Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Chairman, the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally last year outlined perhaps the most pessimistic assessment of US-China relations in recent memory. The Prime Minister was bleak and direct. US-China relations, which set the tone for global affairs, are worsening. Neither side expect relations to improve anytime soon and there is a risk of things worsening quickly.
The Prime Minister noted that more geopolitical contestation was likely in the Asia-Pacific and that some countries would choose a side. This assessment was a marked difference in tone compared to the Prime Minister’s speech on US-China relations at the 2019 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) keynote address and the Prime Minister’s essay on US-China relations in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2020.
In the aftermath of the recent shoot-down of a Chinese balloon over the US, there were reports of the visit of a senior Pentagon official to Taiwan. Taiwan is likely to be a focus of contention in US-China relations. How does the Ministry assess the Taiwan question? Is it a red line and will it force Singapore to choose a side?
Chairman, it is often said that foreign policy begins at home. In view of the realities of our external environment and the multiracial character of Singapore, it is a reality that our social compact can be susceptible to fissure and cracks because of geopolitical tensions. Beneath the cordial and friendly nature of Singaporeans, the large number of foreigners, our ethnic and racial make-up and the number of new citizens in our economy can easily be exploited as a fault line. This may make it more difficult for the population to be psychologically prepared for a far more contentious and unpredictable external environment. I have alluded to this prospect at previous Committee of Supply (COS) debates.
The Workers’ Party agrees that Singaporeans should never allow ourselves to be divided – whether by race, religion, income, social differences or place of birth. The reality of a far more complex and diverse Singapore then ever before can make this feel like a tall order. But it would be important to see ourselves as Singaporeans first, ahead of our ethnic differences, even as the latter define who we are culturally.
We should not shy away from saying that we are Singaporeans first, while recognising and honouring our ethnic and racial realities. This distinction would be critical in building up our psychological readiness for unpredictable US-China relations.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
27 February 2023