Singapore's Success Continues to Inspire China

Marina Bay, Singapore. Pixabay/Public domain

Is the economic bond between Singapore and China strong enough to keep rising maritime tensions from tearing it apart?

Singapore’s economic anxiety is compounded by China’s growing military assertiveness around the South China Sea. In January 2017, China impounded nine Singaporean-made Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles in Hong Kong that were on their way back from Taiwan, where Singapore had been using them in training exercises. In the past, China rarely challenged Taiwan over its military ties with Singapore, allowing the latter’s army to train there. The Chinese seizure of the Terrexes was more likely an attempt to end Singapore military training on Taiwan, although possibly the Chinese were also signalling displeasure over Singapore’s military contacts with the United States.

Mounting maritime tensions are testing Singapore’s affiliation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its longstanding military ties with the United States. In that sense, mainland and “diaspora” Chinese interests strikingly bifurcate, and much the same underlying anxiety can be felt in Hong Kong as well. In both Singapore and Hong Kong, the influx of mainland Chinese tourists, students, businesspeople and migrants sometimes stirs up resentment, both among the low-paid local workforce and among the patricians.

For all these reasons, it is unlikely China’s enthusiasm for the Singapore model will nudge Singapore away from its U.S. military umbrella, at least not in the short run.

Niv Horesh is visiting professor of China Studies at Durham University, UK. Jonathan Paris is a London-based political and security analyst who lived in Singapore from 1980–83 and coedited The Politics of Post-Suharto Indonesia.

Image: Marina Bay, Singapore. Pixabay/Public domain