cannot do so, it will create its own alternatives."

PM Lee noted that the US, being the pre-eminent power, would have "the most difficult adjustment to make". He added: "But however difficult the task, it is well worth the US forging a new understanding that will integrate China's aspirations within the current system of rules and norms."

He stressed that Washington and Beijing must work together, as well as with other countries, "to bring the global system up to date and to not upend the system".

US-China face-off not a strategic inevitability, says Lee Hsien Loong
But if such a confrontation does happen, it will be nothing like the Cold War, he says
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2019

There is no strategic inevitability about a US-China face-off, but at the same time, if such a face-off does happen, it will be nothing like the Cold War, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

First, there is no irreconcilable ideological divide between the US and China.

China may be communist in political structure, but it has adopted market principles in many areas, and is not attempting to turn other countries communist.

"The Soviets sought to overturn the world order. But China has benefited from, and by and large worked within, the framework of existing multilateral institutions," he said at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

"Indeed, it is often criticised for being too willing to do business with countries and leaders regardless of their reputation or standing, citing non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries," he said.

Second, China has extensive economic and trade links with the rest of the world, and is a major node in the world economy, unlike the Soviet Union, which had negligible economic links outside the Soviet bloc.

"In fact, all of the US' allies in Asia, including Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Australia, as well as many of its friends and partners, including Singapore, have China as their largest trading partner," he said.

"They all hope that the US and China will resolve their differences. They want to be friends with both: to nurture security and economic ties with the US, as they grow their business links with China."

As such, there can be no clear division between friend and foe in a "new Cold War", he said.

Neither is it possible to create Nato or Warsaw Pact equivalents with a hard line drawn through Asia, or down the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he said.

But if there is indeed a conflict between the US and China, where will it end, he asked?

He noted that the Cold War ended after the planned economies of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries collapsed under the pressure of enormous defence spending.

"Even then, it took 40 years. It is highly improbable that the vigorous Chinese economy will collapse in the same way."

PM Lee said China cannot take down the US either.

"The US is still by far the strongest country in the world. Its economy remains the most innovative and powerful, and its military capabilities far exceed anyone else's," he said.

"Americans worry about China catching up with the US, but although China may be ahead in some fields, it will be many years before China can equal the US," he said.

"And contrary to what some people in China think, the US is not a declining power, nor is it withdrawing from the world. In fact, the US has made clear its intention to compete robustly, though in a different mode than before."

PM Lee said that even if there was no outright conflict between the two major powers, a prolonged period of tension and uncertainty will be extremely damaging.

Reiterating a point he has made before, he said that US-China relations will define the tenor of international relations for years to come.

"It is natural that the two powers will vie for power and influence, but competition should not inevitably lead to conflict," he said.

"We hope the US and China find a constructive way forward, competing certainly, but at the same time cooperating on major issues of mutual interest and global importance."

He observed that there are those who argue that a compromise is not possible or perhaps even desirable, because the US and China hold such different values.

Some others have pointed out that "the US is a young country that wants everyone to be like them, while China is an old country that believes no one else can be like them".

To this, PM Lee said: "To expect every country to adopt the same cultural values and political system is neither reasonable nor realistic.

"In fact, humankind's diversity is its strength. There is much we can learn from one another, from the differences in our values, perspectives, systems, and policies."

Hardening attitudes against each other a worrying trend, says Lee Hsien Loong
By Bhagyashree Garekar, Deputy Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2019

A worrying trend is unfolding in the United States-China relationship, of a marked hardening of their attitudes towards each other, but it is up to their leaders to reach an agreement that is politically acceptable to both sides, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue yesterday, he noted that a negative view of China has become the norm in the US, not just in the White House, but in Congress, the military, the media, academics and among non-governmental organisations. Likewise, in China. "Hardly anyone in China, whether in government, academia or the media, can be found who is prepared to speak up for a more positive and benign interpretation of the US' intent," he said.

