Trade War: Tough decision for Asia

(The Star) – Most countries in Asia would be very unhappy if they had to choose between America and China, and such a choice would be painful, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview with US broadcaster CNN.

In the interview which aired on Sunday, he noted that the United States’ treaty allies in the region – Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand – all had China as their biggest trading partner.

Asking them to choose would put them in a spot, he added.

“If you ask them to choose and say, ‘I therefore must cut off my links with my biggest trading partner’, I think you will put them in a very difficult position,” he said.

“Singapore, we are not an ally, we are a close partner to the United States, but we also have our biggest trading links with China, bigger than the United States.”

Lee did the interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria for the presenter’s GPS programme during his visit to New York last month.

Lee also met US President Donald Trump during that visit.

Asked by Zakaria if he conveyed to Trump the fear that the United States was withdrawing from Asia and ceding the field to China, Lee said he did not think this was happening.

“America is engaging China very, very actively.

“It is not a happy engagement right now, but it is not pulling out from the field,” he said.“What we would like to see in Asia is the United States engaged actively not only with China, but also with the other Asian countries … and cooperatively and constructively to enable these countries to have economic links with China, and at

the same time have economic links and other links with the United States.”

He added: “If US-China relations are not stable and not amicable, it is much harder for all of us to do that. We will be pressured very hard to choose sides, and it will be a very painful choice.”

He also said the ongoing trade tensions had been a problem not just for Singapore, which has good relations with both the United States and China, but also for the world.

“All of us have depended on stable US-China relations, increasingly close US-China economic cooperation, investments, trade as well as flows of talent and ideas,” Lee noted.

“The way things are going now, that benign trend is being disrupted and perhaps even turned around. That is bad for the world.”