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China’s Rise: The Effect of Beijing’s Increasing Role in International Institutions on Singapore
Maj. Joseph Yuanfeng Lin and David A. Anderson, 1/1/2012

International institutions play a major role in global affairs today, covering a range of issues from state-centric security and economic concerns[1] to human-centric concerns,[2] such as disease prevention and criminal justice. Singapore has been an active participant of international institutions since it gained its independence on 9 August 1965. Singapore joined the United Nations (UN) on 21 September 1965 and was one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on 8 August 1967. More recently, Singapore was a member of the UN Security Council from 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2002 and hosted the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank Group Board of Governors Meetings in 2006.

Since China first opened its economy in 1978, it has slowly begun to play a larger role in international institutions. China gained membership into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 and signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN in 2003. China’s influence has also increased in other international institutions. For example, its voting shares in the IMF have grown since 2006, from 2.93 percent to 6.07 percent.[3] As a member of various multilateral organizations, China has also effectively straddled its global position as a rising power. For example, China’s economic prowess and status as a major economic power are demonstrated in its position in the G20.[4]

China’s influence in international institutions has been accompanied by significant changes in the manner that it exercises international diplomacy. First, China has now identified other nations that share common interests. Instead of attempting to advance its national interests unilaterally, China now identifies its position with other nations that have similar interests. A case in point is how China is coordinating the cause of developing nations at the WTO Doha Round negotiations. Second, as the Chinese economy continues to grow and China gains greater international credibility, Chinese businesses and government officials are beginning to build networks of overseas contacts. China’s influence on international institutions is likely to continue growing.

As a small country that participates actively in international institutions, Singapore could be keenly affected by the rise of China’s influence and participation in international institutions. This paper sheds light on whether China’s increased participation and influence in international institutions present more challenges or opportunities for Singapore in advancing its economic and diplomatic objectives.

The study’s scope focuses on changes over the past ten years at the UN, IMF, WTO and ASEAN, caused by China’s increased participation and influence in these institutions, and their impact on Singapore. These four international organizations epitomize key institutions that directly affect Singapore’s ability to achieve its economic and diplomatic objectives. Separately, these four international institutions represent a range of size, membership composition and roles to provide an overview of China’s increased influence and participation in different international forums.

Other countries, big and small, will also not be able to “escape the strategic implications of China’s rise.”[5] While this paper examines the particular circumstances facing Singapore, insights on how China is influencing international organizations can inform policymakers of other countries. Strategic analysts could also benefit from understanding how international institutions might evolve as China continues to rise.

Challenges and Opportunities for Singapore

Diplomatic Objectives

Numerous academics such as Michael Leifer[6] and Lee Boon Hiok[7] have characterized Singapore’s foreign policy as a policy premised upon its geopolitical vulnerabilities. This characterization is evident in a series of lectures organized by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). In 2008, Singapore’s then President S. R. Nathan, who had served in the MFA and as an ambassador, described the fundamentals of Singapore’s foreign policy.[8] Nathan explained that Singapore’s foreign policy was designed to cope with the vulnerability exposed in the “circumstances under which [Singapore] gained independence.” In the same speech, Nathan outlined Singapore’s modest “core national interests [of maintaining]… independence, survival and growth.” More recently, Singapore’s former Senior Minister S. Jayakumar again reminded the same forum that Singapore’s “geopolitical reality… [as] a very small city-state . . . frames [its] foreign policy.”[9] The reiteration of this message to the staff at Singapore’s MFA reinforces the paradigm of geopolitical vulnerability in the minds of Singapore’s diplomatic corps.

While recognizing Singapore’s small geographical area, and perhaps because of its small size, Singapore constantly strives to maintain its relevance to the global community. Jayakumar cited ancient independent city-states that no longer exist and remarked that Singapore had to “continually search for, and create, [its] political, economic and diplomatic relevance which will ensure [its] continued well-being and survival.”[10] The founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew put it more starkly, “Singapore cannot take its relevance for granted. Small countries perform no vital or irreplaceable function in the international system. Singapore has to continually reconstruct itself and keep its relevance to the world and to create political and economic space.”[11]

Besides maintaining its global relevance, Singapore strives to exercise autonomy in its foreign policy. Singapore has stated its desire to maintain freedom of action in multiple settings. In 2008, in his opening remarks before an international press, Singapore’s then Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo outlined Singapore’s determination to maintain its “autonomy and position in the world.”[12] Although characterized as a pro-Western nation by most commentators, Singapore takes pains to reiterate its diplomatic autonomy to its Western partners. In a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue[13] attended by numerous Western powers, including the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Singapore’s then Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean highlighted that Singapore was a “Major Security Cooperation Partner of the U.S.–a term that captures the relationship as being more than just friends but not treaty allies.”[14] Given the positive relations between Singapore and the U.S. at that time, Teo’s message was likely a reiteration of Singapore’s diplomatic autonomy and should not be misinterpreted as a snub at the U.S.

