Academics: China views Singapore differently now


SINGAPORE has more to benefit from China, rather than the other way round, in establishing bilateral relations with the mainland, according to two well-known academics in Asia.

“It is obvious China doesn’t need Singapore the way Singapore needs China. But China finds Singapore important, because of its location and its management system,” says Prof Wang Gungwu, chairman of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.

“Singapore has demonstrated how a system under authoritarian rule can be so efficient and non-corrupt,” Prof Wang tells Sunday Star.

Beijing continues to send their officials to Singapore to learn from the city state how to clean up the corruption in China and improve its governance and efficiency, he observes.

On whether ties between China and Singapore will return to the previous high in 2015 after being strained recently, the expert on China and Asean affairs says: “Can’t”.

“Times have changed. The Chinese have no illusions of the past. Deep down, they believe in change. They are very future-minded. They believe in moving forward. They will not wait for the coconuts to fall,” says Prof Wang, who was in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday to give a talk on China and South East Asia.

Zhai Kun, professor from Peking University’s school of international studies, observes Singapore has demonstrated a strong desire to mend ties with China after relations dipped to recent lows.

“Currently, Singapore’s economy is not doing well. Singaporeans are not so confident of their future. As China rises and has strengthened economic relations with other Asean nations, Singapore must have felt the pressure not to be left behind,” says Prof Zhai, who is in Malaysia this week to assess the progress of China’s Belt and Road projects.

He believes that China’s expectations of Singapore had been lowered after the diplomatic spats and the incident linked to military training in Taiwan, coupled with Singapore’s pro-US and pro-Japan stance, .

Previously, China harboured hopes that Singapore – with over 70% ethnic Chinese – would side China on international issues. But now, Beijing no longer treats Singapore as “trusted Chinese”.

“China’s policy towards Singapore is clearer now. Chinese people now know they cannot treat Singaporeans as Chinese,” says Prof Zhai.

Despite seeing Singapore needing China more, Prof Zhai feels there is a lot to learn from Singapore, particularly in the fields of technology, finance and management.

“Their proposals on Chongqing project and other ideas in China are very good.”