In the US, PM Lee said, the security establishment officially describes China as a "revisionist power" and a "strategic competitor". The recent Presidential Executive Order, on securing the information and communications technology and services supply chain, stated it is aimed at "foreign adversaries". "It stopped just short of naming any specific country, but made quite clear what actions the US intends to take," said PM Lee.

In addition, there is a growing bipartisan consensus that China has taken advantage of the US for far too long; that China has overtaken, or will soon overtake, the US in areas of advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence and some aspects of military technology, through underhand means.

"Americans now talk openly of containing China, and to do so soon before it is too late, the way they used to talk about the USSR and the Soviet bloc," PM Lee added.

Even American businesses, which used to be the strongest supporters of China because they profited from its growth, have soured on it. They had advocated China's accession to the World Trade Organisation and acted as a balancing voice when protectionism grew in the US. But, he noted: "Now, that goodwill has all but evaporated."

He added: "This loss of goodwill on the part of an important constituency is a serious problem for China, which the Chinese have not fully appreciated or dealt with."

Instead, some in China are convinced that the US will never be satisfied and will thwart its legitimate ambitions, irrespective of what the Chinese do or concede on individual issues. "They are alarmed by talk of a 'clash of civilisations' between the US and China. They reject what they see as efforts by the US to impose its political system and values on China," said PM Lee.

Nationalist fervour in China has been bubbling up, he said. TV stations are rebroadcasting old movies of the 1950-53 Korean War, which is known in China as the war to resist US and assist North Korea. On the Internet, a "US trade war song" is popular, derived from a 1960s movie about the Sino-Japanese War.

It would be up to the countries' political leaders to avoid a conflict that would be "extremely damaging", he said. This is hard, he added, because leaders on both sides are facing powerful domestic pressures.

The political mood in the US is divided and disgruntled, he said, with declining confidence in globalisation and multilateralism. Nearly half of all Americans have an unfavourable opinion of China.

"As the presidential elections approach, these attitudes will surely deepen because neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will want to risk being accused of being 'soft' on China," said PM Lee.

In China, leaders face strong internal pressures too, although they do not have US-style presidential elections, he said. "They know they have major issues to deal with at home," said PM Lee, such as uneven growth, rural poverty and rising expectations for a better quality of life.

Further, both sides are sensitive about being perceived as weak, he said. The US wants to show that it has come out ahead in any deal, out of a political necessity. The Chinese leaders, deeply attuned to their history, cannot afford to appear to succumb to Western pressure to accept an "unequal" treaty.

This zero-sum dynamic makes it very hard to construct an agreement that is politically acceptable to both parties, said PM Lee. But it is in the interests of both to reach an accommodation and to persuade their people to accept it.

"They both need to keep their relationship steady so that both can focus on their respective pressing domestic priorities, and not be distracted by troubled relations with the other," he added.

Small states can strengthen influence by working together, says Lee Hsien Loong
He stresses need to advance a collective position on issues that matter to them and strengthen multilateral institutions
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2019

Small states like Singapore can do little to influence the big powers, but they are not entirely without agency, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

There are many opportunities for smaller countries to work together to deepen economic co-operation, strengthen regional integration, and build up multilateral institutions.

"This way, we can strengthen our influence as a group and advance a collective position on issues that matter to us, be they trade, security or technology," he said at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

In a speech that set the historical geopolitical context for US-China relations and their impact on the international environment, he touched on the need for countries to strive for regional or plurilateral arrangements, while seeking to strengthen global multilateral institutions.

He said that these are far from perfect today.

"The WTO (World Trade Organisation) is one of the major institutions in the post-war global order, but now it is almost paralysed and urgently needs reform," he said.

He noted that multilateral global deals like the Uruguay Round are no longer practical, when agreement requires a full consensus among 164 member countries of hugely diverse interests and philosophies.

The WTO was also designed for an agricultural and manufacturing-based world economy, but the world has moved on to services and now increasingly digital and intellectual property, which need much more complicated rules.

