Singapore, May 31 : Asia's premier defence and security summit kicked off here on Friday with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlining the importance of stable US–China relations to the region and the role smaller nations can play in bolstering the multilateral world order.
“US-China bilateral relationship is most important in world today. How the two work out their tensions and frictions will define international environment for years to come,” said Lee, delivering the keynote address.
He said the US has the biggest adjustment to make. It must forge new understanding to integrate China’s aspirations within current rules and norms.
Tensions between China and the United States have intensified in the past year, both over an ongoing trade war and over the disputed South China Sea and US support for Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Lee said China’s growth has shifted strategic balance and economic centre of gravity of world, and the rest of world has to adjust to the larger role for China. "It will continue to grow and strengthen; neither possible nor wise to prevent this from happening."
But to grow its international influence beyond hard power, he said, "China needs to wield this strength with restraint and legitimacy."
Lee had a few suggestions for China. China, he said, should manage frictions with other countries peacefully, in accordance with international law. Should do this through diplomacy and compromise, not force or threat of force.
Turning to the Belt & Road Initiative, Lee said Singapore supported the initiative, saw it as constructive mechanism for China’s positive engagement.
"But the way it is implemented is important," he said. "Projects must be economically sound and commercially viable.”
On the role of smaller countries, the Singapore premier leader said, “Small states like Singapore can do little to influence big powers, but many opportunities for smaller countries to work together to deepen economic cooperation.
"We can strengthen influence as a group.”
Lee said Singapore as a small country tried actively to maintain, develop links with both sides; but larger powers should avoid putting pressure on smaller powers to take sides -- drawing chuckles from the delegates.
The participants will be all ears to Chinese Minister of National Defence Wei Fenghe who will speak on Sunday at the the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, officially known as the Asia Security Summit, for first time in eight years that Beijing has been represented at this level at the gathering and at a time when China-US ties are strained over trade and security.
“In a highly anticipated speech, General Wei Fenghe will speak on China’s role in the Indo-Pacific at a pivotal time for the region,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the organiser of the event, said in a statement.
A day before that on Saturday, Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick M Shanahan will unveil the US Vision for Indo-Pacific Security.
Since its launch in 2002, the Shangri-La Dialogue forum is a unique meeting where ministers debate the region’s most pressing security challenges, engage in important bilateral talks and come up with fresh solutions together.
It has fostered practical security cooperation, by facilitating easy communication and fruitful contact among the region’s most important defence and security policymakers. (UNI)