Singapore seeks stronger regional ties as US-China tensions rise


Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan sit during the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) foreign ministers retreat in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. - AP

SINGAPORE, Feb 27 (Bloomberg): Singapore’s top diplomat lauded recent inroads made with Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei as part of a strategy to build "overlapping circles of friends” amid worsening geopolitical tensions in the region.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan told parliament Monday that Singapore is advancing regional ties that will help to prevent any one major power from dominating in the Asia-Pacific.

"This provides small countries like Singapore more room for maneuver than if there was only a single power dominating our region,” he said. "Naturally, we do not want the major powers to make Asia their battleground or conduct proxy wars here.”

Singapore enjoys close ties its neighbors and has recently made progress on longstanding disputes that have tested those relationships in the past. Resolving these issues has taken greater urgency as the region comes to grips with the prospect of conflict in Asia due in part to tensions between the US and China over Taiwan.

An American defense official last week said the US is increasing its small contingent of troops in Taiwan to train local forces, in the latest move of support for the island democracy and willingness to raise the ire of China.

"This represents, in fact, a fundamental deficit of strategic trust, rooted in incompatible worldviews and aggravated by their respective domestic political pressures,” Balakrishnan said of the broader US-China relationship.

Last year, Indonesia and Singapore settled a dispute over airspace and signed an extradition deal after years of disagreement. Earlier this month, Singapore agreed to temporarily suspend development and reclamation activities on an island that’s been a source of tension with Malaysia even though the International Court of Justice ruled in 2008 the city-state had sovereignty over it.

"In the spirit of mutual cooperation and good faith, we temporarily suspended the works in May 2022 to facilitate discussions on Malaysia’s concerns,” Balakrishnan said.

"We agreed to Malaysia’s requests for more time for them to consider our clarifications and proposals.” - Bloomberg

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