Singapore’s objective of maintaining diplomatic autonomy corroborates with its insistence on exercising sovereignty in domestic affairs. In his 2010 lecture to Singapore’s MFA, Jayakumar highlighted two examples where Singapore upheld the decision of its judiciary despite strong protests from foreign counterparts: the caning of American teenager Michael Fay for vandalism and the death sentence on Filipino Flor Contemplacion for murder. In each instance, Singapore was aware of the diplomatic costs of its decision but decided to uphold the “integrity of [its] legal system and the standing of [its] Judiciary.”[15] To be clear, then President Ong Teng Cheong, acting on advice of the Cabinet, reduced Michael Fay’s corporal punishment from six to four strokes.[16] Nonetheless, the U.S. remained dissatisfied with the situation and then Ambassador to the U.S., Nathan recalled investing much “time and effort to repair the damage to [the U.S.-Singapore] bilateral relations.”[17]

Singapore’s insistence on upholding its domestic judiciary is complemented by its adherence to and advocacy of international law. Aware of its geopolitical limitations, Singapore insists on observing international law in order to exercise its sovereignty and protect its interests. Jayakumar explained that small states such as Singapore “cannot survive and thrive in a world in which interaction among states is governed by relative power and not by law.”[18] Thus, he exhorted Singapore’s diplomats to promote discussions and formulation of international law, and to insist on strictly observing treaties and agreements.

Even when international law disadvantaged Singapore’s negotiating position, Singapore continued to adhere to negotiations in accordance with international law. In 1918, the British authorities administering Singapore leased a swath of land to Malaysia for 999 years to build and operate a railway track connecting Singapore with Malaysia. Although not party to this agreement, modern-day independent Singapore continued to observe the agreement despite the economic cost incurred by the land occupied by the railway track. In 1990, 25 years after Singapore’s independence, Singapore and Malaysia made initial progress in resolving the railway land issue with the signing of the Points of Agreement (POA) between the two governments. Nonetheless, despite the POA signed in 1990, this issue was only resolved in 2010 when the Prime Ministers of both countries agreed on an implementation plan.

In concert with its support of international law, Singapore is an ardent proponent of international institutions. However, Singapore’s support for international institutions is not based upon a Liberal assumption that powerful nations would willingly allow their actions to be circumscribed by such institutions. Instead, Singapore’s support is predicated on its geopolitical vulnerabilities as highlighted previously. Singapore’s former Foreign Minister George Yeo revealed the Realist framework of Singapore’s foreign policy in his speech to the UN General Assembly in 2008. Yeo stated that “[a]s a small country, Singapore accepts that while every country, big or small, has one vote each, we do not all carry the same weight. Small countries need the UN and other international institutions to protect our interests and [small countries] therefore have every interest in making sure that these institutions are effective.”[19]

Although international institutions may not effectively represent small states, Singapore believes that small states can carve a niche and play a vital role in international organizations in two ways. First, small states can band together to present a collective position at such organizations. This advice was presented to a global audience by Yeo at the UN General Assembly in 2008[20] and was repeated to an internal audience by Jayakumar[21] at Singapore’s MFA Diplomatic Academy in 2010. In addition, small nations can act as an intermediary or “impartial chairman” in multilateral settings.[22] Thus, Singapore was a “mediator behind the scenes in the final drafting sessions” of the UN World Conference on Human Rights Convention in 1993, as the world was grappling with the end of the Cold War.[23]

On the security aspect, Singapore advocates a robust and open security architecture, with multiple layers of rules-based institutions. Perhaps as a manifestation of its self-perceived geopolitical vulnerabilities, Singapore insists on an open security architecture where interested parties are welcomed regardless of their geographical proximity. Singapore’s desire for an inclusive and rules-based security architecture is stated to its regional neighbors[24] as well as extra-regional partners.[25] To this end, Singapore allows U.S. naval warships to berth at the Changi Naval Base for resupply.[26] In addition, Singapore has welcomed external contributions to the Malacca Strait Patrols (MSP), which are joint anti-piracy patrols conducted by the littoral states of the Malacca Straits.[27] To further strengthen the robustness of regional maritime coordination, Singapore helped pioneer the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Anti-Piracy (ReCAAP), a multilateral framework to combat specific crimes at sea through information sharing, capacity building and cooperative agreements.[28]

Singapore seeks to position ASEAN as the fulcrum of the open security architecture. In his speech at the 2011 Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore’s Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen acknowledged the support of major powers such as the U.S., China and Russia for the concept of ASEAN as the fulcrum of a regional defense framework.[29] Indeed, ASEAN can be perceived as the hub of regional security as the defense ministers of key extra-regional powers, such as the U.S. and China, have joined ASEAN ministers at the ASEAN Defence Minister Meeting–Plus (ADMM-Plus) since 2010. As the fulcrum of regional security, ASEAN has also contributed to security issues beyond the region, with the first ever Six Party Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Singapore in 2008.[30]

Nonetheless, Singapore recognizes the UN as providing the foundation for the global security architecture. In 2001, then Defence Minister Dr Tony Tan stressed Singapore’s strong support for the UN as the institution “plays a critical role in promoting peace and stability around the world.”[31] A year later, Tan reaffirmed the need for UN involvement to “address transnational threats in a more thorough and holistic manner.”[32] More recently, in 2008, then Minister for Foreign Affairs Yeo highlighted the key role that the UN performs in managing “big power rivalry” for international peace and security.[33] Singapore’s official position is that, “the UN has made the world a safer and better place for smaller states.”[34]

Economic Objectives

As highlighted by academics Alan Chong[35] and Christopher Dent,[36] Singapore links its economic objectives tightly with its diplomatic objectives, considering strategic security and economic growth as two sides of the same coin. In a statement to the 53rd UN General Assembly, then Minister for Foreign Affairs Jayakumar expressed that, “economic rivalries can have political and military consequences.”[37] The symbiotic relationship between economic development and security is echoed by then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Dr Tony Tan in 2002. In his speech at the Asia Pacific Security Conference, Tan stated that, “Without security there can be no economic development. Conversely, stability and security are in serious jeopardy without economic development.”[38]

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Singapore’s economic objectives, like its diplomatic objectives, are predicated upon its vulnerabilities as a small nation. In view of Singapore’s inherent economic vulnerabilities, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong commissioned a committee to review Singapore’s economic strategy in 2001. Chaired by current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the Economic Review Committee (ERC) involved more than 1,000 participants to propose a wide-ranging set of proposals for Singapore’s further economic development.

