“Trade War”: Doing their Worst, doing their Best

Probably, there would be a (not inevitable yet) moment when nearly everyone realized that the trade conflict between America and China has turned into an economic war. The moment isn’t easy to define in advance. Maybe it’s when China halts its rare-earth exports. But that war would be the first war that might benefit school children’s education as they are running out of smartphones. Can war be war when it makes people smarter?

The Economist, not quite the Great Friend of the Chinese People more recently, tried to sound some more understanding notes than usual last month. Addressing accusations that China had ‘reneged’ on commitments made earlier during the talks, the paper points out that “complicating matters, negotiations have been conducted in English, with the draft agreement […] also in English. As it is translated into Chinese and circulated among more officials, changes are inevitable.”

And Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s prime minister and no Great Friend of the Chinese People either, claims that he doesn’t really care about who’s spying on him or his country: “We have no secrets,” and …

“… let them do their worst.”

Not sure if Malaysian techies would agree. But if they really have no secrets, Mahathir may be right, and Malaysia has nothing to lose, because it has nothing.

For people who still use their 1990-something mobile, Digital Trends offers an instructive overview of what is at stake for Huawei, and the company’s American trade partners and customers.

Not so different from Mahathir, but from a more neutral position,  Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong advocates openness, as this approach has benefitted Singapore since ancient times – no, he didn’t really say that.

But he has a clear message to both sides in the conflict, and an explanation as to why Washington’s unilateral approach is no option for Singapore:

Singapore cannot afford to adopt the same point of view. Being small, we are naturally disadvantaged in bilateral negotiations. We need to reform and strengthen multilateral institutions, not cripple or block them. More fundamentally, confining ourselves to a bilateral approach means forgoing win-win opportunities which come from countries working together with more partners. We need to build a broader regional and international architecture of cooperation. When groups of countries deepen their economic cooperation, they will enhance not just their shared prosperity but also their collective security. With more stake in one another’s success, they will have greater incentive to uphold a conducive and peaceful international order. This will benefit many countries big and small.

Huanqiu Shibao comes up with what they see as their country’s head of delegation‘s role at the summit:

After Lee Hsien-Loong had concluded his speech, He Lei asked the first question in the plenum, a two-fold one: firstly, how can China and America set out from the big picture of maintaining regional and global peace, from the great trend of peaceful development, thus properly settling the current contradictions and problems? And the other question: Singapore’s leader advocates that small countries should not take sides while the big countries’ relations are experiencing contradictions. How can, under the current conditions, a constructive conduct be achieved, and taking sides be avoided? Lee Hsien-Long replied to the first question that China and America needed to talk frankly, at the top levels, about the most fundamental problem, i. e. China’s current development, and the outside world’s need to adapt to China’s development. China and other countries all needed to adjust and adapt to this fact. Under this prerequisite, one by one and by discussing the issues as they stand, we will solve problems. Lee Hsien-Loong believes that in this process, China and America would gradually strengthen trust and make progress. As for the second question, Lee Hsien-Loong replied that “we do our best to be friends with both sides, maintaining relations on all fields, but will actively avoid to choose sides and join teams.”
After the banquet, He Lei’s assessment was that Lee Hien-Loong’s speech had been relatively peaceful and reasonable, and he was satisfied with Lee Hsien-Loong’s answers. He Lei said that Sino-Singapore relations had continuously improved in recent years, with continuous high-level exchange, which had established a good basis for a speech as given by Lee Hsien-Loong that evening. This was also a result of China’s continuous expansion of influence. He Lei, who has attended all of the three most recent Shangri-la meetings, has a profound feel for this.
李显龙演讲结束后,针对李显龙的发言,何雷在全场率先提问,包括两个问题:第一个是中美两国在当前如何能够从维护地区和世界和平的大局出发,能够从和平发展的大趋势出发,妥善解决当前存在的矛盾和问题?另一个问题是,在当前大国关系存在矛盾和问题的时候,新加坡领导主张小国不选边站。在当前这种局势下,如何做到积极作为、避免选边站队?对于第一个问题,李显龙表示,中美两国需要在最高层面开放坦率地接触,讨论两国之间最基本的问题,即中国正在发展,而外界需要适应中国的发展。中国和其他国家都需要调整并适应这一事实。在这一前提下,再逐个地、就事论事地讨论并解决问题。李显龙认为,在这一过程中,中美双方能够逐渐增进信任,取得进展。对于第二个问题,李显龙答道,“我们尽自己所能和两边都做朋友,发展并保持各个领域的关系,但主动地避免选边站队。”

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Related

Surveillance tycoons, Bloomberg, May 22, 2019
America must strike a balance, Nov 7, 2009

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