The US, he noted, has lost faith in the WTO. "It often acts unilaterally, imposing tariffs and trade sanctions outside WTO rules. It prefers negotiating bilateral deals one on one against smaller countries in tests of strength. It gives more weight to the US' direct benefits in the disputes at hand than to its broader interests in upholding the multilateral system."

This, he said, has caused concern to many of the US' friends and allies.

Singapore cannot afford to adopt the same point of view, as being small, the Republic is "naturally disadvantaged" in bilateral negotiations. "We need to reform and strengthen multilateral institutions, not cripple or block them."

Confining itself to a bilateral approach means Singapore would forgo win-win opportunities which come from countries working together with more partners.

Short of universal trade agreements, countries should at least strive for regional or plurilateral arrangements. "This may be a second-best solution, but it is a practical way to incrementally build support for lower trade barriers and higher standards, which can then be adopted by other countries."

This was the rationale behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The US was originally on board the deal, but later withdrew from it, with the remaining 11 members later signing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which is now in force.

More countries have expressed interest in joining the CPTPP, and China is also watching the trade pact closely.

PM Lee also expressed the hope that the US would one day become a member of the partnership it had a leading role in designing.

Turning to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which covers North-east and South-east Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand, he said that its inclusive configuration minimises the risk of it being misperceived as a bloc that excludes the US and its friends.

PM Lee said that regional cooperation goes beyond trade and cited ASEAN which, despite its limitations, has contributed to the well-being of its members and the security of the region.

New platforms for regional cooperation have emerged, notably China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which Singapore supports and views as a constructive mechanism that engages China positively with the region and beyond.

This is why Singapore is an active participant working, for example, with the World Bank to promote financial and infrastructure connectivity and providing supporting professional and legal services to BRI countries, among others.

The substance of the BRI, and the way in which it is implemented, is very important. Specific projects must be economically sound and commercially viable, and must bring long-term benefits to their partners.

"This has not always been the case; some BRI projects have run into significant problems. Overall, the BRI must be open and inclusive, and must not turn the region into a closed bloc centred on a single major economy," said PM Lee.

As Asian countries deepen their links with China, they also need to grow their ties with the US, Europe, Japan and others.

PM Lee said: "The BRI should help China to integrate with the world. The end result should be to strengthen globalisation, and not to divide the world into rival spheres of influence."

South-east Asia no stranger to rivalry between world powers, says Lee Hsien Loong
By Charmaine Ng, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2019

South-east Asia is no stranger to the great game of nations, starting from the days Singapore became a trading outpost for the British in 1819 until the Cold War in the 20th century, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

In recounting the region's last 200 years to his audience at the Shangri-La Dialogue, he offered a historical perspective of the current strategic situation between the United States and China.

Now, the world is at a turning point, globalisation is under siege and tensions between the US and China are growing, he said.

"Like everyone else, we in Singapore are anxious. We wonder what the future holds, and how countries can collectively find a way forward to maintain peace and prosperity in the world."

Singapore's destiny was changed when Sir Stamford Raffles founded a port here. The Dutch had already colonised the Dutch East Indies and protected their trade monopoly. "Raffles took a different approach," said PM Lee. "He set up Singapore as a free port. Trade boomed and the settlement prospered. The more open approach of the British delivered superior results."

Over the next century, South-east Asia was fought over by colonial powers in an intense rivalry.

In the 20th century, the interests of big powers continued to intersect in the region. After imperial Japan invaded French Indochina in 1941, the US retaliated with an oil embargo on Japan, triggering the Pacific War.

"There followed for us the Japanese Occupation: Three years and eight months of oppression, fear and misery," said PM Lee.

During the Cold War years later, the region was split between communist and non-communist states. China supported communist insurgencies and promoted armed revolution in non-communist countries such as Singapore.

Amid the turmoil, the five non-communist countries in the region - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand - came together to form ASEAN in 1967 in a "remarkable act of statesmanship" despite some member states having a history of conflict, said PM Lee.

"But with ASEAN, the five countries eschewed conflict and took the path of dialogue, cooperation and friendship," he added.

