US should 'attune itself to China's rise'

A woman visits the Singapore booth at the third Beijing International Fair for Trade in Services in May.

The United States must understand and accept that China's rise is inevitable, and both countries, one an established and the other an emerging power, must find an accommodation, Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said.

Shanmugam, who has just concluded a visit to China, was interviewed by China Daily in Beijing on Thursday.

History has a number of examples where this type of accommodation has failed to materialize and led to catastrophic consequences.

So the big question is what sort of accommodation can China and the US establish, Shanmugam said.

His comments came as Washington's Asia pivot and China's growing clout in the Asia-Pacific region have resulted in increased regional tension, with countries in the region expressing growing concern about stability.

During the Shangri-La security dialogue in May, a "war of words" erupted between China, the US and other nations with competing maritime claims.

As an Asian country with long-established contacts with the West, Singapore feels it is able to utilize its unique position and act as a bridge for countries in and outside the region.

Calling Singapore a friend of China, Shanmugam said China should try various routes to address issues relating to other countries, while outsiders must realise the huge domestic challenges it faces.

China now faces an aging society, the underdeveloped western region and income disparity, and sovereignty issues that cannot be compromised.

"China doesn't seek or want a troublesome external environment. So how do you make sure it's not troublesome? It is going to require wisdom, tact and diplomacy," Shanmugam said.

The Asia-Pacific region, while becoming the world's economic engine, is seeing profound geopolitical changes. In addition to the impact of the US Asia-pivot policy, Japan, after six decades of the Pacifist Constitution, is reconsidering the role it can play in regional security, amid an islands dispute with China.

China and several ASEAN members have seen their ties stalled over competing maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Shanmugam also warned of a nervous Japan re-arming itself, which is in no one's interests.

"Japan is a technologically very advanced country. It's better that Japan is not nervous and stays under the US nuclear umbrella, and at the same time everything remains stable while there's the economic progress."

He also reminded China of the importance of public opinion in other countries. "You have to accept that public opinion in many countries is being influenced against China. It's not good for China ... once it hardens."

This was Shanmugam's third visit to China in his three years as foreign minister, and he met Vice-President Li Yuanchao and top diplomats, including State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

In 2013, Singapore was the largest foreign investor in China and China's second-largest trading partner of the 10 ASEAN countries.

Trade volume between the two countries reached $91.4 billion in 2013, up 11 per cent year-on-year, according to International Enterprise Singapore.

Singapore is also the largest offshore RMB clearing centre outside the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong.

The year 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of bilateral ties being established between the two countries.

Shanmugam said the two countries want to mark the anniversary with high-level state visits on both sides.

As the coordinating country for China-ASEAN relations from 2015, Singapore will exert itself to push forward bilateral cooperation, he said during a meeting with Yang.

World needs to understand challenges facing Beijing

Q&A - K.Shanmugam

Editor note: China Daily recently interviewed Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam. The following are excerpts of the interview.

Q: How do you evaluate the current bilateral relations?

A: Our strong economic relationship has become even stronger. Last year we were the largest foreign investor in China and your second-largest trading partner in ASEAN. You are our largest trading partner.

Our political relationship is very strong. And on the people-to-people relationships, tourism and other areas, the picture is rosy.

This year, our prime minister will visit twice: for APEC and the China-ASEAN Expo. Our president has been invited to the Youth Olympics in Nanjing this year, and next year we hope to mark the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship and the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence, with high-level state visits.

There was a "war of words" between China, the United States and Japan during Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. What's your perception?

Regional maritime issues were discussed during the Shangri-La Dialogue. That relationship between Beijing and Washington is the most critical relationship in the world. The second most important relationship in this region is that between Beijing and Tokyo. All three have to live with one another. That requires wisdom of the three capitals (Washington, Beijing and Tokyo).

China is a rising power. That is the fact. China doesn't want any external trouble right now, because the biggest issues facing China are within China. China is very rich, but has 1.3 billion people to manage. The development of the country still has some way to go. So given all these complications, most of us believe China doesn't want any external distractions. It is going to require wisdom, tact and diplomacy (for China) to deal with the current issues.

If Japan becomes too nervous, there's always a possibility of Japan arming itself even more. Is that in China's interests? Is that in the interests of Southeast Asia? Obviously not.

What are China's major challenges?

We tell the others, Americans and others, they have politics, but Chinese leaders also have politics. China's leaders cannot to be seen as soft on giving up sovereignty.

You have a huge amount of internal challenges, you also have lots of netizens, and you have to manage and not to be seen to be soft.

So the outside world ought to understand the huge challenges faced by Chinese leaders. That's why I said it's going to require a lot of wisdom in the three capitals.

What's ASEAN's role in dealing with maritime disputes between China and other ASEAN countries?

ASEAN as a whole doesn't intervene and cannot intervene regarding merits of territorial claims. Those are to be dealt with between the claimant states and China.

It is in our vital interests that there's no serious physical clash, no rising tension, and disputes are sorted out in a peaceful way between the claimant states, in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS. ASEAN does not point fingers. It's neutral and credible. That can be ASEAN's role.

What's your opinion on the number of regional trade pacts, including the China-ASEAN FTA and the TPP? Are they competing with each other?

We are a significant global trading nation and one of the original members of the TPP. Subsequently, others came in and the US wants to come in. Singapore has publicly said that we think China should be part of the TPP. We would welcome China's participation when it is ready.

At the same time, we have encouraged China to upgrade the China-ASEAN FTA. We also actively encouraged China to broaden and deepen the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Our approach is, the more such arrangements, the better it is.