Ahead of Blinken’s Beijing visit, Singapore urges the U.S. and China to stave off conflict

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference on the annual human rights report, at the US State Department in Washington, DC, on March 20, 2023.

Jim Watson | Afp | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore renewed calls for China and the U.S. to cool tensions, warning of “great costs and hardship across the world” if these feuding global powers do not step back from the brink.

The comments come as U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is reportedly preparing to visit Beijing for talks this week. The countries canceled or postponed talks after the U.S. in February shot down what it described as a surveillance balloon — a claim China denies — off the coast of South Carolina. China rejected U.S. defense officials’ request for dialogue at a security summit in Singapore two weeks ago.

“While we are now at an uncomfortable and indeed dangerous point, all of this is not an inevitability. It is still possible to step away from confrontation and conflict, and both sides must do so,” Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Kiat said Monday at Caixin’s Asia New Vision Forum in Singapore.

“Unbridled and unchecked competition with no guardrails will generate great costs and hardship, across the world. It will be a big step backwards for all countries,” he added.

The rejection and postponement of talks have sparked global concern that a lack of communication between two of the world’s powers may raise the risk of conflict in a moment of miscalculation.

Two recent acts of aggression between U.S. and Chinese naval ships in the Taiwan Strait and military aircraft in airspace over the South China Sea underscored this possibility.

“Countries in ASEAN and around the world do not wish to choose sides, as most have deep linkages with both major powers,” Heng said. “It is every country’s interest, especially the U.S. and China, to develop a new architecture that enables inclusive and sustainable development.”

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