The ERC recognized that the Singapore economy had to integrate with a global economy that now included China and India as emerging powers. As a land-scarce island state, Singapore’s economic strategy had to comprise domestic measures and external policies. The ERC recognized that Singapore was now at an advanced stage of economic development and could not compete solely on the cost of production. As a vision for Singapore’s economic future, the ERC recommended short-term and long-term changes to develop a globalized, entrepreneurial and diversified economy.[39]

Amongst the numerous recommendations in the ERC report, the very first thrust identified the need to expand Singapore’s external ties. The ERC report proposed that Singapore continues to support the WTO for multilateral trade liberalization while pursuing bilateral free trade agreements as an interim while the WTO matures.[40] Southeast Asian academics Teofilo Daquila and Le Huu Huy highlight that “Singapore has placed its highest priority on, and support for, a strong, rule-based multilateral trading system embodied in the WTO.”[41] In the words of Singapore’s government officials, Singapore recognizes that the WTO remains “the multilateral forum that drives global trade liberalization,”[42] and that “[h]owever cumbersome its processes, the WTO still represents [the] best hope for a world in which all countries can participate democratically to formulate rules which bind us all equally.”[43]

Indeed, Singapore’s economic development was founded upon free trade and Singapore has constantly defended globalization as a key ingredient for economic growth. Even after the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis when globalization, as manifested in the worldwide movement of investment funds, contributed to the currency crisis of several Asian economies, Singapore asserted that, “[o]n the whole, globalization has done a lot of good. The process of globalization has enhanced the free flow of goods and services, capital and information; spurred innovation and competition; and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.”[44] Again in 2008, when countries worried that globalization would spread the contagion of the U.S. banking crisis, Singapore’s then Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo warned that a “rise in protectionism can reduce global welfare by many billions of dollars,” reflecting Singapore’s strong support for free trade.[45]

Singapore’s strong support for free trade is apparent in its emphasis on resolving the WTO’s Doha Round. In his 2008 speech at the UN General Assembly, Yeo described the collapse of the Doha Round as “deeply troubling.”[46] In a 2009 speech at the WTO Ministerial Conference, Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said that he was personally “more anxious than ever” for WTO members to conclude the Doha Development Agenda.[47] The uncharacteristic use of emotional expression in official speeches reveals Singapore’s strong desire to strengthen free trade globally.

In addition to the conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda, Singapore has also identified two areas that would strengthen the WTO.[48] First, the WTO should increase its flexibility and agility to deal with emerging crises. In an era where “international issues will have trade- and trade-related implications,” the WTO will increasingly face “new challenges” that require an adaptable “organizational culture” and “non-static agenda” in WTO’s General Council, committees and bodies. Next, the WTO must ensure that the Dispute Settlement Mechanism is “equipped with the right tools and capacity to deal with these new complexities.” Although Singapore’s proposal to strengthen the Mechanism lacks specific details on implementation, the proposal demonstrates Singapore’s policy of bolstering rules-based organizations and international law; and its equivocal content could reflect Singapore’s pragmatic view that reforms to the Mechanism would have to be led by larger economies.

Singapore also recognizes that other international organizations need to adapt to new economic realities. In 2008, then Foreign Minister George Yeo stressed that reform of “Bretton Woods institutions” was an “urgent matter.”[49] Singapore has identified three areas of reform for the IMF.

First, the IMF should strengthen financial systems to prevent sudden capital surges. More than 10 years ago, in 1998, Singapore already noted that private individuals and firms had begun to control financial markets and individual governments had limited abilities to control their actions. Perhaps reflecting on the lessons learnt from the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, Singapore’s then Minister for Foreign Affairs Jayakumar said in 1998 that “Central Bank intervention in foreign exchange [has become] an exercise in futility.”[50] In the aftermath of the 2008 financial recession, inflow of capital into Asia has led to upward pressure on the Singapore currency and contributed to potential asset price bubbles.[51] Nonetheless, Singapore cautions against over-regulation or protectionism in financial markets. Singapore recommends that the IMF guides advanced markets “towards re-regulation,” while encouraging emerging markets to “continue towards diversifying financial systems away from heavily bank-centric systems by deepening capital markets, and towards the gradual opening up of financial systems to foreign competition.”[52]

Next, Singapore supports IMF efforts to better represent the new distribution of economic power. In his opening address at the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings in 2006, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained the impetus to update the IMF voting quotas to reflect each economy’s stake in the global financial system.[53] In June 2011, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, speaking as Chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), highlighted that full implementation of quota reforms was an objective for the IMF in 2011.[54] To be clear, Singapore’s push for completing the reforms does not necessarily stem from a Liberal assumption that greater voting rights would tie emerging powers such as China more intimately to the international financial system. Instead, Singapore’s push for reforming the distribution of voting rights reflects its diplomatic interest in rules-based institutions that pragmatically adjust to existing conditions instead of fossilized institutions that are unable to adapt and influence current events.

