US-China rivalry: victory is defined by who can win over the rest of the world, says Chan Chun Sing

The strategic rivalry between the US and China will remain a feature of the international system for time to come, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said. Neither will collapse in the foreseeable future, and certainly not from the pressures from the other party.

Speaking at Rajah & Tann Asia’s Global Marquee Event “Beyond Pandemic & Politics: Behold Southeast Asia and the World”, Mr Chan said that rivalry and competition ‘do not equate to being enemies’. The US and China will compete with each other in the area of economics to finance, cooperate on issues from North Korea to climate change and they need not end up in conflict.

Both countries have achieved historical milestones in the last 100 years.

“The US ascended to global leadership after the first World War and consolidated its position thereafter. No country or empire in history has achieved such dominance and reach in military, economic and geopolitical influence,” Mr Chan said.

After more than 40 years of economic reforms and integration with the global economy, China is fast catching up in terms of its economic prowess. However, it still lacks the military reach and geopolitical influence of the US.

What determines victory

Victory, Mr Chan said, will not be defined not by defeat of the other party but by who can win over the rest of the world.

“Victory will depend on the power of their example, rather than the example of their power. And this starts from the domestic front.”

Chan Chun Sing –

Each has their respective domestic challenges. The greater their success in managing their domestic challenges, the greater will be their confidence to relate to each other as partners, Mr Chan said. On the other hand, the greater they struggle to resolve their domestic challenges, ‘the greater their risks of falling prey to their respective hardliners who desire to paint the other side as the source of all their problems’.

Straight-line trajectory for China to overtake US not a given

China has to grapple with various challenges. Mr Chan outlined these challenges as:

  1. How to secure its global supply chains and markets?
  2. How to grow rich before it grows old?
  3. How to leverage on the dynamism and discipline of the market without ceding political control?
  4. How to manage the economic divide between the rural and the urban; between the coastal provinces and the inland provinces?

US pre-eminence cannot be taken for granted

The US too has its fair share of challenges. Hence its pre-eminence cannot be taken for granted. Mr Chan outlined the US challenges as:

  1. How to unite a country divided by party, ideology, race and class?
  2. How to achieve long-term policy coherence and inspire confidence in its global commitments beyond the vagaries of its political cycles?
  3. How to continue attracting talent and the best from the world while managing its social tensions?
  4. How to allow its best to run fast without inequality shackling the whole society?

Collective agency to avoid a bifurcated or fragmented world

US and China’s development models and exercise of power will be closely studied by the rest of the world, Mr Chan said. “Countries will then gravitate towards the partner that aligns best with their own long-term strategic requirements, developmental needs and security interests.”

While the US and China constitute up to one-third of global GDP, the remaining two-thirds of the world can and must exercise collective agency to uphold and update global integration to avoid a bifurcated or fragmented world,” he added.

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