Why it doesn’t pay for China to be to overbearing on Singapore

December 1, 2016

Q: What do you think China was trying to accomplish by impounding the Singaporean armored personnel carriers in Hong Kong? Was it the optimal strategy for China?

A: China seems to be attacking Singapore’s credibility directly. This is classic Sun Tzu art of war – showcase a glaring inconsistency to create dissonance, it’s all designed to highlight not only Singapore’s complicity with the US. But it’s also designed to underscore Beijing’s unhappiness with Singapore’s perceived alignment with the US against her claim in the disputed South China Sea.

Is this an optimal strategy for China? No. I don’t think so. As this smacks of bullying.

China is after all a superpower. As for Singapore…Singapore is Singapore lah.

My point is bullying real or imagined in whatever shape and form can never go down well with China’s target audience. All it can really accomplish is sow the seeds of mistrust and enmity along with casting a very unfavorable light on China.

I am quite surprised China has taken this strategy of chastising Singapore so publicly. It seems very odd to me. As they are playing into the hands who keep promoting the notion – China is hell bent on aggression.

As most observers till now have been two minded when it comes to the US assertion China has imperialistic regional goals. And one reason for that is because China has successfully thru the years opted for quiet diplomacy instead of directly engaging in conflict.

Please note that their equivalent of the ST, the South China Post has been taking a very aggressive stance of late. I think it’s a very serious miscalculation on the part of the Chinese.

Q: What do you think China should have done?

A: Continue to leverage on soft power. After all everyone knows Singapore is a reliable proxy of the US. It’s an open secret. Even the Taiwan and Singapore military arrangement though in open contravention of the one China policy is hardly a new thing. Everyone also knows Singapore has thru the years been adept at putting on a Janus mask to play both the US and China. Everyone also knows Singapore is inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. So if Singapore wants to insist on the rule of law when it comes to the disputed SCS – whose going to stand with Singapore?

I say this without malice. To me it’s a factually concise and accurate assessment of what Singapore can and cannot hope to do.

After all, do you see organized crime getting bothered when two bums fight it out in an alley because they both can’t agree on whether Mario Puzo’s depiction of the Godfather is closer to reality or fiction?

By the same token, why should China get bothered? If they do so – they should at least take stock that many claimants of the SCS will at some point ask – can we continue to trust China?

Q: President elect Trump mentioned unequivocally in a recent Youtube vid – the US will be pulling out from the TPP. Singapore has stated it plans to ratify the TPP without the US. Could this be the reason why the Chinese are overacting?

A: Let me say this for the five million and one time. I don’t for one moment believe Mr Trump is serious. He cannot possibly be. Even if he is – I don’t believe the Republican elites, especially the likes of Henry Kissinger can possibly agree with that position. The only possible reason for Trump’s reiteration on his opposition to the TPP probably has more to do with how he has painted himself into one corner – as a very large aspect of his election campaign was premised on the anti TPP position. Now he has to figure out a way to engineer a U turn without coming across as a phoney.

Is Singapore pushing for the ratification of the TPP with the US? Yes, but so are thirteen other countries. I think the Japanese especially seem to be very jittery about Trump. Having said that all this needs to seen in the correct context and scale – as talking about the TPP without the US is like trying to bake a fruit cake without raisins.

Stupidity may not be the right word to describe this initiative – but it’s not far off. I think what many of the signatories of the TPP may be trying to do is to preempt the US from renegotiation the specifics of the agreed TPP terms and conditions.

Coming back to your question – I don’t think China should be unnecessarily alarmed by the latest move to sign the TPP without the US. Like I said, the TPP without the US is really a big fat nothing.

Q: You have mentioned on previous occasions the Trump presidency will be marked by plenty of U turns. How easy is it to effect a reversal on the TPP without alienating a significant number of voters in the US?

A: Reversal. Not easy at all. Since it was such a dominant feature in his campaign and you could even say, it acquired a very personal tenor because it was directed specifically at Clinton & Co. But fortunately the average American is not very well versed in current affairs. Neither is the average American inclined to read broadly either – so there is plenty of room for improvisation to engineer a politically expedient U turn in my humble opinion. After all this was exactly what Bill Clinton did with NAFTA.

Q: How sound is the strategy to proceed with the TPP without the US?

