Monday, 22 May 2017

Singapore Stumbles on China's Road

China Wants This Malaysian Port to Rival Singapore (And That’s Not All)
A tourist boat travels along the Malacca River

The Straits of Malacca have been a gateway for China for centuries in its quest for power.

A story blended from Malaysian history and folklore says an emperor sent a princess called Hang Li Po to marry the Sultan of Malacca in the Ming Dynasty, offering a ship filled with gold needles. He also sent a blunt message. “For every gold needle, there is a subject. If you can count the number of needles, you will learn the true extent of my power,” the emperor reportedly said in a letter.

Hundreds of years later, China is again seeking influence in Malaysia as it spreads its economic and military clout through Southeast Asia. It is investing billions in a $7.2 billion redevelopment that will see Malacca, long the haunt of Chinese traders, become a new deep sea port.

China Frictions May See Singapore Miss Out on Belt-Road Billions
China’s plan for a maritime “Silk Road” to Europe is helping channel funds to Southeast Asia for roads, railways and ports. But amid the deals bonanza, one country risks missing out

Despite strong historical and cultural ties to China, the tiny state of Singapore has found itself in Beijing’s crosshairs, in part for its stance over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. As other Southeast Asian leaders lined up to meet President Xi Jinping at a summit in Beijing this week for his Belt-and-Road Initiative, Singapore was represented by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

China views Singapore as being less supportive of Xi’s plan because unlike other countries that announced their leaders would attend without requiring a formal invitation, Singapore sought an invite, according to people familiar with the matter. They asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information.
“The cooler political relationship between Singapore and China could have ripple effects which influence economic and trade relations,” said Lu Jianren, a researcher at the China-Asean Research Institute at China’s Guangxi University. “Singapore has been less proactive to work with China while many leaders in the region showed greater enthusiasm that they want Beijing to be more involved in Southeast Asian growth.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. “I wouldn’t say we have major problems; we’ve had some issues and some incidents,” Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said of China, in an interview aired by the BBC in March.

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Singapore risks being left out of the loop on B&R regional integration

Indeed, on a visit to the US White House in 2013, Lee saw fit to joke about pig soup and pollution at China's expense.

In Chinese, if not Asian culture and diplomatic protocol, this was a big faux pas - all the more so as it occurred in the capital of China's No. 1 strategic rival.

Too often, Singapore, then at the height of its prosperity, seemed to be flaunting its new orientation, without regard for Chinese sensibilities

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Not invited: Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Photo: AFP
Not invited Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Photo: AFP

China’s decision not to invite Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to last weekend’s Belt and Road Forum highlights the still-strained ties between the two countries, observers say, though officials in the Lion City have tried to shrug off talk of any diplomatic rift.

Of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members, only three countries were not represented by their heads of government at the high-level summit in Beijing: Singapore, Thailand and Brunei. Twenty-nine national leaders and the representatives of 28 other countries attended the two-day meeting to discuss the China-led initiative to rebuild the ancient Silk Road trade route through a network of new ports, railways and roads.

The Singapore delegation was led by national development minister Lawrence Wong. In an interview with travelling Singaporean media, Wong revealed that the invitations were decided by China. It was the first official acknowledgement that Lee was not invited.

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3 myths about Singapore-China ties
Much chatter online & off has taken place on why Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong did not attend the inaugural Belt & Road Forum in Beijing last weekend

The event organised by China had heads of state & government from 29 countries attending, including 7 out of 10 from Asean. Singapore was represented by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

2 schools of thought prevailed: China snubbed Singapore. No, it was Singapore that didn't want to take part.

3 myths floating out there that merit being plucked from the ocean of misinformation & tossed into the incinerator:

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One Belt, One Road, One Singapore – Analysis
Main routes of the Silk Road. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

In the 14th century, Mongol dominance in Asia resulted in the Pax Mongolica, a framework of peaceful trading relationships straddling the Maritime and Overland Silk Roads, allowing the Kingdom of Singapura to flourish into a wealthy entrepot trading port.

Today, the two roads are severed, and trade between Central Asia and Singapore is tiny, much more so for non-oil merchandise. The low volume of trade is evident considering Central Asia’s landlocked position presents a significant barrier of trade to the maritime trading hub that is Singapore. Today, China’s One Belt-One Road (OBOR) initiative promises to direct international attention to regional infrastructure development, effectively resurrecting a new Pax Sinica.

