6. What I'm reading: The view from Singapore
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has authored one of the more interesting pieces of analysis I've read from a sitting leader, in Foreign Affairs.
His argument: Southeast Asian countries can't afford to choose between the U.S. and China, and they hope not to be forced to.
Lee arrives there after an examination of the region's fortunes since 1945 and its uncertain future in a climate of superpower competition.
Post-1945, the U.S. made prosperity possible for countries like Singapore through its security umbrella, rules-based system and deep economic engagement, he writes.
Then, in the 1970s, China opened up and developed rapidly, quickly going from "economically inconsequential for the rest of Asia to being the region’s biggest economy."
- "Still, Pax Americana held, and these radical changes in China’s role took place within its framework. China was not in a position to challenge U.S. preeminence and did not attempt to do so," he writes.
- That was "the best of both worlds" for the region, which benefited from both the U.S.-led system and access to China's booming economy.
Fast forward: China is gathering political influence to match its economic clout, and the U.S. is reassessing a system many now feel allowed China to rise at America's expense.
- On the one hand: "The United States must decide whether to view China’s rise as an existential threat and try to hold China back through all available means or to accept China as a major power in its own right."
- On the other: Chinese President Xi Jinping must decide whether his statement that the Pacific is big enough for both powers will mean peaceful coexistence "with overlapping circles of friends and partners," or "rival spheres of influence."
- Meanwhile, SE Asian countries hope neither power will seek to punish them for deepening ties with the other.
The bottom line: Lee contends that both countries will continue to wield power in the region for some time — the question is how.
- "Any confrontation between these two great powers is unlikely to end as the Cold War did, in one country’s peaceful collapse," he warns.