PM Lee fears US-China tensions may continue past upcoming US presidential election, affecting Singapore and the region

“US may pull out of Asia and leave us to our own defences”, PM Lee said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) talked about the worsening tensions between US and China persisting after the US presidential elections and how it may affect Asia. 

Speaking at a virtual dialogue on Tuesday (28 Jul) organised by the Atlantic Council, an American organisation that promotes US partnership with its allies, it discussed the points PM Lee made in his essay published on 4 June titled “The Endangered Asian Century”

In the dialogue, PM Lee discussed the possibility that US-China relations may deteriorate after the US presidential election on 13 November. 

“Historically in presidential election years, the US-China relationship always gets entangled in the presidential campaign.” 

He expects some time for the dust to settle before the world can assess the new dynamics of US-China international relations. 

“I’m not sure whether it will happen this time, because the field is quite different, and the degree of animus, and sad to say, bipartisan consensus on treating China as a threat is quite extraordinary,” he said when moderator David Rubenstein asked about PM Lee’s prediction.  

“I fear that (the tensions) may carry on over past the election and if it does, I think that bodes ill for the world.”

The Trump administration has frequently clashed with China, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19 in December last year, in areas such as trade, territorial claims, telecommunications and the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Trump’s opponent in the election is democrat Mr Joe Biden. He has expressed his stance on the side of Hong Kong in their opposition against the new security law enacted by China. 

Mr Biden’s foreign policy would pose a threat to the mainland. 

Mr Lee noted the current “unfortunate situation” between the two giants in the West and the East where the countries have taken actions and retaliatory actions which have led to the issues being “metastasised and spread into all fields of the relationship”.

“It’s normal between two powers that you will have areas where you have contradictions and areas where you can work together,” he added. “But I think the way things have developed over the last several years, you have very many areas where there’s not only contradiction, but also deep distrust, and this is corrosive and it’s making a very difficult relationship very dangerous.”

“Will the US pull out of being an Asian power and not be as present there as it has been historically?” Mr Rubenstein asked as he shifted gear to focus on Asia. 

Mr Lee foresaw that a collision between the US and China may spill over to collisions with the rest of Asia. 

“Because if it goes wrong, it’s not just any bilateral relationship, it’s the most important bilateral relationship in the world – between a very powerful United States of America, and between a country with one-quarter of humanity. And I don’t think that is a collision which should be lightly ventured.”

If that becomes the case, PM Lee fears the US might decide it has no stake in the region and “leave us to our own defences”.

“We all have good relations with China, we all want good relations with China in Asia, but we also all have very deep relations with the United States, and want to keep them at the same time, and (maintain) that balance,” he added. 

PM Lee said that in order for that situation not to manifest where “the US (will not) play that role and tend (Singapore”s) many interests, and your many friends and your many investments in the region”, it requires “a significant amount of attention from the United States policy establishment, from the State Department and from the White House too”. 

Watch the full dialogue here: 

 

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