This new economic paradigm could well create exciting new opportunities for Singaporean trade and investment in an untapped region. This report will focus on Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and the ways Singapore can capitalize on its unique expertise in the OBOR initiative.

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China no longer regards Singapore as a friend: pro-Beijing newspaper

Singapore Prime Minister’s absence from the One Belt One Road forum held in China earlier in May is “a watershed moment in regional affairs and marked the end of the era of amicable ties that Lee’s father, Lee Kuan Yew, had so painstakingly nurtured with Asia’s economic superpower.”

This was the view of “seasoned Asia-watchers”, said the pro-Beijing newspaper, The Global Times.

For the uninitiated, The Global Times is regarded as the vehicle whose “messages are a transmission from within the heart of CCP power.”

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PM Lee not invited to Belt and Road forum, is S’pore in trouble?

The high-profile “Belt and Road” Forum recently held in Beijing from May 14 to 15, attended by 29 national leaders and the representatives of 28 other countries, captured the world’s attention with Chinese President Xi Jinping pledging to splash the cash to help revive ancient trade routes and build infrastructure across the region.

The amount of investment planned so far for the initiative is massive – over US$1 trillion.

Even more trade and investment plans – US$113 billion-worth – was announced at the forum on top of previous commitments. It is no wonder that, China’s growing political and economic dominance coupled with the scope of “Belt and Road” has sparked concerns of possible debt-trap diplomacy among countries that have benefited or will benefit from China’s ambitious regional agenda.

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What China’s snub of Singapore means

But while nearly half of the 57 countries were not represented by their heads of government, foreign policy experts said Lee’s absence was conspicuous as it provided clues on the extent of the fallout following a protracted diplomatic spat between the two countries over the past year.

Xue Li, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences think tank, said China’s decision not to invite the Singaporean leader reflected a growing belief in Beijing that the Lion City sought only economic benefits from China, while “relying on the US for security”.

“China is gradually recognising this and therefore doesn’t really care if the Singapore PM attended or not,” Xue said.

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Singapore May Miss Out on Belt-Road Billions
China Snub Means Singapore May Miss Out on Belt-Road Billions

China’s plan for a maritime “Silk Road” to Europe is helping channel funds to Southeast Asia for roads, railways and ports.

But amid the deals bonanza, one country risks missing out. Despite strong historical and cultural ties to China, the tiny state of Singapore has found itself in Beijing’s crosshairs, in part for its stance over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

As other Southeast Asian leaders lined up to meet President Xi Jinping at a summit in Beijing this week for his Belt-and-Road Initiative, Singapore was represented by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong. China views Singapore as being less supportive of Xi’s plan.

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How China snubbed Singapore at the Belt and Road summit

Among the 29 Heads of State who converged on Beijing for the Belt and Road Summit earlier this week were leaders of seven of the ten ASEAN states. One leader was noticeably missing: Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Various observers have noted this absence, including Hugh White, who suggested it was no co-incidence that, like others - Japan, India, Australia and ‘most western countries’ - who had not sent their national leaders to Beijing, Singapore was aligned with the US and uneasy about China’s rise – ‘or perceived to be so’.

However, it has since emerged that Singapore was never given the choice. China had not invited Singapore’s prime minister in the first place. This is surprising, especially as Singapore has been one of the biggest advocates of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). While many other states were initially hesitant in signing up to BRI, including some of its ASEAN neighbours, Singapore’s support has been unequivocal from the beginning. Many high-level co-operation talks between China and Singapore on the subject have taken place, with both sides warmly welcoming cooperation on BRI.

In light of this past co-operation, Beijing’s snub is significant. It is fair to conclude that, if China continues to freeze out Singapore, there could be significant implications on at least three levels:
  • What it might mean for Sino-Singapore relations
  • Implications for other middle powers
  • Implications for China’s role in the world

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PM Lee’s absence in B&R forum in Beijing – is China still throwing a tantrum?

The reply by Minister of National Development, Lawrence Wong, was a curious and perhaps a telling one.

When asked by reporters on Tuesday why Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was not attending the Belt and Road forum in Beijing, Mr Wong said “the invitation was decided by the Chinese”, according to the Straits TimesMr Wong did not seem to have elaborated on his answer.

