Storming of Capitol Hill shows division in US society, but also strength of its institutions: DPM Heng

Heng also said both U.S. and China's presence is important to Asean's stability and progress.

Kayla Wong | January 12, 2021, 10:16 PM

The Capitol Hill siege that happened last Wednesday (U.S. time) showed how deeply divided the American society is, which has been growing for several years, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Deep division in the U.S. on display through Capitol Hill attack

Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress went ahead and formally certified Joe Biden as the next president -- with Vice President Mike Pence making the announcement, he added.

Speaking at The Straits Times (ST) Global Outlook Forum, Heng opined that this shows the strength of the American system, which includes the institutions, a belief in their constitution, and a belief in "doing the right thing".


He further commented on how he thinks recent events, such as the crackdown on pro-democracy politicians and activists, would affect U.S.-China relations.

Both countries have their plates full with their own domestic issues to deal with, he said.

While Biden will have to work on bridging the economical, cultural and racial divide in the country, the Chinese government faces challenges such as the gap in development between major cities and the rural areas, as well as an ageing population.

Heng also called on both countries to work with each other to provide global leadership in pressing issues the world is dealing with.

Both U.S. and China important to Asean

Heng stressed the importance of both the U.S. and China to the region as well in his speech, saying there is a need for the two countries to retain an active presence in the region for regional grouping Asean to progress.

U.S. presence will contribute to regional stability, which creates "a hospitable environment for business and investments", he said.

On the other hand, China, which has deep economic interdependence with Asean, is now the largest trading partner for eight Asean countries.

This means Asean has overtaken the European Union to become China's largest trading partner, Heng said.

Asean's interests is for Asean to decide

And while Asean will continue to "feel the tug of U.S.-China competition", they can stand together to advance Asean's collective interests, even if they cannot determine the trajectory of this contest, he added.

Heng reiterated that it is only Asean that can define the grouping's own interests, and stressed that in order to safeguard its independence and agency, it must play a proactive and central role in engaging external partners.

He raised the example of the ongoing negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, saying the set of rules to manage tensions among the different territorial claimants will help to keep the region open, and "avoid miscalculation and misunderstanding".

Heng also complimented the efforts of Asean member countries to support one another amid the global pandemic, such as donating test kits and equipment, and helping to repatriate each others' citizens stuck overseas.

Global cooperation the way to go

In addition, he called for greater global cooperation in areas such as public health, climate change and digital governance.

While Covid-19 has laid bare many of the world's vulnerabilities, it has also presented common challenges that the world needs to work together on, Heng said.

But if countries can build on the momentum of cooperation from this crisis, they can lay the foundation for a more resilient and sustainable future, he added.

You can view the entire forum here.

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Top image via ST Global Outlook Forum