S’pore not a proxy or a stalking horse: Vivian Balakrishnan on balancing US-China rivalry   


The world has become much more complex, with a perfect storm of multiple interlocking crises in multiple domains, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

But one thing remains constant: the PAP Government will always put Singapore’s national interest first.

He was speaking at Day Two of the Committee of Supply (COS) debate on Feb 27, 2023, answering questions from various MPs.

Will Singapore get stuck in the middle?

Tensions are again rising between the US and China. A “spy balloon”, being the latest in a long list of affronts between the two countries. 

For Singapore, it is like watching a fight between two of our closest friends and dreading the day we might be forced to relinquish our neutrality.  

Because of this, several MPs have questioned how the intensifying US-China rivalry would affect Singapore.

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Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) highlighted the intense competition between the two countries, culminating in trade sanctions, including the restrictions on sales of advanced semiconductor chips from the US to China. 

“While these measures are not targeted towards Singapore, our semiconductor industry could potentially be impacted, given the highly complex nature of semiconductor supply chains,” said Mr Nair. 

Meanwhile, Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC) said that the nationalistic rhetoric in US and China means that there is a real danger that any miscalculation or accident could potentially lead to an escalatory spiral and destabilise our region.

“How has Singapore engaged the US and China in their strategic rivalry?” she asked. 

Lastly, Ms Janet Ang (Nominated MP) added that while Singapore is known for its good relations and strong trade ties with these two superpowers, she wonders whether it will be enough to keep us in the green lane and enable us not to have to take sides. 

Putting Singapore’s national interest first

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In his reply, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan noted that the world has become much more complex, with a perfect storm of multiple interlocking crises coming our way.  

As a result, the global order which has served us so well for the past six decades is now under severe strain. 

Therefore, Singapore will need to put its interest first instead of pandering to the demands of others if it hopes to assert itself in an increasingly volatile and dangerous world. 

“We have always put Singapore’s national interest first and we take principled positions impartially, even if it does not always please one or the other superpower,” said Minister Balakrishnan. 

Singapore’s condemnation of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine is thus a reflection of this outlook. 

“More importantly, we refuse to be a vassal state that can be bullied or bought. Neither will we be a proxy or a stalking horse for any superpower. We will uphold principles but we will not choose sides,” added the minister. 

For these reasons, it is clear that Singapore has no intentions of picking a side and becoming a pawn in the case of the feuding superpowers.

Ensuring Singapore will survive and thrive 

Worsening US-China relations will bring trepidation across the region. 

Moreover, an eruption of conflict is a distinct possibility as Taiwan’s aspirations of independence continue to grow alongside a China determined to flex its military muscles. 

But besides upholding our principles, what else can Singapore do to survive and thrive in these challenging times? 

According to Minister Balakrishnan, Singapore needs to maintain a quiet confidence and national unity to stay relevant to the world. 

Next, Singapore must continue to make common causes with as many countries as possible and uphold international law as an avenue for a peaceful resolution of disputes. 

“That is because a world based on the laws of the jungle is one which is extremely inimical to a tiny place like Singapore,” Minister Balakrishnan shared in an Instagram post

Maintaining a consistent approach 

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So far, we have managed to hedge our cultural and spatial proximity to China, balancing it with our robust military and economic relations with the US through a series of masterclasses in diplomacy. 

As to whether Singapore can continue with this balancing act, Minister Balakrishnan has this to say. 

“Both Beijing and Washington know that when we (Singapore) analyse a situation and take a position, it is not for one side or the other. We are not a stalking horse, we are not a proxy. We call it the way we see it as a tiny city state in the heart of Southeast Asia dependent on world trade.

“They also know that we will be consistently reliable. We are good for our word.”

It will remain a delicate balance. But with the PAP track record, Singapore will pull through the stormy weather ahead. 


Picture sources: MCI/YouTube//MFA/Oleksii Liskonih via Getty Images/iStockphoto