Finally, Singapore has reservations about the IMF mandating fundamental market reforms when disbursing loans. In 2009, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited the example of IMF intervention in Indonesia in 1997-1998 as an unwise policy.[55] In 1998, IMF imposed fundamental reforms to the Indonesian economy in return for financial assistance. The IMF-mandated reforms led to a decade of anemic growth and political instability in Indonesia during the early years of the 21st century. Singapore would have preferred that the IMF focused on restoring confidence and liquidity in the Indonesian currency while providing advice on economic restructuring, instead of enforcing fundamental changes in the Indonesian economy without regard for Indonesia’s political stability. To be clear, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged that market reforms may be necessary to restore confidence in crisis-hit economies.[56] However, the priority of IMF intervention should be to avert the immediate financial instability while enacting reforms at a pace that does not destabilize the recipient economy. More recently, Singapore again highlighted this preference in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Recession. Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam stressed the importance of getting the IMF “to work with its partners to address immediate threats to financial stability and contain their potential repercussions to the global economy,” omitting mention of deeper reforms in the recipient economy.[57]

Besides global institutions such as the WTO and IMF, the regional organization ASEAN also features in Singapore’s economic objectives. In particular, ASEAN can affect Singapore’s economic objectives in two areas. First, to strengthen integration of Southeast Asian economies, Singapore supports the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. Singapore’s leaders have consistently supported the “free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor and freer flow of capital” within the region.[58] Singapore’s push for deeper economic integration is complemented by its commitment to “open regionalism,” where ASEAN economic integration assists in “maintaining the global momentum for trade liberalization.”[59] Beyond regional integration, Singapore also foresees that ASEAN can lead in Asia’s economic integration. In 2008, Singapore’s then Minister of State for Finance Lim Hwee Hua explained that ASEAN was well-positioned to be the hub of Asia’s economic integration for several reasons. Besides its inherent economic viability, ASEAN had also “been instrumental in anchoring” extra-regional forums and had pioneered Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with numerous extra-regional partners.[60]

China in International Institutions: Challenges and Opportunities

The previous section identified Singapore’s national objectives in the diplomatic and economic domains. This section analyzes whether China’s increased participation and influence in international organizations present more challenges or opportunities for Singapore to achieve its national objectives. It also examines recent key events at the UN, IMF, WTO and ASEAN in turn, and evaluates how these events affect Singapore’s diplomatic and economic objectives.

United Nations

Despite China’s long-held reservations about interfering in the sovereignty of another nation, China did not veto UN Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1973[61] that provided the legal authority for NATO forces to intervene in Libya. Indeed, China’s abstention on UN SCR 1973 represents a sea change in its position on UN intervention as compared to its 1990 opposition of UN forces intervening in Kuwait. Although it expressed “serious difficulty” with UN SCR 1973, China abstained from vetoing the resolution out of respect for the wishes of the Arab League and the African Union.[62] China’s willingness to set aside its reservations to support a coordinated international position indicates its recognition of the UN as a legitimate institution for maintaining international stability.

Nonetheless, deeper analysis of China’s policy regarding Libya reveals potential challenges for the viability of ASEAN. By attributing its abstention in the vote of UN SCR 1973 to respect for the views of the Arab League and the African Union, China could be attempting to expand its influence with these regional organizations. If the Arab League and African Union recognize the value of China as a partner in their forums, China could be tempted to shift its attention to these new avenues for international clout and consequently reduce its emphasis and involvement in ASEAN. Chinese involvement in ASEAN-centric forums has attracted the attention of other major powers to these forums; and reduced Chinese participation in ASEAN could reduce the impetus fo other major powers to participate in ASEAN.

China has also increased participation in UN missions around the world. Since 1990, China has sent more than 11,000 military peacekeepers on UN missions.[63] As The Washington Post reported in 2006, China has not only increased its participation in peacekeeping missions. China also played an active role in persuading Sudan to accept UN peacekeepers and proposed foreign intervention in Somalia.[64] Given its considerable resources, China also conducts unilateral missions, such as its ongoing naval deployments to the Gulf of Aden[65] and its evacuation of Chinese nationals from Libya[66] in 2011. Nonetheless, China’s unilateral missions should not spark undue concern as numerous nations also conduct unilateral missions in the Gulf of Aden[67] and noncombatant evacuations of citizens have historically been unilateral missions.

China’s increased participation in UN activities can be interpreted in various ways. Liberals would claim that China is increasingly operating within the existing international system, thus validating Ikenberry’s thesis that the rise of China is beneficial for other nations.[68] Realists such as Goldstein would argue that China’s contribution to UN mission is merely a part of its grand strategy to “increase the country’s international clout without triggering a counterbalancing reaction.”[69] Nonetheless, with regard to Singapore’s diplomatic objectives, China’s increased participation in the UN is positive so long as China does not replace other powers as the sole contributor or proponent of international missions. China’s practical support of UN resolutions indicates its willingness to operate within established international practices. Separately, the rules-based process that authorized these UN missions is a reflection of the international system that Singapore seeks to promote.

