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Source: Pm Lee Hsien Loong Facebook page.

“Very desirable” for ASEAN “not to have to take sides”: PM Lee, on US-China trade wars

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has expressed his apprehension regarding having to pick a side as a result of the ongoing trade wars between China and the United States, adding that it is in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN)'s best interests to not cave into the pressure of doing so.

Speaking at a press conference that was held on the last day of the three-day Asean Summit held in Singapore, Mr Lee said in response to a question regarding ASEAN's stance on the trade wars and whether it will take a side with either one of the world superpowers that he hopes that "it does not happen soon."

Mr Lee added that “it’s easiest not to take sides when everybody else is on the same side”.

However, he acknowledged that there are bound to be difficulties in dealing with such superpowers that are in opposition with each other.

“[...] if you are friends with two countries which are on different sides, then sometimes it is possible to get along with both, sometimes it's more awkward and you try to get along with both.

"It depends on the issues, it depends on the state of the relationship between them,” he said.

Mr Lee also highlighted the impact of tensions between China and the United States on the ASEAN region: “If you’re talking about economic co-operation, theoretically that’s a win-win.

"But if the global economy pulls apart into different blocs, and then there are hindrances not just to trade but also to investments… the rules… the technologies which are involved… then ASEAN will be put into a different position.

"So we will have to deal with this case by case. ASEAN by itself is not big enough to be a bloc. We have to work with the world as it is, and try and maintain as much cohesion as we can amongst ourselves," said Mr Lee.

Commenting on Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi's role in handling the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar -- which Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and US Vice-President Mike Pence have strongly condemned for her apparent inaction -- Mr Lee said that while he “understands the anxieties which other countries feel about this matter,” he believes that Ms Suu Kyi has “made an effective pitch explaining the complexity of the situation and how Myanmar is trying its best, in order to make some progress.”

Illustrating his example, it was stated that Myanmar has welcomed the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management to dispatch a needs assessment team to the Rakhine State to ease the repatriation process for the displaced Rohingya people.

Previously at a 45-minute dinner dialogue moderated by Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum earlier this month, PM Lee said that while the trade issues between China and the United States "are genuine ones,” the two world superpowers "must want to reach a deal" so as to not let their unresolved trade disputes permeate other aspects of their bilateral relations.