True regional cooperation is only possible if China has the “trust and confidence” of its neighbors: ESM Goh, Politics News & Top Stories
SINGAPORE – If China does not have the confidence of its neighbors, true regional cooperation will not be possible, Minister Emeritus Goh Chok Tong said on Sunday (July 4th).
And to achieve such confidence, it takes “more than a change in the tone, style and language of public communications,” he added.
“While I understand why China must stand up for its interests firmly, the way China conducts its diplomacy shapes the way others view China,” the former prime minister said at this year’s World Peace Forum. , organized by Tsinghua University of China.
Goh, who delivered his speech virtually, recounted how he once observed to then-prime minister Wen Jiabao that China was like an elephant entering a basin occupied by smaller animals. No matter how sweet the elephant was, he should always be careful not to step on his toes, he said.
“Two decades later, the elephant is much bigger and continues to grow, but the size of the pool is still the same.”
The annual forum is a high-level international platform where politicians, academics and businessmen discuss how to promote security cooperation. The theme for this year was the maintenance and practice of multilateralism in the post-pandemic era.
Speaking on Saturday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned the world not to underestimate China’s resolve and ability “to defend the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests.”
He also stressed the importance of practicing “true multilateralism”, adding that this was the only way to break zero-sum games, resist unilateral intimidation and truly achieve lasting peace and security.
In his speech, Mr. Goh outlined three principles necessary to revitalize regional cooperation.
First, countries should maximize areas of cooperation and minimize areas of dispute, resolving issues amicably and rationally to the extent possible. Even when a resolution is not possible, such issues should not hinder cooperation in other areas, he said.
Second, countries should play a “positive-sum game” – working together to grow the pie and share it fairly, rather than competing for slices of a fixed pie.
Finally, they should learn from history, rather than being chained by it, Mr Goh said. “If we cannot let go of the historic hurts and wrongs, and if we can never forgive, we will not be able to move forward.”
Although these principles apply to all countries, the behavior of bigger and more powerful countries like China determines the peace and prosperity of Asia, he added.
Goh stressed that he is convinced that China’s growth is positive for Asia and the world. But some critics have voiced concerns about what they see as an “increasingly muscular and aggressive China,” he said.
He noted how Chinese President Xi Jinping in May urged Politburo members to portray a “credible, kind and respectable” China.
“The world will undoubtedly be watching China’s actions closely to see what will and what will not change,” he said.
In his speech, Mr. Goh also outlined his vision for a prosperous Asia.
The region would be interconnected through the free flow of goods, services and investments, he said, adding that the top priority now is to keep supply chains intact.
Countries should also pursue economic integration through multilateral trade agreements, Goh added, urging China to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trade Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
This would signal China’s intention to “comply with higher standards of free trade and economic integration,” he said.
A prosperous Asia is also a greener, more innovative and inclusive region, said Goh.
He suggested that the World Peace Forum could contribute to this vision by coordinating a joint multinational forum with a small group of other think tanks in the region. Discussions of such a forum – a concrete example of reviving regional cooperation – would ideally bear fruit that would ensure that the whole of Asia would notice and work to translate it into reality, Mr.
He also spoke of an Asian century of peace and prosperity, listing three conditions under which this could take place.
First, Asian leaders must be “international statesmen who look beyond their national interests” and understand the benefits of cooperation. They must agree on a shared vision for Asia and common principles to be respected. And countries need to come up with new and substantive ideas to collaborate on.
Mr Goh recounted how he grew up in an Asia that was neither peaceful nor prosperous – months after his birth, the first bombs dropped on Singapore as World War II broke out.
“I am still worried that bombs will be dropped again if relations between neighbors deteriorate in the future,” he said. “Therefore, our work to advance regional cooperation is never done.”