US, China need to dial down tensions and work together on global challenges: S’pore senior minister

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that doing so would help the two superpowers work together to tackle challenges facing the earth’s shared natural resources.

Charissa Yong

Charissa Yong

The Straits Times


The importance of the US and China finding a way to collaborate while competing has been a key theme in Mr Tharman’s recent speeches. PHOTO: SEMAFORX/YOUTUBE

April 14, 2023

WASHINGTON – The United States and China should prioritise dialling down the temperature to prevent their relationship from worsening further, said Singapore’s Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday.

Doing so would help the two superpowers work together to tackle challenges facing the earth’s shared natural resources such as climate change, the global water crisis and the loss of biodiversity, he told bankers, finance chiefs and business leaders at a forum in Washington.

“We’re not going to solve any of the problems of global commons, climate change being foremost, without both the US and China playing a bold and forward-looking role,” he said at the inaugural World Economy Summit, organised by news website Semafor.

“I think there’s a willingness on the part of both, but it requires an overarching framework that allows for both competition and collaboration, and that builds trust. What is lacking today is trust.”

Mr Tharman also said that international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund can help ease polarisation in the global order by bringing the US and China together to work on joint projects.

“The fundamental problem that we have is that we are not collectively making enough use of these international institutions,” he said.

“How do we use this collective project, how do we maximise the use of the international financial institutions to tackle the problems of the global commons… to reduce the polarisation in the system and to create projects of common interest to the US and China in particular?”

Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, is on a working visit to Washington until Saturday to attend meetings of the International Monetary and Financial Committee.

He will also attend meetings of other international organisations, including a Group of 20 expert group on strengthening multilateral development banks (MDBs), as well as meet senior officials from the US and other countries.

The importance of the US and China finding a way to collaborate while competing, and the necessity of collective action in tackling global problems such as climate change, have been key themes in Mr Tharman’s recent speeches, including the one he delivered in March at the China Development Forum in Beijing.

On Wednesday, he made the case that governments need to make their economies more resilient, given that the world is increasingly punctuated by major shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

To do so, they should first improve their own finances and build up resources in good times, he said.

“That’s the first point – we must have a conservative bent in normal times, so we build up resources knowing that we’re going to need them when times go bad,” he said.

But international institutions and MDBs should also work with countries to address long-term global challenges, Mr Tharman said.

“If we leave it to countries to fend for themselves, they will only do what is necessary for their own immediate benefit,” he said.

“This requires collective investment by the MDBs, together with national governments, so that we don’t have a trade-off between national development priorities within a short or medium-term timeframe, and doing our part to support the longer-term global public good.”

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