SINGAPORE takes no position on the merits of territorial claims in the South China Sea, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, but it has an interest in ensuring that disputes are resolved peacefully and in line with international law.
"ASEAN has a role in this, to try and keep the temperature down, tempers down, and prevent this from becoming a violent conflict," he added.
He was replying to Mr Malek Ali of Malaysia's BFM Media, who asked if Singapore would side with its ASEAN neighbours if China were to insist on its nine-dash line. Official Chinese maps depict the line, which encircles nearly all of the South China Sea.
"I think China does insist on its nine-dash line. The other countries also insist on their positions," Mr Lee said.
He added that how each claimant state chooses to handle the issue will tell the world what kind of country it is as well as its standing on the world stage.
Mr Lee was asked for his views on several foreign policy issues at the dialogue opening the Singapore Forum last night, including the prospects for regional integration.
Professor Lee Chung Min of South Korea's Yonsei University asked how the US-China relationship could be managed.
PM Lee said: "We cannot manage the relationship; only America and China can. We can only adapt ourselves to how the relationship is."
He also cited a Chinese phrase that meant a small country was not entitled to a foreign policy. "You have to take the world as it is and react to it. You do not shape the world. We feel that acutely," he said.
But what smaller countries could do was to co-operate on a range of matters regionally, where they have a chance to have their interests represented.
As for the US-China relationship, PM Lee said: "We hope it will be good. That will be easier for us. If they're not, if they're troubled, we will try our best not to have to choose sides. But sometimes, that may not be possible."
Similarly, if China and Japan were not friends, it would be harder for countries in the region to be friends with both, he added.
Asked about China's proposals for a Maritime Silk Road, PM Lee said these were positive moves for China to co-operate with countries in the region, where it is already their biggest trading partner.
Asked about Europe, PM Lee hoped that, despite their preoccupations, European countries and their companies would see the need to have a presence in Asia to succeed globally.
Mr Lee was also asked what the aspiration of countries in the Asia-Pacific should be in the coming decade.
His brief reply: "Peace, prosperity and security."
This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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