Integrating into the world economy and linking up with advanced countries, ASEAN member states thrived, while their communist neighbours were held back by wars and the rigidity of their command economies, said PM Lee.

With the end of the Cold War, the US became the sole superpower. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar opened up.

The US was a stabilising security presence as the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific, said PM Lee.

"International trade was expanding rapidly. Trade barriers came down, often led by the US. The ASEAN economies prospered through export-led growth and foreign investments," he said. International frameworks established rules and managed conflict between countries big and small.

While playing a minor role at first, China became a growing partner of the ASEAN countries as its economy took off and a major participant in regional affairs.

Against this historical backdrop, PM Lee said: "The US-China bilateral relationship is the most important in the world today. How the two work out their tensions and frictions will define the international environment for decades to come."

Trust a fundamental issue in debate over 5G networks, says Lee Hsien Loong
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2019

The question of trust is a fundamental issue in the ongoing debate over the world's next 5G networks, given the need for countries to have confidence in the security of the systems, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Beyond technical considerations that Singapore is mulling over in its own decision, he said the lack of trust could lead to "grave consequences", where countries end up developing their own systems and operating in separate worlds that are less safe and more unhappy.

At a question-and-answer session at the Shangri-La Dialogue yesterday, PM Lee was asked by a member of the audience whether Singapore would be using Huawei for its 5G network.

Last month, the United States blacklisted Huawei - which it accuses of aiding Beijing in espionage - and restricted the company's dealings with US companies.

Yesterday, PM Lee said that Singapore is in the process of selecting its 5G system and equipment, with the decisions to be made "in due course".

He noted that apart from resilience and security, other factors to consider include performance, cost, reliability, growth potential and vendor diversity.

It is "quite unrealistic" to expect 100 per cent security from any telecommunications system, he said, and it does not matter whom the system is bought from, with every system having its own vulnerabilities.

But beyond the technical aspect, there is also the question of trust, which is the more fundamental issue, said PM Lee. "I need to have trust in order to use the system. And if I suspect that you will abuse my trust, to compromise my systems, I will not be able to do business with you," he said, describing it as a "very serious problem".

But there are grave consequences when going down this road, he said.

"Because if I don't trust your system, you are not going to trust my system, and then the chips... the software... the firmware, and then the whole supply chain. And then you are in your world and I am in my world," he added.

"That is fundamentally a different kind of world from the one which we have been building in the last 30, 40 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall."

But the problem is a very difficult one to solve because, with anonymity on the Internet, there is less incentive for people to behave themselves, said PM Lee.

He said that in the long term, there is a need to establish rules, such that those responsible for bad behaviour can be named and shamed, leading to restraint.

"For immediate decisions on the 5G systems, I think each country will have to weigh the options, there are the uncertainties, and will have to make its own choice."

In response to another question on what small countries can do to avoid taking sides, PM Lee said that they should try their best to maintain relationships with the US and China.

"But to actively avoid taking sides actually also requires actively not being pressured to take sides," he said, to chuckles in the audience.

"And unfortunately, when the lines start to get drawn, everybody asks: Are you my friend or not my friend? And that makes it difficult for the small countries."

Answering another question - on what Chinese leaders can do to put other Asian countries at ease - PM Lee said it may be hard for "one big country to choose another big country as a role model", but there were lessons to be gleaned from the US' presence in Asia in the last seven decades.

He said the US has made many friends in the region with its breadth of spirit, generosity and honesty, creating an environment that has made it possible for even "those who are not quite so close" to grow and prosper and compete in peace.

Singapore, US agree to update and renew key defence pact
MOU provides for US forces to use Republic's bases; defence ministers reaffirm strong ties
By Bhagyashree Garekar, Deputy Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2019

Singapore and the United States have agreed to update and renew a key pact which provides for the US security forces to use Singapore's air and naval bases, and has underpinned the US regional presence for almost 30 years.

