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US should 'stay very far away' from physically confronting China over Taiwan: Ng Eng Hen

US should 'stay very far away' from physically confronting China over Taiwan: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (right) speaking with moderator Professor Joseph Samuel Nye Jr at the 12th Aspen Security Forum in Washington DC on Nov 4, 2021. (Photo: MINDEF)

SINGAPORE: The United States should "stay very far away" from engaging in physical confrontation with China over Taiwan, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said, adding that "miscalculations can occur".

Dr Ng made those comments following his keynote speech on Singapore's perspectives on US and China at the 12th Aspen Security Forum in Washington DC on Thursday (Nov 4).

The forum is an annual security and foreign policy conference involving leaders and key players in the defence community.

The session with Dr Ng was moderated by Aspen Strategy Group co-chair Professor Joseph Samuel Nye Jr, who had asked if the minister was concerned about how the US was "handling the Taiwan question".

"Taiwan goes to the heart of the political legitimacy of the leader, of the party and it's a deep red line. I can think of no scenario (in) which there are winners if there is actual physical confrontation over Taiwan," Dr Ng said.

"So, I would advise us to stay very far away from that."

Taiwan's defence minister said in October that military tensions with China were at their worst in 40 years, adding that Beijing would be capable of mounting a "full scale" invasion by 2025. China claims Taiwan as its own territory.

China has mounted a series of mass air force incursions into Taiwan's air defence identification zone that began on Oct 1, part of a pattern of what Taipei views as stepped up military harassment by Beijing.

The US has urged China to stop its "provocative" military activities near Taiwan, although China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the US and has denounced what it calls "collusion" between Washington and Taipei. 

While the US is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of "strategic ambiguity" on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

US defense secretary Lloyd Austin said in July that Washington is committed to supporting Taiwan and its capability to defend itself in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act and One China policy.

"No one wants to see a unilateral change to the status quo with respect to Taiwan," he added.


Speaking to reporters after his speech on Thursday, Dr Ng reiterated that "all sides lose" if there is physical confrontation over Taiwan.

"Not only US and China. Southeast Asia will be in turmoil, I think the rest of the world too," he said.

Beyond the issue of Taiwan, Dr Ng said the US' current "preoccupation with China is at a heightened level" not seen in his decade as defence minister.

The US sees China's progress as a rising power and feels the need to reinvigorate its economy, Dr Ng said.

"I think that's that's wonderful, how America needs to compete in science and technology, in infrastructure, in economic leadership," he said.

Dr Ng pointed to how the US left the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal but now wants to return to it in a way that meets its population's needs.

"One thing good about the American system is that amidst all that thinking and engagements, as they say, they've done all the wrong things, they eventually do the right thing," he said, adding that the US will advance and Singapore will continue to work with them.

Dr Ng said in his keynote speech that Singapore and other Southeast Asian nations have benefited from the influence of both the US and China, highlighting how the US has provided a stabilising security presence while China has powered Asia's economic growth.

"So to Singapore and the ASEAN countries, my Prime Minister has said none of the countries want to choose (between US and China)," he said.

"Why should I choose? Both have benefitted me and there is a strategic rivalry. Can this strategic rivalry continue with me continuing to still benefit from both countries?"

Source: CNA/hz(ac)