As part of its strategy to counter China, the Biden administration recently deployed Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on separate trips to Southeast Asia to strengthen ties. Both officials visited Singapore and delivered hawkish speeches calling for cooperation in the region against Beijing.
But Singapore does not seem interested in choosing sides between the two powers. On Tuesday, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met with Chinese Minister Wang Yi and vowed to continue to work with China, touting the cooperative relationship between the two countries.
“We reaffirmed the long-standing ties between our countries, and had a productive and candid discussion on international and regional developments,” Lee said of his meeting with Wang. “Singapore welcomes China’s continued contribution in our part of the world, and will continue working with China to build a more harmonious and peaceful world.”
The Biden administration is hyper-focused on Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region as a whole, an area that stretches from India to the Eastern Pacific Ocean. During her visit to Singapore, Harris said that she believes “when the history of the 21st century is written, much of it will be centered right here in the Indo-Pacific.”
Much of the US involvement in the region is focused on the South China Sea dispute. While Singapore doesn’t have claims to the waters, many members of the 10-nation bloc known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Singapore is a member of, do have overlapping claims with Beijing.
The US sees the South China Sea dispute as a way to get Southeast Asian countries to join Washington’s campaign against Beijing. In recent years, the US has dramatically increased its military presence in the South China Sea, frequently sending warships near Chinese-controlled islands and reefs to challenge Beijing’s claims. But even countries like the Philippines, which has occasional stand-offs with Chinese vessels in the disputed waters, seem hesitant to take a strong stance against China, although Manila is looking to get more military aid out of Washington.