PM Lee’s absence has not gone unnoticed, given how several leaders from Asean countries were among the 29 heads of states who apparently were invited and attended the forum which ran from 14-15 May. Considering that the forum was also an important one, for China especially, the fact that PM Lee was not there is quite curious. After all, Singapore and China share, at least according to official statements, “deep ties’.

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Will Singapore be the biggest loser from China's One-Belt-One-Road initiative given that its trade routes can be bypassed?

As a Singaporean, I am worried. China is doing what is in her interests.

So, even if Singapore ends up being destroyed, we have ourselves to blame for not responding to this threat.

Don’t blame China. It would be nice if answers can suggest how Singapore can adapt to this threat.

related: Will Singapore falter after One belt one road initiative?

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One Belt, One Road – Analysis

In 2015, Singapore exported US$61.3 million worth of goods and services to Central Asia, while importing US$6.1 million, representing 0.015 percent of Singapore’s total exports and 0.002 percent of total imports; and 0.07 percent of Central Asia’s total exports and 0.009 percent of total imports.

While Singapore is a global trading and investment powerhouse, business experience and exposure in Central Asia has never been strong. In 2014, only 32 enterprises in Uzbekistan operated with Singaporean capital, and Singapore contributed only US$50 million of direct investment to Kazakhstan over the last ten years in contrast to US$604 billion of total foreign direct investment in 2014 alone.

Central Asia is not directly connected to Singapore, and land routes to ports in the region are scant. However, as the One Road-One Belt Initiative links Central Asia to China’s eastern seaboard, Gwadar port and even the impending sanction-free Iran; inter-regional trade is awash with new connections and opportunities.

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South China Morning Post SCMP 19 hrs
Why wasn't Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong invited to China's Belt and Road Summit?

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China's Belt and Road project could bring opportunities and challenges to S'pore: Minister Lawrence Wong

When asked why Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong did not attend the Belt & Road Forum, which was attended by 29 heads of state & government, including many from South-east Asia, Mr Wong said the invitation was decided by the Chinese.

He noted that the focus of the forum was on outbound investments, & in getting Chinese investments abroad and encouraging Chinese companies to go overseas.

"We don't have any specific projects as of now that may be part of this Belt & Road (initiative) in terms of infrastructure," he said.

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The PM wasn’t invited to Beijing

IT DIDN’T escape notice that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wasn’t at the biggest diplomatic event held in China over the weekend. The guest list was filled with luminaries including his counterparts in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. There were in all 29 heads of state or government. Singapore was represented instead by Minister Lawrence Wong.
Asked why the PM Lee wasn’t there, he said that the invitation was decided by the Chinese.
So on Sunday, PM Lee was giving out flowers to his Ang Mo Kio constituents on the occasion of Mother’s Day, rather than hobnobbing with other leaders over what seemed to be the most ambitious economic project in recent time.

His absence in Beijing is intriguing and only serves to raise questions about whether Singapore and China had papered over their differences since the seizure of Singapore Armed Forces vehicles by Hong Kong authorities in November last year. Or are the Chinese still pissed off at Singapore’s lack of empathy over its position on the South China Sea?

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Straits Times: 3 myths about Singapore-China ties
“First, Singapore hasn’t changed in its foreign policy. It is China that has changed its view and demands on Singapore.”

China’s investments in Malaysia take “decades” to be developed:
  • "As for the Belt and Road displacing the Malacca Strait as the premier shipping belt, it would take many more years for that to happen, if not decades. Meanwhile, even as port projects are being planned around Malaysia and Indochina – presumably as alternatives to Singapore – port planners here aren’t keeping still. Singapore was named maritime capital of the world for the third time this year.”
  • "At the same time, China is still far too dependent on imports through the Malacca Strait to seriously oppose Singapore. The seizing of goods in ports can, after all, easily be done by both parties."
  • “China does not have much power to put Singapore back in line, as Chinese economic statecraft so far has been relatively unsuccessful. Singapore is also in a very different position from its neighbouring countries as it manages an advanced economy and many international security relationships across the world.”

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OBOR International Forum Vs Mother's Day

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong not invited
The Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo and Malaysia’s Najib Razak in a photo shared on Najib’s Twitter account. Photo: Twitter

According to China state media South China Morning Post (SCMP), the China central government has confirmed that Lee Hsien Loong was deliberately left out of the invitation at the Belt and Road forum.

