As expected, Lee Kuan Yew’s recent speech to the US-ASEAN Business Council, where he encouraged the US to engage more with Asia to counter China’s growing might, evoked fierce criticisms by netizens in China of not just the Minister Mentor, but of Singapore as well.
Some belittled our geographical size, while others said that MM Lee had treated the Chinese as outsiders although they had treated Singaporeans as “among their own”.
I previously wrote about MM Lee’s speech and supported his views. Those less in tune with Singapore’s foreign policy may have been under the misimpression that Singapore welcomes China taking the lead in Asia, politically and economically. We don’t.
Our national interest is to see a growing and prosperous China that is at peace with its neighbours and the rest of Asia. But Singaporeans — especially a certain segment of Chinese Singaporeans — need to know that China may not be the benevolent power that it has been claiming to be for the past 10 years. It’s aggressive actions and rhetoric towards Taiwan and any other country that offends its national pride easily debunk that claim.
This is why it is in our interest that the US to continues to station its armed forces in Japan, Korea, Philippines, Australia and, yes, Singapore, and steps up its political and economic engagement of countries in the region, including China.
We have never claimed to be neutral like the Swiss. We want to see a “balance of power” in Asia. What that means to us is that any potentially dangerous hegemon is counter-balanced (overwhelmingly, if necessary) by a more desirable power. The US has proven to be the most benevolent superpower so far — at least to Singapore. Of course, one could argue against this based on their wars of aggression in Iraq, Vietnam and Afghanistan, but no one really expects the US to attack Singapore that way, simply because we are neither a threat to the them nor an ideological opponent — except perhaps on the finer points of democracy and human rights.
On the Chinese netizens’ point that Singaporeans are seen to be “among their own”, this is an appeal to race and ethnicity, no different from how some Malaysian politicians use race in their futile attempt to turn Malay Singaporeans against their own country. Singapore is not a Chinese country. We are a country that is made up of different races and ethnicities, who all have an equal place under the hot Singapore sun, regardless of their numerical proportions.