S'pore's foreign policy based on national interests & principles, not pro-US or China: Lawrence Wong

He spoke at length about Singapore and Asean's approach in an era of geopolitical rivalry.

Yen Zhi Yi | May 25, 2023, 02:31 PM

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Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong outlined Singapore’s approach towards the Russia-Ukraine war, U.S.-China tensions, as well as the importance of adhering to the rules-based international order.

In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Wong also touched upon Asean centrality, bilateral relations with Japan, and his views on Singapore’s outlook in an increasingly volatile external environment.

The full transcript of the interview, which was conducted on May 24, has been published by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

If you don't have the time to read through the entire thing, we've picked out the key points for you.

The Russia-Ukraine War

Responding to a question on what key players need to do to steer the war to the “best possible direction”, Wong noted that it has been “deadlocked” for more than one year and that the possibility of escalation should not be ruled out, as it will have "unpredictable consequences" on a global scale.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a gross violation of the [United Nations (UN)] Charter, and of a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is why Singapore opposes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Besides reiterating Singapore’s position, Wong underscored the importance of resolving the conflict through the principles of the UN Charter, and hoped that a settlement can be reached among all parties involved.

Navigating US-China tensions


The interviewer also asked Wong on potential policies to manoeuvre the U.S.-China tensions over supply chains and high-technology products.

He opined that countries must “be careful not to undermine the rules-based multilateral trading system” while attempting to diversify their economies, as it could lead to “broader fragmentation of the global economy” and leave everyone worse off.

Wong pointed out that small and open economies like Singapore are reliant on free flow trade and investments, which is why the multilateral trading system “remains critical”.

He called for the reform and strengthening of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and continued economic cooperation among countries “even when there are differences”, referring to Asean’s approach to resolving differences.

“We will continue to engage all external partners, and collaborate with them on areas of common interest.”


Wong also spoke about Singapore’s relationship with the U.S. and China, noting that the former has “longstanding bilateral relations and deep economic links” with both major powers.

“The U.S. played a vital role in underwriting the post-war global order, paving the way for stability and prosperity in Asia,” he said, pointing to Singapore’s support for U.S. presence in the region.

“At the same time, we have supported China’s continued reform, and participated in China’s development journey over the decades,” Wong highlighted, pointing to the recent upgrading of bilateral relations.

He made the point that Singapore will strive to be a “consistent and reliable partner” to both the U.S. and China.

“Our foreign policy is neither pro-U.S. nor pro-China, but rather grounded on Singapore’s national interests and key principles such as adherence to international law and a rules-based multilateral system. Over the years, both countries have come to understand the principles that Singapore stands for, and this has allowed us to build good relations with both countries.”

This had been highlighted by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sim Ann, who said that Singapore's foreign policy is driven by principles, rather than a “balancing act” or the maintenance of impartiality.

Asean’s continued relevance

The interviewer also questioned Wong on how Asean can maintain its relevance and centrality amidst geopolitical contestation in the region.

Wong said that various Asean states have “deep historical and substantive connections with both the U.S. and China,” but there are also other “major powers with stakes in [the] region.”

He laid out three ways in which Asean has been able to maintain its centrality despite the “evolving regional architecture”.

The first is Asean-led forums and summits that provide a neutral platform for major powers and regional players to convene, such as the East Asia Summit and Asean Regional Forum.

Second is the “dense network of cooperation and interdependence with [Asean’s] external partners,” such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This gives external partners a "genuine stake in the region's stability and success" said Wong.

The third is the adoption of the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), which rejects regional dominance by any single power and encourages collaboration in areas of mutual interest.

On Myanmar

Wong also acknowledged that the situation in Myanmar remains “dire” as there has been little progress in the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.

He said that Asean will continue to hold firm the consensus and support Asean chair Indonesia’s efforts to tackle the humanitarian situation.

“The implementation of the Five-Point Consensus ultimately depends on Myanmar stakeholders, especially the Myanmar military authorities. Asean will continue to press the Myanmar military authorities to cease violence and implement the Five-Point Consensus swiftly and fully.”

Singapore-Japan bilateral relations

Wong expressed that Singapore and Japan enjoy “excellent relations” which are “underpinned by frequent high-level exchanges, robust economic cooperation, and deep people-to-people ties.”

He welcomed more Japanese businesses to expand in Singapore, more cooperation in the digital economy as well as in low-carbon solutions.

“As old friends, there is much we can do together and learn from each other. We both face similar geopolitical, economic and demographic challenges. We can therefore work together to innovate and sustain our competitiveness and dynamism.”

On Singapore

Responding to a question on his views about Singapore’s economic outlook, Wong said that the external economic environment remains uncertain.

He noted that Singapore is feeling the effects of the external slowdown due to its high reliance on external demand, but its “economic fundamentals (will) remain strong”.

Singapore will continue to maintain its current monetary policy settings and will take measures to “minimise scarring of the workforce” in the case of a downturn.

Additionally, it will be redoubling efforts to “restructure and transform its economy” to become more competitive and differentiate itself.

Wong pointed out that the country is decarbonising its power sector and adopting a “multi-pronged approach” towards digitalisation.

“Singapore will always be a small island without any natural resources. But if we focus on our capabilities and strength, and find ways to provide value to the world, we can continue to earn a good living.”

Lawrence Wong in Japan

Wong is in Japan once more, where he also gave a speech at the 28th Nikkei Forum held on May 25.

He attended a reception in Tokyo with Singapore citizens who currently reside in Japan, and will be meeting with Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other political and business leaders.

A few weeks ago, he visited Niigata for the G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meetings.

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Top image via Facebook/Lawrence Wong