By Shaun Tandon (AFP)
Suggestions on how to contain China’s rise may spark reaction
WASHINGTON — Singapore urged the United States to be careful in comments on China, warning that suggestions of a strategy to contain the rising power could cause strife in Asia.
On a visit to Washington, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam voiced confidence that the State Department accepted the need for cooperation with China but said that US domestic politics “resulted in some anti-China rhetoric.”
“We in Singapore understand that some of this is inevitable in an election year. But Americans should not underestimate the extent to which such rhetoric can spark reaction which can create a new and unintended reality for the region,” he said.
Singapore is a close partner of Washington and home to a key US military logistical base.
But the city-state is highly dependent on trade and has sought smooth commercial relations with Asia’s major economic powers such as China, Japan and India.
“It’s quite untenable — quite absurd — to speak in terms of containment of China. That’s a country with 1.3 billion people,” Shanmugam told a conference on Singapore at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
China “is determined to progress in all fields and take its rightful place in the community of nations. It will succeed in that venture,” he said.
The United States, while looking to trim spending on its giant military to tame a soaring debt, has set a priority on Asia as rapid economic growth and the rise of China look set to reshape the region.
The US military has sought closer cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam, which have accused China of increasingly bellicose actions to assert control over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
Shanmugam said that the United States should also look at other ways of engagement in Asia such as pressing ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an emerging trade pact that involves at least nine countries.
It is “a mistake to focus only on the US military presence in the region, to the exclusion of other dimensions of US policy,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s administration has repeatedly said that it welcomes the rise of China and will try to find areas for cooperation.
Vice President Joe Biden, ahead of a US visit by his counterpart Xi Jinping, called in a statement Wednesday for the two powers to work together on “practical issues.”
Addressing the same conference as Shanmugam, senior US diplomat Kurt Campbell agreed it was “very important we’re careful about our rhetoric” and said that the United States wanted a relationship with China “based on the well-being” of both countries.
“Every country in Asia right now wants a better relationship with China. That’s natural and any American strategy in the region has to be based on that fundamental recognition,” said Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia.
“It is also the case that every country in Asia, I believe, also wants a better relationship with the United States,” he said.
Shanmugam did not cite examples of “anti-China” comments in the United States, but a number of US lawmakers have raised fears about Beijing’s rise.
At a congressional hearing Tuesday, Representative Dana Rohrabacher called for the United States to ramp up support for the Philippines to help the democratic US ally assert its claims in maritime disputes with China.
“We need to stand as aggressively and as solidly with the Filipino government in their confronting an aggressive, arrogant China — expansionist China — as we have stood with them against radical Islam,” said Rohrabacher, a Republican from California.
Economic disputes with China have also come to the forefront.
In a recent television commercial that outraged Asian American groups, Representative Pete Hoekstra — a Republican seeking a Senate seat in Michigan — attacked his opponent with an advertisement criticizing US debt to China.
In the advertisement, a young Asian woman — in a setting that looked more like Vietnam than China — said in broken English, “Your economy get very weak; ours get very good.”