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‘Pro-Singapore’ Lawrence Wong and the US-China tightrope he must walk as prime minister

Washington now sees China as its primary strategic competitor, with the two nations embroiled in a range of disputes spanning political, economic, technological, ideological, military and security interests.

In such a vastly different geopolitical landscape, Wong’s assertion this month that the republic could be neither pro-China nor pro-America, but “pro-Singapore”, was “certainly easier said than done”, said Dylan Loh, an assistant professor of foreign policy at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “But there is no other choice.”

While Singapore had moved closer to the US, this had not come at the expense of its ties with China, Loh said. “It was just in 2023 that we upgraded our relations with Beijing.”

Meanwhile, the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement – Washington’s first with an Asian country – came into effect in 2004 and today their bilateral cooperation straddles defence, cybersecurity, climate change and space, as well as critical and emerging technologies.

It was becoming increasingly difficult for countries to manoeuvre between the US and China amid their mutual suspicion, said Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore.

“Wong has not laid out what being ‘pro-Singapore’ means in practical terms – are there areas where he will seek greater initiative, invest more time, energy, and resources into? If so, what are they?”

“What is the payoff from doing so? How will it be done? These are all unanswered at this point,” Chong said.

“Whereas Lee might have tried to walk a line between China and the US, Wong might find the line growing ever thinner,” he said.

But amid economic woes in China that have “proven to be more enduring than transient”, Chang said “doubts