CNN gives S’pore backhanded compliment on Aug. 9 for balancing US & China relationships

We'll graciously accept.

By Belmont Lay | August 9, 2017

American media CNN has offered Singapore some backhanded compliments this 52nd National Day on Aug. 9, 2017.

In an article, “The eagle, the lion and the dragon: Singapore’s future in the age of Trump“, it talks about Singapore’s place in the world and how she continues to cultivate her relationships with an ascendant China and an unreliable cantankerous United States.

The article couldn’t have come at a better time on this day of our independence.

What Singapore did right

The first thing to note is that the CNN piece quotes plenty of analysts, but failed to extract a comment from Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan:

CNN contacted Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan for this story but he didn’t respond to a request for comment.

But not that it matters.

Essentially, Singapore is praised for maintaining powerful friendships throughout the years and excelling at this form of diplomacy that is highly adaptive to new world orders.

For example, Singapore stayed close to the US during the Cold War and against Communism, but embraced China once it opened up economically in the 1980s under leader Deng Xiaoping.

Here’s a hat tip to Singapore’s foresight:

Over the years Singapore has been very good at picking “the middle path” between the two superpowers, analysts tell CNN, balancing their positive relationships with both America and China.


“If anyone can do this balancing act, Singapore can,” Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, told CNN.

“If Singapore can’t, no one can.”

Singapore as price taker

However, in recent years, things have been shifting faster than predicted for the free-trading, superpower-reliant city-state.

The latter half of the article is more ominous as it talks about how things have changed since 2010.

In 2010, Singapore’s leader was still certain of America.

“We are in Asia; Asia is booming,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview in 2010.

“China is a big story and a major trading partner for us, but China is not the whole story … America plays a role in Asia which China cannot replace, and nobody can replace.”

Within six years though, the narrative augmented to match the new realities.

But already Singapore’s rhetoric has begun to change. In his Singapore National Day speech in 2016, Prime Minister Lee’s language had come a long way from his 2010 interview, where he said China could never replace the US.

“We are friends with both America and with China … Both believe the Pacific is vast enough to accommodate both powers and President Xi said recently that America and China should “cultivate common circles of friends,” he told his countrymen.

“That is precisely what Singapore’s trying to do.”

Why it matters

The implicit message is that Singapore’s fortunes, and likewise the rest of the countries in this region, is dependent on countries that are far bigger in physical and economic size.

For Singaporeans who pride themselves as global citizens and are done with inward-looking, survivalist, navel-gazing commentaries every National Day, this CNN piece is good to take stock of how the rest of the dominant world sees our place in it.

Because it’d spell trouble if they somehow don’t anymore.

About Belmont Lay

Belmont can pronounce "tchotchke".

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