What China’s rise means for South-east Asia and overseas Chinese
To be a true superpower like the United States, countries need to be both continental and maritime powers, and this is what China is trying to do now, said prominent historian Wang Gungwu in a new book launched on Monday. Speaking as guest of honour at the book launch, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bilahari Kausikan said Professor Wang’s distinction between a maritime power and a continental power was “extremely suggestive and powerful”. Mr Kausikan also spoke about the implications of China’s rise for countries with Chinese populations and how Beijing finds it difficult to accept Singapore as a multiracial meritocracy. Below is an excerpt of Mr Kausikan’s speech, which he gave in his personal capacity:
The ideas Professor Wang expounds in this book cut to the core of some of the most important issues of our time. China’s re-emergence as a major power has changed everything. Countries across East Asia, and indeed throughout the world, are struggling to understand what it means for their own national interests and to position themselves accordingly.
How we position ourselves vis-a-vis the United States and China, and position ourselves across a variety of policy domains and not just foreign policy, is not only the central strategic issue for Singapore, but also a question that will preoccupy all of East Asia for many decades to come. And how middle powers like Japan, Australia or South Korea, as well as our immediate neighbours and other Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, respond to US-China adjustments will also have a significant impact on us. China itself sometimes seems unsure about what it wants; Chinese leaders have made contradictory statements and Chinese practice has not been consistent.
CHINA’S RISE AS A NAVAL POWER
I found Professor Wang’s distinction between a maritime power and a continental power extremely suggestive and powerful.
The US is both a continental power and a major — in fact, the major — naval power. China, too, seems to be trying to be both. This is, perhaps, the underlying purpose of the One Belt, One Road policy, which encompasses both a revival of the overland Silk Road through Central Asia as well as a new “maritime silk road”.
But Professor Wang seems sceptical that China will succeed in becoming a major naval power, although he has drawn attention to the significance of China’s merchant marine.