Asean will soon be issuing a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said at the Committee of Supply debate on Mar. 3.
“Last night, there was an overwhelming vote: 141 countries at the UN General Assembly voted in favour of the resolution (condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine). Asean, all our ministers, I can tell you were up until 1 to 2am last night communicating, and we will shortly be issuing Asean statement calling for an immediate ceasefire.”
Vivian also reiterated Singapore’s position on the matter:
“When push comes to shove, smaller countries like Singapore must be prepared to defend ourselves and not get caught up in the geopolitical games of big powers.
We do not take sides but we do take a stand to uphold existential principles. We make common cause with our neighbours and our friends within Asean and the UN General Assembly to the maximum extent possible.”
Singapore hopes the U.S. and China will work it out
Here, Vivian brought up the strategic competition between U.S. and China, noting that it had intensified across multiple domains.
In the case of the U.S., while its foreign policy under U.S. President Joe Biden had become more predictable, its fundamental approach towards China remained unchanged.
“In fact, the sanctions against Chinese entities have not been relaxed, but have become even tougher. Both political parties in America as well as the business community and even society at large, have come to generally view China as a direct threat to the United States’ interests. And this is compounded by the fact that the U.S. has never in its history faced a peer competitor on such a scale.”
As for China, Vivian said that there is a growing perception that the U.S. is a declining power, reacting aggressively and defensively to the country’s “inevitable” growth and progress.
In addition, “China will want to avoid being seen to be pressured into making concessions in its policies or posture, out of a concern that any concession on its part will only lead to continued, or even increased pressure from other countries,” he said.
The relationship between the two countries is therefore fraught with many “spiky” issues, which are also compounded by domestic considerations.
“Disagreements cast in moralistic or ideological terms on issues like human rights or political systems quickly lead to deadlocks where no compromise is possible.
We hope both countries will accept that there is a need to reset their postures to work out a new modus vivendi and to reduce zero sum competition. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for them to cooperate constructively, even where their interests are aligned.”
Singapore enjoys excellent ties and high levels of trust with both countries
Biden to host Asean-U.S. summit later in March
Vivian further highlighted the strength of Singapore’s ties with both the U.S. and China.
For the U.S., Vivian pointed out that U.S. Vice-President, Kamala Harris, Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, and the Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, had visited Singapore.
Vivian also highlighted his own visit to Washington D.C. where he met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as an upcoming Asean-U.S. summit later this month that will be hosted by Biden in the U.S. capital.
Standing invitation for President Halimah Yacob to make formal state visit to China
As for China, Vivian pointed out that since 2020, he met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on nine occasions, at an interval of approximately once every three months.
The most recent engagement was at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, in which he accompanied President Halimah Yacob.
“And there is a standing invitation for President Halimah to make a formal state visit to China,” he added.
How will Singapore continue to handle relations with the two major powers?
Vivian highlighted Singapore’s foreign policy position with regards to the two major powers:
“It is in Singapore’s interest to continue to foster stronger ties with both the U.S. and with China, and to be a consistent and reliable partner to both for the long term. We will continue to engage both powers to diplomacy grounded in fundamental principles such as adherence to international law, the resolution of disputes by peaceful means, respect for sovereignty, the sanctity of borders, and upholding a rules-based multilateral system.
However, we make decisions based on our long-term national interests and we make it clear to both that we will not be a proxy vassal state or a cat’s paw for one side or the other. And we have not shied away from standing up for ourselves in this agreeing on issues when necessary.”
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top collage left image via Asean Facebook, right image via State Emergency Service of Ukraine.