International Monetary Fund

China’s influence in the IMF appears to be increasing. China’s voting shares in the IMF looks set to increase further, based on the revised formula for calculating the voting quota of member economies. Min Zhu, the former Deputy Governor of the People’s Bank of China, was also appointed as one of three IMF Deputy Managing Directors on 26 July 2011.

China’s increased influence in the IMF is positive for Singapore’s economic and diplomatic objectives in three aspects. First, with a larger stake in the IMF, China would have greater impetus to work through the IMF to promote global financial stability rather than to do so unilaterally. Addressing issues of international concerns via international institutions is Singapore’s preferred method as it removes the vagaries and exclusivity of bilateral arrangements. In line with Singapore’s goal of strengthening the IMF as a viable international lender of last resort, China’s increased participation will capitalize the IMF’s coffers. Unfortunately, the prospect of China using its vast foreign reserves to assist crisis-hit economies bilaterally is not far-fetched. China is already a major aid contributor in Africa and has developed strong bilateral ties with numerous African nations.[70] Moreover, as the U.S. and Europe are key members of the IMF and struggling with their respective government budget deficits, crisis-hit economies could turn to China for bilateral assistance rather than await multilateral response through the IMF.

Second, with greater Chinese influence in the IMF, reforms in the IMF toward disbursing economic aid without insisting on fundamental political or economic reforms is more likely. As enumerated in its White Paper on Foreign Aid Policy, China’s foreign aid policy imposes “no political conditions” and “tailors its aid to the actual needs of the recipient countries.”[71] Indeed, Angola rejected IMF aid and accepted bilateral loans from China as China’s loans “came with no conditions . . . and no demands.”[72] Thus, China’s foreign aid policy is closer to Singapore’s proposal for IMF programs to focus on immediate relief of crisis-hit economies while leaving free market economic reforms as a secondary objective.

Finally, as the voting shares of existing economic powers decrease, these nations are more likely to engage smaller nations, such as Singapore, to gather support for their position and proposals at the IMF. To be clear, smaller economies still hold minuscule voting shares in the IMF. However, as the distribution of voting shares becomes more diffused based on the revised formula for calculating voting shares, small voting shares gather significance as swing votes, thereby increasing the diplomatic significance of small countries.

Although China’s influence in the IMF appears to be increasing, its influence on the IMF actually remains limited. First, the United States continues to hold veto power over IMF proposals based on the size of its voting share. Furthermore, the unwritten convention of the IMF and World Bank being headed by a European and an American respectively remains in effect. During the selection process for the next IMF Managing Director in 2011, major developing economies released a public statement rejecting the convention of a European Managing Director in the IMF, calling instead for a merit-based approach to select the next Managing Director.[73] Nonetheless, perhaps due to the short timeframe between the public statement and the selection of the next IMF chief or due to the lack of credible non-European candidates, Christine Lagarde was selected to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as IMF’s Managing Director.

Thus, instead of worrying about China’s rising influence in the IMF, the IMF faces the challenge of adequately addressing the aspirations of major developing economies. IMF could also lose its relevance in maintaining global financial stability, as the major powers within the IMF are now themselves facing financial challenges due to their government deficits.[74] Already, the G20–which Singapore is not part of–appears to be a plausible alternative to the IMF as it more closely reflects the current economic order. Thus, the challenge for Singapore is not China’s rising influence and participation in the IMF. Instead, the challenge is the risk of IMF losing its relevance as an international lender of last resort if China decides that the existing organization does not allow it to meet its policy objectives.

World Trade Organization

Singapore has benefitted economically from China’s accession into the WTO. Since China was accepted into the WTO in 2001, Singapore’s total trade (imports and exports) with China has more than tripled from SGD$27.8 billion in 2001 to SGD$95.3 billion in 2010.[75] In addition, in a paper presented at Stanford University, researchers from Hong Kong and Singapore found that foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into China were complementary with FDI into Singapore.[76] Their finding is supported by a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research which showed positive correlation between FDI into China and Singapore.[77] China’s accession into the WTO has been positive for Singapore’s external trade and FDI.

Singapore perceives the conclusion of the Doha Round as a signal of global consensus on free trade, and is concerned that stalled Doha Round negotiations could reverse the trend of trade liberalization.[78] As an industrialized nation with no notable agriculture sector, Singapore does not have much to gain from the stalemate that is stalling the conclusion of the Doha Round. However, by leading the camp of developing nations in the negotiations, China is a leading voice against the swift conclusion of the Doha Round. Thus, China’s increased influence in the WTO has affected Singapore’s economic objectives. Nonetheless, Singapore has to be sensitive on how it pushes the negotiations forward because several regional neighbors have a large stake in how the negotiations on agricultural trade unfold. Furthermore, Singapore could receive little support in its quest to further free trade globally as traditional champions of free trade in the West have “began to lose their confidence in the virtues of economic competition.”[79]

Separately, China may not support Singapore’s quest for a strengthened dispute settlement mechanism in the WTO. Without belittling China’s efforts to meet its obligations under the WTO, China’s tariff and non-tariff policies require further adjustment to fully meet the high standards demanded in the WTO regime. Other WTO members are also not faultless and disputes between member economies take place occasionally. However, while small countries such as Singapore require institutional mechanisms to protect their interest during disputes, larger economies have other tools and sufficient economic weight to push their position without relying on institutional processes. Thus, other large economies besides China could also withhold their support from Singapore’s push to strengthen rules and mechanisms in the WTO.

