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China’s success ‘benefits all, but it must be mindful of impact’: PM Lee

TOKYO — Singapore wants to see China succeed, because a stable and prosperous China “conscious” of its weight and responsibilities would greatly benefit Asia-Pacific and the world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Sept 29) during his official visit to Japan.

China’s success ‘benefits all, but it must be mindful of impact’: PM Lee

PM Lee Hsien Loong. AP file photo

TOKYO — Singapore wants to see China succeed, because a stable and prosperous China “conscious” of its weight and responsibilities would greatly benefit Asia-Pacific and the world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Sept 29) during his official visit to Japan.

“At the same time, China should be mindful of the natural unease and apprehension that its rapid rise elicits in its neighbours and other powers,” Mr Lee said at a special session of the Nikkei International Conference on the future of Asia. 

“It should act in such a way as to demonstrate that it is committed to building win-win relationships with other countries, and that while it seeks to revise existing frameworks and rules, it is not about to overturn the established international order which it has itself benefited from.”   

In his wide-ranging speech to some 500 people comprising businessmen and students, Mr Lee noted that the rise of China has been a “huge plus for the world” overall, but it is also a development that requires other countries, including China itself, to make major adjustments and to act with restraint and wisdom. 

Smaller countries, for instance, will have to increasingly factor Beijing’s policies and interests into their calculations. Major powers have to learn to accommodate the legitimate interests of a rising China, which wants more influence over global developments.

China itself has begun adjusting to its new role on the world stage, such as by contributing more to the United Nations (UN) in peacekeeping efforts and ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change. Beijing also wants a greater say at global institutions such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “These aspirations need to be recognised, and given due weight and consideration by the other powers,” Mr Lee said.

Such a major shift in the global strategic balance will not happen effortlessly. Friction would be expected from time to time, and it is not surprising that China is involved in territorial and maritime disputes with some of its neighbours in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

However, all countries have a vested interest in reaching a workable balance and minimising conflict. “If countries fail to work together, we are not just losing opportunities to prosper together, but are also putting at serious risk all that we have so far achieved,” Mr Lee said.

A stable external environment, he stressed, is “eminently in China’s interest”, because China’s prosperity depends on other countries too.

“Despite its size, China is not self-sufficient, and cannot be. On its own, minus access to world markets, foreign technology and MNC investments, China will be much poorer off,” Mr Lee said. “Furthermore, external peace and stability will allow China to focus on its domestic challenges, which are considerable.”

The pace of economic growth has slowed in China, he noted. Its low-wage, export-driven model of growth is reaching its limits, and the environmental impact has become “enormous”. There are also growing demands to improve public services, and the population is rapidly ageing.

“Tackling these requires China to address the fundamental issues of economic restructuring, social reform, political evolution. And all these involve difficult trade-offs and risks,” Mr Lee said. On their part,Chinese leaders have acknowledged that their country has entered a “new norm” and they “appear determined and confident to tackle the structural, social and economic changes” ahead, he added.

Turning to the troubled Japan-China relationship, Mr Lee called for direct communication between the two East Asian powers as the first step towards mutual understanding and resolving differences.

“If both China and Japan work hard at it and avoid mishaps, both will save themselves a lot of problems, and the region will heave an enormous collective sigh of relief,” Mr Lee said.

Asked during the dialogue session after his speech about the challenges faced by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in reaching a consensus on issues, Mr Lee said that for member nations to agree on a “comprehensive policy” on issues such as the South China Sea is “very difficult”. Some countries are claimant states while others enjoy close ties with China, for example. 

“(To) have one single Asean position, as if Asean were one country, I don’t think that is realistic. But we work together on basic principles which are in the interest of all the Asean countries,” Mr Lee said, adding that even on the South China Sea, there are areas of agreement among Asean members and room for negotiations for a code of conduct.

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