When Singapore’s foreign minister visited Washington this past week, he welcomed and even urged deeper US engagement in the region with stronger economic, diplomatic and military ties – a sign that Singapore appears to support America’s recent pivot towards Asia following years of focusing on conflicts in the Middle East.
But at the tail end of his first visit to the US in his new ministerial role, Foreign minister K. Shanmugam offered some criticism and a warning: Anti-China rhetoric is a “mistake,” he said and will cause problems for the region.
“Americans should not underestimate the extent to which such rhetoric can spark reactions that create a new and unintended reality in the region,” said Shanmugam, also Singapore’s minister for Law, speaking at centre for Strategic and International Studies’ Singapore Conference in Washington.
The US has repeatedly applied pressure on China in recent years on issues ranging from the value of China’s currency to its assertiveness in the South China Sea, an area with overlapping claims from numerous Asian countries.
In Shanmugam’s speech, which focused on key developments in Asia and Singapore including American’s recent enthusiasm for re-engagement with Asia, he said the rise of China cannot be contained.
“It is quite untenable to speak in terms of the ‘containment’ of China… (China) is determined to progress in all fields and take its rightful place in the community of nations,” he said, adding that American policy makers need to “accept and understand” this.
His comments are well-timed – Shanmugam left soon afterwards for Beijing, where he is now on his introductory visit to China as Singapore’s foreign minister. He had actually planned to visit China first, as his maiden introductory visit outside of Southeast Asia, but he could not because of scheduling problems.