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Getting too close to China isn’t smart, says Tay

01 Sep Getting too close to China isn’t smart, says Tay

COUNTRIES IN Asean, including Thailand, should not seek to choose between the majors powers or to be neutral, but should be close to both the United States and China, a Singaporean academic said yesterday.

“I don’t think it’s in Thailand’s interests to be too close to China. Nobody wants to be a North Korea,” said Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and an associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

Although the coup in Thailand may push it closer towards China, hopefully under General Prayuth Chan-ocha it will continue be one of the countries in the region that will keep a balance between the major powers.

“It’s good to have a close relationship to both the US and China. The whole game is to be close to everyone. The aim is not to be neutral but to be close to all simultaneously,” he told The Nation while in Bangkok last week to attend a conference on the future of security in the Asia-Pacific region hosted by the Asean Affairs Department of the Foreign Ministry. Thailand and Indonesia are two countries in the region that enjoy good connections with both China and the United States.

However, the Philippines, with its acrimonious maritime dispute with China and to a certain extent with Vietnam, which also has maritime border conflicts with China, are concerns.

In China, there are people who believe they’re the centre of the world, while in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is “nationalistic and ambitious”, is stirring tension by pushing for the amendment of Japan’s “Peace Constitution”.

“These two leaders have never even had a summit,” he said, referring to Abe and China’s Xi Jinping.

While Xi’s style in handling China’s maritime disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines is contributing to tensions in the region, Vietnam and the Philippines “are not angels either”.

“Asean’s interest is the stability of the region,” he said.

It’s to Asean’s advantage to try to resolve any conflict peacefully and lawfully.

“The Philippines and Vietnam cannot expect Asean to be on their side.”

As for the United States, Tay, who studied at Harvard Law School and has been a visiting professor at both Yale University and Harvard Law School, said the country is very complex.

“You go to Washington and talk with the people at the Pentagon and you feel that anti-China atmosphere.”

This article orginally appared on The Nation (Thailand) and AsiaOne (Singapore) on 1 September 2014.