China must pay attention to Western response to Russia’s war in Ukraine: ex-diplomat

China should consider the West’s strong response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in its own calculations on Taiwan, a former Singaporean diplomat told CNBC on Friday.

“I hope that the great powers in our region, China in particular, noted the very united and strong Western response and [China] will factor that into his calculations regarding Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Senkaku Islands,” Bilahari Kausikan, a former permanent secretary at Singapore’s foreign ministry, told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia.

China claims self-government Taiwan as part of its territory, even though the island has been ruled independently from China since 1949.

Beijing also has a number of territorial disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea, including with Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. China also claims the Senkaku Islands – known on the mainland as Diaoyu Islands – which are under Japanese control.

The former diplomat spoke in the context of President Joe Biden’s meeting with the leaders of Southeast Asia, which concludes Friday.

Southeast Asian countries are not instruments of the West, and relations with the US are a counterpoint to relations with China, says a top Singapore diplomat as ASEAN leaders, welcomed here at the White House by US President Joe Biden, a special summit with the US (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Drew Angerer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Speaking about the two-day ASEAN special summit in Washington DC, Kausikan said the meeting was evidence of a “return to normal” for US diplomacy after the “irregular” Trump years.

“Trump was a bit of an aberration because the US has been pretty consistent in involving Southeast Asia for decades,” said Kausikan, who is now president of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

He also ignored suggestions that ASEAN is an “tool of the West” in its rivalry with China.

“We are nobody’s tools.” he said, referring to the Southeast Asian bloc made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

“We look at China as a means of managing relations with the US and Europe; and we look at Europe and the US as a means of managing our relationship with China,” he said, noting that Southeast Asia is an arena of great power had been competition for centuries.

I think that’s a fantasy. No one can disconnect from China, not even the United States.

Bilahari Kausikan

Former diplomat of Singapore

He said the timing of the ASEAN summit — where a US trade framework is one of the topics expected to be discussed — also proves the US is not being distracted from its focus on the Indo-Pacific.

“Trade is a very sensitive issue in US domestic politics and ASEAN leaders understand that,” he said. “In our part of the world, trade is strategy.”

US-China ‘decoupling’

On the US-China rivalry, Kausikan said it’s unrealistic to expect Western “decoupling” from China, a term that refers to the gradual severing of economic and trade ties between China and the West.

The US and Europe are currently trying to redirect supply chains to reduce their reliance on Chinese manufacturing.

“I think that’s a fantasy. No one can disconnect from China, not even the United States,” he said, adding that “partial decoupling” could be possible in areas with national security implications.

The chairman of Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arsjad Rashid, told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia that Indonesia and other ASEAN countries do not want to take sides.

“We want to be friends with the US, we want to be friends with China,” Rashid said.

He also acknowledged that “the US has been missed in action”, saying the summit marked a new beginning.

On Southeast Asian countries to take sides, Kausikan said: “I don’t think any of the ASEAN countries see the choice as a simplistic, binary choice between the US and China. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have good political relations. have, not just economic relations.”

Kausikan said there is growing awareness that close relations with China “would jeopardize autonomy” unless accompanied by close relations with the US.

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