While China’s accession into the WTO has brought many opportunities for Singapore thus far, future economic growth in both economies may lead to challenges for Singapore. With China’s emphasis on education, vast human capital, and ageing population, China would inevitably seek to move up the production value chain into areas of higher technology, and therefore into competition with Singapore’s growth strategy. Singapore faces the unenviable challenge of finding new avenues to grow its economy outside of direct competition with China.

ASEAN

Several scholars who specialize in Asia have examined China’s relations with ASEAN. Shambaugh posits that China deepened its participation in ASEAN for three reasons.[80] First, ASEAN states engaged, rather than isolated, China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen incident. Second, ASEAN nations gained confidence in China’s intentions in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, when China maintained the value of its Renminbi despite a loss of trade competitiveness. Finally, China assessed that increased participation in regional institutions was in its interest. Thus in 2003, China formally committed to ASEAN’s “principles of nonaggression and noninterference, as well as a variety of other conflict resolution mechanisms.”[81] Separately, David Arase of Pomona College highlights that “China-ASEAN Non-Traditional Security (NTS) cooperation has become an institutionalized process.”[82] Arase explains that NTS is distinct from human security in that NTS is based on state sovereignty, a principle shared by China and the ASEAN member nations. Furthermore, Arase postulates that China-ASEAN cooperation in NTS has facilitated military-to-military cooperation between China and ASEAN nations, and has positioned China in an advantageous position to “address ASEAN’s security and collective action problems as a leader.”[83]

ASEAN is not China’s only avenue into multilateralism. Shambaugh quotes Fu Ying, former director general of the Department of Asian Affairs in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who states that “ASEAN+3[84] cooperation and Shanghai Cooperation Organization [are the] two focal points” of China’s multilateral engagement.[85] Indeed, China’s focus on these two forums is unsurprising due to its geographic proximity to other members of these forums and the high degree of influence that China holds in these two multilateral forums. In contrast, economist and global consultant David Hale contends that the “focal point for China’s security relations with East Asia is the ASEAN Regional Forum” where extra-regional powers such as the U.S. and Japan are members, suggesting that China is willing to participate in forums where its influence is not as overwhelming.[86]

Despite significant progress and cooperation between China and ASEAN, competing claims on portions of the South China Sea continue to affect China’s relationship with various nations in ASEAN. China and several Southeast Asian nations have competing claims on portions of the South China Sea. A dispute that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reports as dating back “centuries.”[87]

Although China and ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002, tensions have erupted recently over control of the Spratly Islands, and the associated economic zones. Following an incident involving three Chinese patrol boats and a Vietnamese vessel in late May 2011,[88] Vietnam announced that it was conducting live-fire naval exercises in the South China Sea in June 2011.[89] In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino used his State of the Nation Address to underline that his country was “prepared to use military force to protect its territory in the South China Sea.”[90] In the aftermath of the recent tensions, government officials from China and ASEAN met in Indonesia and agreed on the “Guidelines for the Implementation of the DOC.”[91]

The South China Sea dispute presents challenges for Singapore since it threatens the freedom of navigation that Singapore relies on for a large percentage of its national income. Nevertheless, the South China Sea dispute also offers opportunities for Singapore to advance its diplomatic interests. First, the South China Sea dispute, with its global implications for both freedom of navigation and untapped oil and gas reserves, has attracted the attention of extra-regional nations. The U.S. is one of several nations with interest in the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea dispute. In 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated that the “U.S. [was] prepared to facilitate initiatives and confidence building measures consistent with the declaration.”[92] However, China rejected the offer, explaining that while U.S. “interest in maintaining safe and free shipping lanes in the disputed region is ‘understandable,’… [U.S. involvement] can only make things more complicated.”[93] Nonetheless, the U.S. continues to demonstrate its interest in the stability of the South China Sea. In 2011, U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates announced the deployment of littoral combat ships to Singapore as part of a “wider plan to reassure allies worried by China’s increasing assertiveness and military reach.”[94]

Furthermore, the dispute has reinforced the need for ASEAN unity. In 1998, Canadian academic Shaun Narine had predicted that “ASEAN’s ability to manage regional security may be even less in the post-cold war era than during the cold war.”[95] However, in the South China Sea dispute thus far, Southeast Asian nations have stuck to a common ASEAN position in dealing with China, thereby increasing the strength of their individual positions. The fact that China agreed on “Guidelines for the Implementation of the DOC” with ASEAN instead of bilaterally with other claimants to the dispute demonstrates the viability of ASEAN as a common voice for Southeast Asian nations. To be sure, the “Guidelines for the Implementation of the DOC” lack specific details to resolve the dispute. Nonetheless, the process of multilateral negotiations underline ASEAN’s relevance as a credible regional organization.

Separately, ASEAN has also strengthened its security architecture with the introduction of new security-focused meetings. ASEAN countries held the inaugural ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) in 2006. ASEAN members quickly agreed to organize the ADMM-Plus and invited global powers to join the ADMM-Plus. The inaugural ADMM-Plus summit was held in 2010, just four years after the first ADMM. The ADMM-Plus meetings, with its focus on defense-related issues, complement the existing ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)[96] and East Asia Summit (EAS)[97] that discuss broader strategic concerns.