In a breakfast meeting yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and US Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan welcomed the imminent renewal of the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the United States Use of Facilities in Singapore, as they reaffirmed the excellent and longstanding bilateral defence relations.

The two ministers also affirmed the need for stable defence ties between the US and China amid increasing trade tensions, and for countries in the region to work together for the security and prosperity of the region, said a media statement from the Ministry of Defence.

The landmark MOU, signed in 1990 by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then US Vice-President Dan Quayle, is to be renewed by next year. Under this pact, the US has rotationally deployed fighter aircraft for exercises, refuelling and maintenance, as well as littoral combat ships and P-8 Poseidon aircraft to Singapore.

The renewed pact will incorporate partnership elements of the US National Defence Strategy recently articulated for this region.

In their meeting, both sides discussed key bilateral initiatives, including more training detachments for the Republic of Singapore Air Force at a suitable US military base.

Mr Shanahan highlighted the US' intent to remain committed to the region, and to work closely with Asean.

Both sides also exchanged views on a wide range of geopolitical developments and regional security issues, including countering the regional terrorism threat.

Mr Shanahan, who is in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, also called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday at the Istana, and both reaffirmed the excellent and longstanding relations between Singapore and the US.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How were also at the meeting.

PM Lee also expressed appreciation for the US' support for the Singapore Armed Forces' training in the US, said a statement from the Ministry of Defence.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force has multiple training detachments in the US, including at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. It also conducts regular exercises there, such as Exercise Forging Sabre in Arizona.

Both PM Lee and Mr Shanahan also expressed support for the upcoming renewal of the 1990 MOU for the United States Use of Facilities in Singapore.

Mr Shanahan is in Singapore with a delegation of senior US officials, including Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson. Members of the US Congress - both the House of Representatives and the Senate - are also attending the dialogue.

In his major policy speech at the dialogue today, Mr Shanahan is expected to reaffirm continuity in US commitment to Asia, even as the increased tensions in the Middle East claim its attention.

He will also dwell on the Trump administration's vision for the Indo-Pacific, which his predecessor James Mattis also spoke on at last year's dialogue.

Dr Ng also met the defence ministers from Australia, Britain, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea, and a US Senate Armed Services Congressional delegation led by Senator Angus King, on the sidelines of the dialogue yesterday.

The leaders reaffirmed the strong bilateral defence relations between Singapore and their respective countries.

Dr Ng hosted Australia's Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds to lunch yesterday on her inaugural visit to Singapore.


Smaller countries like Singapore have to invest in defence: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

This is necessary even as they try to resolve disputes through peaceful means, he says
By Lim Min Zhang, The Sunday Times, 2 Jun 2019

Smaller countries in the region like Singapore have to invest in their own defence capabilities even as they try to resolve disputes through peaceful means - because the cost of any potential conflict is prohibitively high, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday.

"Let's be clear about this, for countries in this region, our entire lives are invested. Taking the analogy from the elephants, we are the grass and we can't move anywhere. So, of course, we have to invest in our own defence capabilities," Dr Ng said in response to a question on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

He was asked whether Singapore would be ready to invest more in its defence capabilities.

On Friday night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, when asked after his keynote address at this year's Shangri-La Dialogue how China's leadership can increase the comfort level with its neighbours in the region, had said: "When elephants fight, the grass is trampled. When elephants make love, the grass also suffers. And so it's very difficult to be an elephant. And yet the elephant has to get on with smaller countries."

Dr Ng, who was speaking to reporters after hosting 22 visiting ministers and their representatives to lunch at Shangri-La Hotel, said his foreign counterparts agreed that while defence ministers prepare for conflict and war, "our primary objective as defence ministers is to prevent wars".

"There was agreement... that we have to do as much as possible because the cost of conflict is so high, so prohibitive," he said.

"We recognise at the same time that a strong defence is a good deterrence. But beyond that, the ability to candidly sit down with other countries with disputes is significant, and to try and resolve the disputes through peaceful means is certainly better than conflict."

