Why Singapore should not be surprised that relations with China have changed

by William Zheng / January 13 , 2017 / SCMP

Sino-Singaporean relations have been on a sharp downward trend since Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ( 習近平 ) visit to the city state in 2015. The tiny republic’s stand on the South China Sea dispute and its close ­relationship with the West, in particular the United States, have caused China to single it out for some stern criticism. One Chinese general called for sanctions on Singapore and the Global Times ranted that Beijing should take tough action on Singapore “when it crosses the line”.

Beijing’s actions have been akin to those of a great Go (weiqi) master orchestrating a comprehensive campaign on all fronts. The foreign ministry has not only issued typically straightforward rebuttals of Singapore’s statements, it also carried out a quick strike in Hong Kong in November, seizing nine Terrex infantry fighting vehicles belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces.

It did not end there. There was no meeting last year of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, the highest-level institutional mechanism of Sino-Singaporean cooperation. The initiative was launched in 2003 by then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) and Singapore’s prime minister, Goh Chok Tong. Currently, it is co-chaired by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli (張高麗). Zhang is a member of the Politburo Standing Committee.

This paper has reported that Singapore casinos are also at risk of a Beijing crackdown over capital flight through potential misuse of the UnionPay ­network.

Many Singaporeans were shocked and concerned, especially those working and investing in China. Some have complained that they had been pressed to take a stand on the South China Sea dispute on various occasions. They said they felt bullied and wonder why, when Singapore’s troops have been in Taiwan for years with no untoward consequences, things have changed.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang (陸慷) gave a clue in his press briefing, reminding all countries to respect the “one China” principle and asking the “relevant party” (implying Singapore) to respect the laws of Hong Kong. His words suggest that the decision of impounding Singapore’s military vehicles has something to do with Taiwan, given that the equipment was on its way back to Singapore after military exercises on the island.

It is worth remembering that Singapore and Taiwan’s military cooperation was initiated by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father, and Chiang Ching-kuo, then the Kuomintang leader. The Chinese mainland was still undeveloped at the time, and had yet to start its “open door” policy and the great reforms that resulted in 30 years of spectacular economic growth. But times have changed. Read more…

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