“We will avoid conflicts and trade blockades”

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We publish here excerpts from speeches by Dr. Ng Eng Hen, Singapore's Minister of Defense, at the Shangri-La Dialogue

We must and can avoid a physical conflict in Asia. Nor could we in the world endure another geopolitical shock after the war in Ukraine and what is happening in the Middle East. And I feel I can say that one of the prevailing moods among ministers and officials attending this year's Dialogue, compared to last year's Dialogue, is that what happened in Europe and the Middle East “must not happen in Asia.” We are learning important lessons to do or not to do by observing what is happening. (...) I would say that there is a strengthened determination that conflict should not happen in Asia. The United States and China are predominant players and their relationship will influence the future of the Asia-Pacific. Since the Shangri-La Dialogue last year, there have been positive signs. Joe Biden and Lloyd Austin have made it clear that the U.S. wants competition but not conflict. And these days the Secretary of Defense has stressed that a war is neither imminent nor inevitable. Xi Jinping has assured that he does not want to challenge the U.S. role and that he does not want a new cold war. (...) But in this stream of events that also sees signs of trade clashes, it is important to increase dialogue at the highest level. Trade and security are two sides of the same coin. The regional security architecture leaves countries believing that they need new deterrence initiatives, but we must not forget about the crucial role of reassurance. Despite their strategic rivalry, both the United States and China are critical to the global economy, on which they all depend. (...) Washington and Beijing do not need a third party to mediate between them, and I also doubt that a third party can help them. They must and can deal with this issue on their own. We, understood as Singapore and as ASEAN, can foster increased cooperation among the various regional and international actors. We are like the hobbits in “Lord of the Rings”: ASEAN should keep the ring because the great powers covet it too much. We are devoted to neutrality and prosperity. Even if we occasionally have disputes among ourselves, we resolve them peacefully. Look at the agreements between Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam over the South China Sea. (...) Our approach is to convince the powers, be they large, medium or other, that it is in their collective interest to have a system that protects the rights of both large and small powers. An inclusive system to avoid military alliances and trade blocs.

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