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef), in a statement yesterday, said that among other issues, the ministers exchanged views on the security implications of the US-China relationship - which they agreed was the most important bilateral relationship to the region.

The ministers included China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and Acting United States Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Asked about the atmosphere between the two ministers, whose countries have imposed tit-for-tat tariffs worth billions of dollars on each other's goods, Dr Ng said: "If it were a silent movie, you wouldn't know there was a dispute."

Yesterday, defence ministers of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) member nations reaffirmed their commitment to the pact when they met on the sidelines of the forum. The FPDA, comprising Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, will mark its 50th anniversary in 2021.

Dr Ng also met his defence counterparts - Thailand's General Prawit Wongsuwan and France's Florence Parly.

Ms Parly and Dr Ng reaffirmed the strong and broad-based bilateral defence ties, as well as commitment to strengthening bilateral defence cooperation in areas of mutual interest, Mindef said.

When China drew level with US at Shangri-La Dialogue
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 3 Jun 2019

In many ways, the just-concluded 18th Shangri-La Dialogue will be remembered as the regional event where China drew level with the United States - optically at least.

Chinese delegations to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue have tended to complain about not getting enough airtime to voice their thoughts, compared with the Americans.

In turn, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the conference organiser, has consistently responded that if the level of Chinese representation was high enough, so would the platform be.

This year, China sent its defence minister to the premier security summit after a gap of eight years.

Given the platform of an exclusive opening plenary on the summit's second day, General Wei Fenghe yesterday turned in a masterly performance, calmly defending Chinese positions and displaying neither anxiety nor alarm over his country's rapid deterioration in ties with the United States.

While US Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan had generally avoided calling out China in his speech the previous day, Gen Wei had no such qualms. In his opening lines, he laid out the scenario.

"We hold different views with the US on several issues, and firmly oppose its wrong words and actions concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea," said the Chinese Defence Minister, mincing no words.

It was a message tailored equally for audiences both at home and abroad. Unlike Mr Shanahan, who did not seem to relish the post-speech engagement with the 600 ministers, military brass and analysts assembled, Gen Wei had the air of a man who had all morning for them.

His domestic audience saw a general fully capable of defending China; the global assembly in the Shangri-La ballroom saw an officer neither overly concerned by the situation nor shying away from it.

The 18th Shangri-La summit, which concluded yesterday, was held under the overhang of a geopolitical situation that seems to be getting more clouded by the day.

As Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in his closing remarks at the conference, the events of the month past, particularly the breakdown of trade talks between the US and China, and the tariff and technology barriers being swiftly erected, "have altered the trajectory of this region into an altogether different orbit".

A key summit figure told me on the sidelines that a year ago, they were "hoping" that nothing would go wrong. Today, that has turned to "fearing" that a lot could yet go wrong.

While saying he did not expect anyone to take sides in the US-China struggle for dominance, Mr Shanahan, in calling for a network of allies and partners in the region, made it clear that he expected them to foot more of the defence bill, and build common platforms with the US. This, he said, was also the way to future prosperity.

It is getting evident that many countries are gently shifting positions, eager to get out of the way or, if nothing else, hurrying to take a centrist line.

For instance, Australia, a treaty ally of the US, spoke up for continued American economic and strategic engagement with the region, but some observers took note that its Defence Minister Linda Reynolds omitted to mention a "US-led" regional security order. While this may well be an oversight by a person only four days into her job, the world will be watching to see if it presages a deeper course correction.

South-east Asia, with deep economic and military ties to the US, and close ethnic and trade links with giant neighbour China, has its work cut out to balance the competing pulls.

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu spoke yesterday of the great common threats facing Asean, and the "deterrence" that the region, with a combined population of 620 million and men in uniform numbering 2.3 million, could summon to face down these threats.

But, given the vast disparities between maritime and mainland South-east Asia, and with strategic orientations varying so widely between nations, any form of a common defence platform is not at all realistic.

That said, it is evident that the region needs to have a serious discussion about what Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described as the possibility of "sleep-walking into another international conflict".