A: Not very wise if you ask me – simply because this leaves very little room for Trump to maneuver. Either way you cut it, let us agree on one thing – if Trump is going to sign the TPP it is going to be nothing short of an epic U turn. So my feel is it doesn’t pay to put him in a straight jacket – and by ratifying the TPP without the US. That is as good as heightening the stakes and putting the proposition to the US – take it or leave it! I don’t see that as a very good strategy. Not at all.

From my assessment. It makes far more sense to reason with Trump by engaging the Republican machinery via perhaps Henry Kissinger.

Q: You seem to have a lot of faith in Henry Kissinger. Why?

A: He’s the brightest bulb in the chandelier wot. I genuinely want to come across as polite – so I don’t want to elaborate further on the dim ones.

There is a lot of darkness now – not only in the US. But the EU and Asia as well concerning Trump winning the elections – I think it’s accurate to say the world is still in a state of profound shock concerning the Trump win and markets generally don’t like uncertainty – this overall anxiety is manifested in how Asian currencies have been tumbling of late. They’re all very jittery. All this nervous energy needs to equalize and hopefully settle into some sort of equilibrium – the only way to restore much needed stability is to get intelligent and experience serious men like Dr Henry Kissinger to play a bigger role in clarifying US foreign policy under the Trump administration.

I don’t see any other way. Because if you leave it entirely to Trump. It will be nothing short of a disaster.

Q: Your position on the TPP is well documented in the internet. You oppose it. By implication does that suggest you much prefer to see the US playing a less dominant role in Asia?

A: This is not the first time that I’ve caught you trying to embellish what I have to say concerning the US. Let me say this categorically – I have never denied that US primacy in the Pacific has been a stabilizing force that has generally brought peace and prosperity to the region. Never!

In fact if you go back to previous blog entries – you will find this is a theme that I keep repeating time and again.

How can I? Look what is happening in Malaysia. UMNO is getting into bed with PAS. Huddud is now in the legislative pipeline – and it will become a fact of life.

Q: Yes you did accurately predict this would happen. (Cut off by interruption from interviewee)

A: I would appreciate it if you don’t spoil my flow of thoughts…..secularism is giving way to religion and sectarian based politics. It’s not confined to Malaysia, but eventually this trend will migrate to Indonesia as well and beyond to affect the Mindanao. On the environmental front – huge Chinese funded dams have been built in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. These human interventions produce long term ecological and topological rammifications. They are so all pervasive it affect millions of lives along the Mekong. In agriculture millions of hectares of once virgin forest are being gazetted as arable land displacing countless species and in some cases even indigenous tribes. These are profound changes occurring at a speed and scale that cannot be reasonable imagined. On the business front, China is laying rail tracks in virtually every country to realize her one belt one road fantasy island agenda. Ports along the Straits of Malacca are being up sized dramatically. Again this will transform the entire way trade and commerce is conducted. So my point is Asia is getting rewired in a very big way. These are just the very young shoots of some of my concerns. On the geo political front – do we really want to see the Japanese and Koreans weaponizing their atomics? Because if there is a power vacuum in Asia – all these trends are all going to be epic dead ends.

Say what you want about the US – but in principle, they do stand for elemental values and in my book that counts for something. When goverments throw social activist in jail under trumped up charges. The US still kicks up a fuss. That may be very difficult for some people to believe these days. As so much of US goodwill has been eroded in the Middle East – but in principle US has never shied away from speaking up about freedom, human rights and abuses.

Like I said, it’s hard these days to take faith and run with this idealistic sentiment. But by and large, the US is a much needed moral authority that I consider a precondition for good governance and statecraft.

If you leave it to China. They will just keep quiet about human rights abuses and if you ask them – why are you saying and doing nothing? They will just reply, don’t look at me. I am just here to lay tracks and build cho cho trains.

But let me be clear. I don’t ever see my opposition to the TPP as necessarily being inconsistent with the idea that the US can continue to play a meaningful instructional and even directional role to shape Asia.

In fact I believe there will be many precipitous social, economic, political and cultural shifts that will continue to occur in Asia within the next ten years, possibly even earlier that may not be necessarily good for people and planet without active US participation.

Only my feel it’s not in the long term interest of the region or the world to attempt to put China into some kind make belief box. That’s a very big mistake.

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