Singaporean Tells China U.S. Is Not in Decline

BEIJING — In an unusual public airing of strategic problems surrounding China’s rise, the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, warned China on Thursday that it should view the United States not as a declining power, but as a nation with the ability to innovate and bounce back.

Speaking at the Central Party School, the prestigious training ground for officials of the Communist Party, Mr. Lee also suggested that China try to solve its maritime disputes in the South China Sea regionally, through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as Asean, rather than country by country.

Mr. Lee is the son of Lee Kuan Yew, the longtime leader of Singapore who forged strong relations with China and the United States and successfully balanced his small city-state between the two, and his views carry considerable weight among the Chinese elite. By choosing to make his pointed remarks in a prime setting like the Central Party School, the prime minister was ensuring that they carried extra heft. The president of the school is Vice President Xi Jinping, expected to be the next leader of China.

Mr. Lee addressed the question of America’s standing in the world, a subject that fascinates Chinese academics and writers in the state-run news media, many of whom have written caustically in recent months about Washington’s budget difficulties, political gridlock and what they see as a crisis of confidence.

“It is currently facing some very difficult problems, but it is not a nation in decline,” Mr. Lee said of the United States. “The U.S. is an enormously resilient and creative society, which attracts and absorbs talent from all over the world, including many from China and the rest of Asia.”

In a subtle jab at China, Mr. Lee noted, “All eight Nobel Prize winners in science who are of Chinese descent either were or subsequently became American citizens.”

“We should never underestimate the U.S. capacity to reinvigorate and reinvent itself,” he said.

Singapore is considered an important post for the United States military presence in Asia. American aircraft carriers and other warships use Singapore’s port, which sits astride the South China Sea. Last year, Singapore agreed to an American request to allow four new littoral combat ships, a new category of fast warship, to use its facilities.

At the same time, Singapore maintains a strong relationship with Beijing, which began when Deng Xiaoping visited the country in 1978 and was impressed that Lee Kuan Yew’s stern governance was accompanied by economic prosperity.

Mr. Lee’s appearance at the Communist Party school came after China effectively shattered Southeast Asian unity on how to deal with disputes in the South China Sea, a tactic that shocked Washington and Singapore alike.

At a meeting in Cambodia in July that was attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, China managed to quash an agreement on the South China Sea among members of Asean. Some Southeast Asian officials said they believed that China was emboldened by a belief that the United States was a waning power that lacked the clout to keep Asean unified.

In his speech, Mr. Lee said Asean “has to take and state a position which is neutral, forward-looking and encourages the peaceful resolution of issues.”

“For Asean not to address it would severely damage its credibility,” he continued. Moreover, Asean and China should soon start talks on a code of conduct designed to help resolve conflicts, he said.

This was a position put forward by Mrs. Clinton during her visit to Beijing this week, which so far the Chinese have resisted.

Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs that he told the Chinese leader, Mr. Deng, that the countries of Asia were more afraid of the “China dragon” than the “Russian bear.” His son appeared to be beaming, indirectly, a variant of that message to his Chinese audience on Thursday.

The prime minister closed his speech by saying he believed that “the Chinese government and people are determined to overcome its various challenges.” But without being explicit, Mr. Lee seemed to be echoing his father, and suggesting that in Asia, China was more feared than the United States.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 6, 2012
A version of this article appeared in print on September 7, 2012, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Singaporean Tells China U.S. Is Not in Decline
Source : New York Times : Singaporean Tells China U.S. Is Not in Decline

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*Related News * : – Todayonline – Singapore’s ‘critical interests’ at stake

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Meeting Premier Wen at the Great Hall of the People. We had a good discussion on our relations and new opportunities for collaboration.
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