US-China talks a step in right direction, despite tough rhetoric: DPM Heng

SINGAPORE: Last week’s high-level talks between the United States and China are a step in the right path, exhibiting recognition from either side on the necessity for dialogue and cooperation, stated Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Mar 22).

This is despite the “tough rhetoric” heard in the latest two-day talks in Alaska, he stated – the primary high-level face-to-face assembly between the 2 nations since President Joe Biden took workplace.

READ: After fiery start, US conclude ‘tough’ talks with China

Calling strategic competitors between the US and China the foremost concern in the worldwide order, Mr Heng stated the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored how essential a steady relationship between the 2 powers is to the worldwide commons.

“While the Biden administration will bring a more predictable approach to the world’s most critical bilateral relationship, the US and China will continue to be strategic competitors,” stated Mr Heng.

It is in their curiosity to cooperate on widespread challenges reminiscent of COVID-19 and local weather change, he added.

“I am glad that both sides have acknowledged that there are areas that they could work together on, despite the competitive tenor of their relationship,” stated Mr Heng.

COMMENTARY: After Alaska, age of selective engagement in US-China relations begins

“While tensions could intensify for some time, I hope that eventually, a framework for cooperation will be developed, even as both sides continue to compete, as major powers do.

“Fair, healthy competition can be positive, if it spurs innovation to achieve better solutions for the many complex challenges that the world faces.”

Mr Heng was delivering a keynote deal with on the digital Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference on the subject of “Asia: Emerging stronger in a post-COVID world”.


Mr Heng additionally stated it was vital for the US and China to stay constructively engaged in Southeast Asia.

“The constructive involvement of both the US and China in the region will be key to Asia’s continued peace, stability and growth,” he stated.

US presence in the area has offered stability since World War II, whereas its investments have been instrumental to the area’s fast development, stated Mr Heng.

Singapore welcomed the Biden administration’s dedication to strengthen its partnership with the area, together with with ASEAN, he stated.

“ASEAN is an important partner for the US, not just in terms of tackling existing and emerging global challenges, but also to put regional engagement efforts into concrete action.”

China’s financial success has additionally been a boon for development in the area, with the ASEAN-China Dialogue Partnership one of many bloc’s most substantive exterior partnerships, he stated.

Southeast Asia should proceed to work with any nation that desires to work with the area, stated Mr Heng

“It is not a question of choosing sides, but of retaining our ability to make choices for ourselves. This is what ASEAN centrality is about.

“Should US-China tensions escalate, our region must firmly remain anchored on ASEAN’s own interest, and to keep ourselves open and relevant through practical steps. This will enable us to emerge stronger from this crisis.”


While the velocity of COVID-19 vaccine improvement is encouraging, restoration is unlikely to be uneven throughout economies and sectors whereas vaccination is underway, stated Mr Heng.

The pandemic will proceed to “stress test” societies and economies, which should stay vigilant and nimble in navigating surprising setbacks, he stated.

READ: COVID-19 pandemic could last 4 to 5 years – Lawrence Wong

“COVID-19 will eventually pass, but its lasting legacy is in accelerating many structural changes,” he stated, highlighting capabilities that economies should construct to emerge stronger in the long-term.

First is a better premium on resilience, with governments and firms rethinking their manufacturing bases and provide chains. There can also be a better sense of urgency to mitigate and adapt to the consequences of local weather change, stated Mr Heng.

Second is a huge shift in the direction of digitalisation, stated Mr Heng, noting that customers of the SingPass app – Singapore’s “national digital identity” – tripled in a 12 months.

READ: Singaporeans say bridging digital divide ‘key issue’ in forging post-COVID-19 future – DPM Heng

Third is the worldwide order shifting by way of “choppier seas”, with strategic competitors between the US and China accentuated by COVID-19.

“With no proper global coordination early in the crisis, we saw a rise in friction and distrust between governments,” stated Mr Heng.

Asia’s skill to emerge stronger from COVID-19 will rely upon how effectively it navigates these shifts, he stated.

While the area has a younger inhabitants and fast-growing center class, the “demographic dividend” may very well be misplaced if nations don’t equip their youth with the right abilities and create sufficient good jobs.

Rapidly ageing populations in some elements of Asia, together with Singapore, will even have an effect on financial development and enhance social wants.

Without enough and sustained investments, the area’s economic system is not going to fulfil its full potential and will stay inclined to future pandemics and catastrophes, he stated.

“Most critically, the stability of the region must not be taken for granted,” stated Mr Heng.

Beyond the US-China relationship, he pointed to the state of affairs in Myanmar, the place there have been widespread protests since a Feb 1 coup by the army.

READ: ASEAN must reiterate guiding principles when it comes to situation in Myanmar – Vivian Balakrishnan

“Singapore is appalled by the violent crackdowns against civilians. It is crucial that all stakeholders in Myanmar come together to find a long-term, peaceful solution and a return to democratic transition,” he stated.


Mr Heng recognized three areas the place Asia may work collectively to grab financial alternatives.

First, the area can additional deepen regional integration and cooperation. He cited good progress with the conclusion of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), however urged all RCEP nations to expedite ratification.

Collaboration additionally extends to the digital economic system, he stated, the place the area should work to harmonise requirements, enable trusted information flows and facilitate cross-border transactions.

Mr Heng introduced that Singapore and Thailand are pioneering a link-up of their nationwide e-payments programs, with customers in each nations in a position to ship cash straight and securely to one another utilizing their cellular numbers from the center of the 12 months.

Secondly, Asia should step up its financial transformation in the fourth industrial revolution, stated Mr Heng, declaring that the area is the worldwide chief in using robots for manufacturing.

Thirdly, Asia should proceed to be an open and inclusive vacation spot for investments from all over the world.

Mr Heng stated Singapore can accomplice with nations and firms as “a gateway for investment, a launchpad for innovation and a green node for sustainability” in Asia.

“The pandemic has accelerated disruptions. We must plan ahead, invest in new capabilities and innovate, to better meet these disruptions, so that we can emerge stronger,” he stated.


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