A strong US-Japan alliance is in the interest of China as well as the rest of the world, said Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, warning that any weakening of that axis could drive Japan towards nuclear weapons.
"If the alliance is weakened, Japan may well eventually have to reconsider its steadfast disavowal of nuclear capabilities," he said.
Outlining the geopolitical challenges facing East Asia in a speech at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington, he highlighted the dangers of having a nuclear Japan.
"A nervous, nuclear-capable, and technologically advanced Japan, facing a nuclear-armed China, is not the best scenario for the US or for regional stability."
As such, he said, the China-Japan relationship, more than any other in Asia, urgently needed a new model for great power relations - not that it would come easy. "Both China and Japan have hierarchical world views. Seldom, if ever, in the last 2,000 years of the recorded history of their relationship have they ever interacted on equal terms," he said while stressing that the two countries know they need each other.
The new model, he said, requires China to recognise that modern Japan "is not and can never return to the Japan of the Taisho and Showa eras before World War II". It also requires Japan to come to terms with its own history.
Mr Shanmugam's remarks on Tuesday, the second day of a week-long visit to the United States, push back against the notion among some analysts in the US that China's strategy in the Pacific includes a plan to drive a wedge between the US and Japan. Sino-Japan ties are at their lowest point in decades as the two feud over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.
Mr Shanmugam's speech also did a broad sweep of a range of East Asian issues as well as the close ties Singapore has with the US and Israel. As had been the case a day earlier when he met his US counterpart John Kerry, he continued to emphasise the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.
A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement on a meeting Mr Shanmugam and Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan had with US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said both sides expressed support for the TPP "as an integral component of the US economic engagement to the Asia-Pacific".
Trade was also on the agenda when Mr Shanmugam met two senators. One of them, Mr Bob Menendez, heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr Shanmugam is due to meet three more senators.
In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, he said that failure to agree on the TPP was not an option. "If the TPP doesn't go through, it will significantly impact both US economic interests and US standing in the region. And it will lead to many questions about US reliability," he said.
In his speech at the forum, he called the TPP a "game changer".
"TPP would connect a dozen economies across the Asia-Pacific in an economic bloc covering 40 per cent of global GDP. Specifically for the US, the TPP alone will create nearly 700,000 new jobs in the US by 2025 according to the US Chamber of Commerce."
He added: "It is therefore a no- brainer that it is in the US' core interests to tap into East Asian growth and be part of the unfolding East Asian story."
This article was published on May 15 in The Straits Times.
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