By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is hoping that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will not have to choose between the United States and China if the two world superpowers can’t come to a compromise.
Lee made the statement in a post- ASEAN Summit press conference in Singapore.
According to the most recent ASEAN chairman, Southeast Asian nations might be forced to choose between the US and China as concerns deepened about their trade war.
“The circumstances may come where ASEAN will have to choose one or the other. I hope it does not happen soon,” he said.
Smaller nations, including the Philippines, have expressed concerns about the US-China trade war as it could disrupt supply chain integration throughout Asia.
Lee also said that China’s rise and the US’s America First policy is good for the region but may urge nations to pick a side.
“If you’re talking about economic cooperation, theoretically that is win-win. But if the global economy pulls apart into different blocs, then ASEAN will be put in a difficult position,” he said.
The ASEAN is working towards crafting the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a 16-country deal which includes the entire ASEAN region and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The RCEP is said to counter the United States’ “America First” agenda which has seen tariffs imposed on many of China’s imports to the US.
Aside on the economic side, China and the US are also key players in the South China Sea as China continues to claim ownership over most part of the disputed waters, while the US insists that no one country owns the resource-filled waterway.
However, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the US’ view on the South China Sea is also important.
“I think as a concerned party, remember they have their own foreign policy. They have continually stressed freedom of navigation. It’s important that we got their views and that they express them,” he said.
“Sure it’s between us and the literal states of Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Korea, in Southeast Asia would be Vietnam, Philippines, the Southeast Asian countries that have a coastline. But again, they’re a major party. Not a major party but a protagonist in the area. So it would be nice to know what they feel about it, what they think about it,” he added.
However, during the recently concluded ASEAN-China Summit, Locsin said Duterte got no response from China when the Philippine leader urged all concerned parties to exercise self-restraint in the South China Sea to avoid any tension.
Early this week, President Duterte said that the US and other countries should just accept that China is in possession of the disputed waters.