While recognizing China’s interest in shaping the security architecture in Southeast Asia, ASEAN has scrupulously maintained the need to invite other interested parties to dialogue and contribute to Southeast Asian security. Other ASEAN nations share Singapore’s interest in maintaining an open security architecture and the various ASEAN-related forums have been structured deliberately to involve external stakeholders. To be sure, ASEAN faces a balancing act in reaching out to major powers. ASEAN seeks to drive the agenda at these forums but has to ensure that the agenda remains relevant and attractive to the external participants.

In the economic domain, ASEAN has given China a ‘first-mover’ advantage with regard to economic integration. China first proposed an FTA with ASEAN in 2001, and by 2002 had signed a framework agreement. Subsequently, China and ASEAN concluded the Agreement on Trade in Goods and the Agreement on Trade in Services in 2004 and 2007 respectively. The ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) came into effect on 1 January 2010.

The negotiations and swift conclusion of the ACFTA spurred other major economies to kickstart trade negotiations with ASEAN. Following hot on the heels of China, India also concluded an initial framework agreement with ASEAN in 2003.[98] In 2009, India and ASEAN signed the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (TIG), which was to take effect on 1 January 2010. Nonetheless, at the time of writing, negotiations on Trade in Services remain ongoing between India and ASEAN. In 2003, Japan also signed the Framework Agreement for Comprehensive Economic Partnership (CEP) with ASEAN and quickly concluded the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP) in 2008. More recently, the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA) was signed in 2009 and came into effect on 1 January 2010.

ASEAN’s increased trade negotiations with external parties have assuaged the concerns of Singapore’s neighbors who expressed displeasure and suspicions about Singapore’s bilateral trade agreements with extra-regional countries. Although strongly committed to realizing ASEAN FTA (AFTA), Singapore was reportedly “impatient” with the pace at which ASEAN was “building free-trade linkages with the United States, Japan, and the European Union (EU).”[99] Consequently, from 1993 to 2005, Singapore concluded nine FTAs outside the purview of ASEAN. However, Singapore’s decision to forge ahead with trade liberalization aroused concern in its neighbors who feared that Singapore’s bilateral FTAs would “[undermine] friendship in ASEAN or “provide a third route or back door… to penetrate AFTA markets.”[100] Fortunately, China’s proposal for the ACFTA in 2000 and subsequent FTAs with other nations have reduced concerns of Singapore’s neighbors that Singapore’s bilateral FTAs would undermine the AFTA.

Conclusion

By comparing China’s recent actions at international institutions against Singapore’s diplomatic and economic objectives, we found that China’s increased participation and influence in international institutions present near term opportunities for Singapore. In the diplomatic domain, China’s willingness to participate in global activities, such as peacekeeping and binding treaties, indicates its acceptance of rules-based interaction between nations. In economic institutions such as the IMF and WTO, China’s increased participation has corresponded with increased trade and FDI volumes for Singapore.

However, there could also be underlying challenges for Singapore. China’s role in the UN and ASEAN does not represent a policy that prioritizes institutional solutions when its national interests are challenged. China’s future willingness and ability to participate, or lead, in solving global challenges remain untested. China remains open to flexing its diplomatic muscles and economic leverage to protect its interests. In the economic arena, China will likely shift up the production value chain in response to its demographic changes. Furthermore, as China’s economic prowess becomes more pronounced, its ability to shape international institutions will likely grow. Singapore will need to adjust its policies to capitalize on changes that China will bring to multilateral institutions.

Implications for Singapore

While China’s recent policies present numerous opportunities, Singapore must remain agile to maximize the opportunities and prepare itself to face the challenges of an emergent China. As a small country that has adeptly navigated the Cold War and post-Cold War world, Singapore has demonstrated its ability to innovate and excel. Singapore should try to conclude agreements of mutual benefit with China. Besides economic joint ventures to develop parts of China, Singapore could explore how to tap into the Chinese consumer market and partner with Chinese firms that are seeking to produce goods of higher value. To bolster linkages with China, Singapore could seek to increase exchange programs and other educational opportunities for students at all levels.

Separately, Singapore should prepare itself to face the challenges that arise. Singapore’s diplomatic and economic strength are a result of its cohesive society, strong economic growth and credible defense force. Therefore, while Singapore continues to pursue high economic growth, the social compact must be updated to acknowledge and cater to the changing preference of the electorate. Education policies must produce a knowledgeable and innovative workforce. Besides intellectual development, education policies will also have to address the social-moral development of students to inculcate the values of hardwork, resourcefulness and integrity needed to succeed in the future. Singapore would also need to nurture multi-racialism as its multi-racial composition is a unique strength that will allow Singapore to tap onto the twin engines of Asia’s growth–India and China. Singapore should invest wisely in its defense both as bedrock for its economic development and as a complement to its diplomatic power.

Singapore should also proactively build cooperative relations with other nations. This should not be a strategy to balance or hedge against the rise of China. Instead, this approach should be pursued in concert with deepening relations with China. Creating new and stronger external partnerships is a means to create opportunities in all corners of the world. Already, Singapore has significant existing ties with developed economies in regions such as North America, East Asia, and Europe. To complement these relationships, Singapore is strengthening its ties with India, a nation with the potential to develop into a major economic and diplomatic power. Further afield, Singapore has begun building ties with nations in less-traditional regions such as Latin America and the Middle East.