Unable to gel militarily, the region has no option but to stand by and allow a widening band of outside players to enter the arena in the name of security, irking stalwarts such as Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Ms Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, made a particular point of the Charles de Gaulle carrier strike group tethered at Changi Naval Base to insist her country will have its say in the "building blocks of a global confrontation taking shape in Asia".

This, she said, was a "question of principle when rules are no longer the boundary of ambition".

As cool as Gen Wei was, the Chinese Defence Minister missed an opportunity to address such sentiments and offer more soothing words to this troubled region.

China specialist Drew Thompson, a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said he would have liked to hear more from Gen Wei on the notion that Chinese military modernisation has created a classic security dilemma whereby China's actions to enhance its security have spread insecurity among its neighbours, and farther afield.

Yesterday, that was not forthcoming.

One opportunity Beijing has to match its words with deeds is to help the speedy conclusion of a quality Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. Once that is in place, and particularly if China were to yield on making it a legally binding document, South-east Asia would breathe a lot easier.

As of now, though, a legally binding Code of Conduct seems a distant possibility.

Shangri-La Dialogue: Beijing, netizens praise PM Lee Hsien Loong's 'objective analysis' of Sino-US ties
Speech reflects desire of countries in region for inclusiveness and openness, says China
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 4 Jun 2019

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech at the opening of the Shangri-La Dialogue last Friday has struck a chord with the Chinese.

The full text of the speech has been shared widely on Chinese social media platforms, with state media outlets also publishing excerpts. Chinese netizens and experts have praised it as an objective assessment of Sino-US ties.

Yesterday, Beijing also gave an official nod to PM Lee's statements, with its Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expressing appreciation.

PM Lee had spoken about how there was a mutual lack of strategic trust between the US and China.

Attitudes in both countries have hardened, but it was in the interests of both sides to reach an accommodation with each other, he said.

"They both need to keep their relationship steady so that both can focus on their respective pressing domestic priorities and not be distracted by troubled relations with the other," he said.

PM Lee had also mentioned that countries needed to accept the rise of China, which in turn must take on larger global responsibilities.

"The bottom line is that the US and China need to work together, and with other countries too, to bring the global system up to date, and not upend the system. To succeed in this, each must understand the other's point of view and reconcile each other's interests," he said.

Asked about the speech by a journalist from state-run China Daily at a regular media briefing, Mr Geng drew attention to PM Lee's points about how it was both reasonable to expect China to want to have a say in setting new international rules, and unrealistic for all countries to adopt the same cultural values and political system.

Mr Geng added that countries in the region wanted peaceful development, openness and inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation, instead of conflict and confrontation, and that PM Lee's speech reflected this widely held desire. "We hope that there will be more of these objective, fair, rational and pragmatic views and opinions so that there will be no room for self-righteous, prejudiced and narrow-minded lies and misconceptions."

Ties between the US and China are becoming increasingly fraught: Trade talks have broken down and both parties are locked in an escalating trade war, while disputes over technology are also brewing.

It is an issue that domestic audiences here are becoming increasingly concerned about.

PM Lee's speech was shared widely on Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo, with some posts reaching upwards of 100,000 views. State-run Global Times and broadcaster CCTV also ran excerpts on their accounts.

Most netizens responded positively, pointing to the speech as an objective analysis of US-China ties. Many said it was a "strategic" and "far-sighted" view of the conflict.

"I hope China's experts will be able to distil some wisdom from this to solve the US-China conflict," said one netizen. Another said: "The opinions from small countries are possibly the most open and comprehensive because they are the ones that have to contend with major powers."

Some others pointed out that the speech reflected Singapore's concern over whether it would continue to benefit from the global trading order. Dr Wang Huiyao, president of the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation think-tank, told The Straits Times he shared the speech on his WeChat account as he felt it was an incisive analysis that was worthy of contemplation.

"These comments are from a neutral and objective third party," he said. "Singapore is also a country that understands China and the West - so the speech has given us a lot to think about."

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