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SINGAPORE: A possible way forward amid divisions and tensions between the United States and China is a more open, inclusive and multilateral network for science, technology and supply chains, said Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday (Nov 9).

Speaking at the second edition of the Next STEP Global Conference on the topic of techno-nationalism, Dr Balakrishnan said that such a network has to be multi-polar and rules-based.

“There has to be a commitment to open science, the fair sharing and harvesting of intellectual property, and a system in which we will compete to be most innovative, most reliable, most trustworthy; rather than be judged simply by which side or the other we have picked,” he explained.

Earlier, Dr Balakrishnan said that having the US and China reach a modus vivendi – an arrangement for conflicting parties to coexist peacefully – would be ideal for a place like Singapore.

“But if they don’t, or force us to choose (one) or the other, we will be in a real tough spot,” he said.

Reiterating that countries such as Singapore will refuse to choose sides, Dr Balakrishnan added: “We are not interested in bifurcation lines across Asia. Our paradigm that we are offering is overlapping circles of friends.”


At the start of his speech, Dr Balakrishnan described the global order as “severely stressed”. 

“We witness big power – not just contestation but confrontation. Persistent supply chain disruptions, still not fully resolved. Hyper-divisive domestic politics,” he said.

“We are witnessing probably an era of higher and prolonged inflation, which nobody below the age of 40 has lived through in his lifetime. And of course, we also have hanging over this the potential for a concurrent food and energy and water crisis.”

Added to all that is the “febrile” relationship between the US and China which is of “grave concern”, said the minister.

“I would characterise the relationship as one in which currently there is an almost complete lack of strategic trust.”

The current situation is “somewhat reminiscent” of a Thucydides Trap, where the absence of strategic trust leads both sides to always assume the worst and “almost certainly” lead to a mutually downward spiral, said Dr Balakrishnan.  

“Both sides may unfortunately conclude that science, technological and supply chains interdependence are in fact a risk – or maybe even a liability. And each side seeks to reduce its mutual interdependence to improve their own supply chain resilience,” he added.

“This bifurcation will have profound implications on the rest of us.”

The world now stands at an inflection point in history, said Dr Balakrishnan in closing. 

“The loss of trust domestically leads to polarised, divided domestic politics. The loss of trust between the two superpowers leads to a dangerous escalatory vicious cycle. The fracture of a common stack of science, technology and supply chains is inflationary, disruptive, and dangerous,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan called on the superpowers to bear in mind that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”.

“Also bear in mind that the rest of us do have agency and do have choices,” he said. “And to the maximum extent, will seek to raft ourselves to each other in open, inclusive architectures.”