Application for Other Countries

With similar geopolitical and economic limitations, other small countries will likely also face both opportunities and challenges as China expands its influence and participation in international institutions. Small countries have at least two methods to maximize opportunities and mitigate challenges. First, small countries can succeed if they band together, as demonstrated by the success and significance of the Federation of Small States (FOSS) in the UN.[101] While major powers will invariably set the international agenda, small nations can ensure that their views are considered if they coordinate properly. Next, small countries should leverage their inherent agility to pursue their national interests. Small nations should avoid aligning too closely with a major power, or being dogmatically non-aligned, as they pursue their national objectives. As a case in point, developing economies should critically examine their economic aims at the WTO Doha Round and seek to move the negotiations forward and avoid being ensnared in a tussle between China and the developed economies.

Given that China’s presence in international institutions present both challenges and opportunities for other nations, the United States (U.S.) should maintain, if not strengthen, its global interactions to present a viable alternative for nations that may face challenges from China. U.S. global leadership after World War Two produced an environment conducive for nations to develop economically. While U.S. involvement moving forward may not have the same characteristics of overwhelming supremacy, the U.S. should not take its withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and its mounting domestic challenges, as a bookmark to withdraw from its global interactions. Indeed, despite its current gloomy economic prospects, the U.S. economy is still a vital trading partner and source of FDI for many nations. The ideals of democracy and freedom, if properly expressed, represent a beacon of hope for many people around the world.

Concerns about the long-term viability of U.S. influence in the region should not be overestimated. In 2010, Teo reminded the audience that death knells were sounded for America’s global position back in the mid-80s when the Japanese economy threatened to overtake the U.S. economy in productivity and innovation.[102] However, those pronouncements of doom turned out to be false alarms as circumstances in the early twenty-first century reveal Japan’s position behind the United States.

Nonetheless, U.S. and Western nations need to acknowledge the legitimate entreaties to reform international institutions that represent an outdated distribution of power.[103] As the distribution of economic wealth and military prowess shifts, international institutions must reflect the current realities to engender greater contributions from emerging nations and to reduce the burden placed on nations that can no longer afford to shoulder some of these global responsibilities. For example, two possible changes in international institutions are reforms in the voting quota in the IMF and redefining the rules for appointing the leadership positions in various international institutions. To be clear, China is not the only emerging nation, despite the media attention that it receives. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, South Africa and Turkey are just some of the nations with the potential and disposition to play a larger global role.[104]

To be clear, China is just representative of a larger global shift toward a more diffused distribution of power. As the world faces more complex and trans-border challenges (such as transnational terrorism, financial contagions that spread quickly across markets, and environmental challenges), multilateral action has become more important than ever. Thus, the evolution of international institutions will be crucial as these institutions will need to reflect the shifts in international relations while providing the platform to meet urgent global challenges.

About the Authors

Major Joseph Yuanfeng Lin is from the Singapore Armed Forces. He recently graduated from the Intermediate Level Education course conducted by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, where he earned a Masters of Military Arts and Science degree and received the BG Benjamin H. Grierson Award as the Distinguished Master Strategist for ILE Class of 11-02. He holds a Masters of Arts (International Policy Studies) from Stanford University and a Bachelor of Arts (Economics) from the University of Chicago.

Dr. David A. Anderson is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer. He is now a professor of Strategic Studies and Odom Chair of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he teaches strategic and operational studies, as well as economics. He is also an adjunct professor for Webster University, where he teaches various international relations courses including, International Political Economy and Globalization. He has published over fifty articles on military, economics, and international relations related topics.

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80. David Shambaugh, “China Engages Asia: Reshaping the Regional Order.”

81. Ibid., 75.

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83. Ibid., 809.

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93. Jason Dean, “China Warns U.S. to Stay Out of Regional Disputes,” The Wall Street Journal, 23 June 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100014240527023039706 04576401260613634844.html (accessed 24 August 2011).

94. Vago Muradian, “U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships To Head To Singapore,” Defense News, 13 June 2011, 3.

95. Shaun Narine, “ASEAN and the Management of Regional Security,” Pacific Affairs 71, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 209.

96. The ARF consists of representatives from the 10 ASEAN countries, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, European Union, India, Japan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, and the U.S.

97. The EAS consists of representatives from the 10 ASEAN countries, Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the Russian Federation and the United States.

98. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Between the Republic of India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” 2003, http://www.asean.org/15278.htm (accessed 24 August 2011).

99. Felix Soh, “ASEAN ‘Slow’ on Free-Trade Links,” The Straits Times, 3 May 2002, 1.

100. The Hindu, “Malaysia Cautions on Trade Pacts,” 23 November 2000 and Business Times, “Singapore Won’t Be Back Door to AFTA,” 3 May 2001; quoted in Teofilo C. Daquila and Le Huu Huy, “Singapore and ASEAN in the Global Economy.”

101. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore, “Speech by Senior Minister Professor S Jayakumar at the S Rajaratnam Lecture at Shangri-La Hotel on 19 May 2010.”

102. Ministry of Defence, Singapore, “Luncheon Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.,” 17 March 2010, http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/resources/ speeches/2010/17mar10_speech.html (accessed 26 August 2011).

103. Kishore Mahbubani, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East, New York: PublicAffairs, 2008.

104. Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009).

 



 
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