Of the 10 ASEAN countries, Singapore Prime Minister’s absence is painfully conspicuous because Singapore is supposed to take over the ASEAN Chairmanship next year (2018).

When interviewed by a foreign media why he was not invited to the China meeting, Lee Hsien Loong gave an awkward silence.

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Gift of flowers from PM Lee on Mother's Day for Ang Mo Kio GRC residents
PM Lee Hsien Loong gives out flowers to mothers at Hougang Avenue 8 on Sunday (May 14). ST FOTO: MARK CHEONG

Residents going about their morning routine in Hougang Avenue 8 went home with a surprise gift on Sunday (May 14) as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong distributed pink carnations to mark Mother's Day.

Mr Lee also posted a message to mothers on his Facebook page, saying: "Mothers are the pillars of our families, with one of the toughest jobs of all. Nowadays they raise children, build careers, care for elderly parents, or even become the sole parent in a family. While their roles and responsibilities have evolved, mothers' unconditional love & support remain strong and steadfast.

"Let's celebrate our mothers' contributions as leaders, caregivers, providers, & role models. Take time today, and everyday, to show your mum how much she means to you!"

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Lee Hsien Loong added 2 new photos to the album Ang Mo Kio-Sengkang West Mother’s Day 2017 Flower Distribution — at Sengkang South

Joined fellow Ang Mo Kio Town Council MPs and volunteers to distribute 10,000 pink carnations to Sengkang South mothers and residents this morning! Glad to see many mums and their families out and about enjoying their Sunday.

Thanks to the Sian Chay Medical Institution for presenting the flowers. Sian Chay is a VWO that has been providing free traditional Chinese medicine consultation and treatment for all, regardless of race or religion, for more than a century.

My thanks also to the Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West SMC CCCs for supporting this initiative. You certainly put a smile on many faces today! – LHL

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Mother's Day treat from PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong surprised residents at Hougang Avenue 8 yesterday with pink carnations for Mother's Day.

Mr Lee, his fellow Ang Mo Kio GRC MPs Koh Poh Koon, Intan Azura Mokhtar, Ang Hin Kee, Darryl David & Gan Thiam Poh, & Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min gave out about 10,000 flowers.

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related: Singapore as a 21st century maritime silk road

LET'S NOT BEAT around the bush. PM Lee Hsien Loong's absence at the New Silk Road summit currently taking place in China is a big deal.

Was he not invited or did he elect not to attend (and despatched National Development Minister Lawrence Wong instead)? The former seems the more plausible account. Either way, the development can only be described as doomy.

The summit, attended by 28 heads of government, is Beijing's way of announcing its intention of breaking out from under the United State's world domination, at least in the sphere of trade and commerce. Here are are five ways Beijing is doing this:
  • Melaka Gateway
  • East Coast Railway Line (ECRL)
  • New Silk Road
  • Arctic Route
  • Kra Canal
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New Silk Road 新絲綢之路 Xīn sīchóu zhī lù

'Influence operations' by China in Singapore
Singapore - China Bilateral Ties
Singapore China G-to-G Projects
Singapore Stumbles on China's Road
Singapore military vehicles seizure in Hong Kong
Singapore - Indonesia Bilateral Ties
Singapore - Isreal Bilateral Ties
Singapore - China Bilateral Ties
Singapore-India Relations
Singapore-China-US Relations
"Singapore - US" Bilateral Ties
The Historic Ma-Xi Summit
The New Silk Road 新絲綢之路
The "One Belt, One Road" 一带一路 initiative
Singapore as a 21st century maritime silk road
Singapore And The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
Embracing, Leaning & Tilting towards China
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
The Little Red Dot and the Red Dragon
Japan and ‘One Belt, One Road’
Arctic shipping: The Northwest Passage
Embracing, Leaning & Tilting towards China
Singapore And The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
Singapore - China Bilateral Ties
The Little Red Dot and the Red Dragon
Singapore China G-to-G Projects
Why Singapore needs Mega Ports?
Could Singapore’s port become irrelevant?
Another Singapore Next To Singapore?
Key to success of the Maritime Silk Road
Singapore Stumbles on China's Road
The Belt And Road Initiative: A new way forward
The New Silk Road 新絲綢之路
Singapore as a 21st century maritime silk road
The "One Belt, One Road" 一带一路 initiative