SINGAPORE (Oct 22): If precedents are anything to go by, China’s meteoric rise as an economic and political superpower can be a boon to Southeast Asia, according to former foreign minister George Yeo.

This is because trade in the region has historically flourished whenever China prospered in the past, he explains.    

“This has always been the case in history. Every time China became united and a dominant power, the prosperity spread all over Southeast Asia,” he says in his keynote speech at the Amundi Singapore Forum 2019: The Future of Southeast Asia on Tuesday.

Yeo points out that China is currently the biggest trading partner with all 10 countries in Asean.

China is also the biggest trading partner with Asean as a whole in the last decade, he notes.

“So really Asean has become China’s most important trading partner. Asean is a major beneficiary of Chinese growth,” he says.

While the trade conflict between the US and China is forcing some countries to pick sides, Yeo says it is important not to sideline the latter.

China’s economy is likely to overtake that of the US and become the world’s largest economy, he says.

He warns that countries that oppose China will miss out on opportunities.

Hence, “they should not fight it, but channel it to their advantage,” he says.

So how should Singapore position itself?

“Being a small city state, we have to have a keen sense of balance. And it is a dynamic balance because the world around us is changing all the time,” he says.

“Sometimes we may lose our balance, we may fall and scrape our knees, but we must quickly pick ourselves up,” he adds.

Yeo also says a strong and unified Asean will be an added advantage.

Still, Singapore should continue to maintain its cordial relationship with the US and other countries, such as India.

“If we do that, then we maximise manoeuvring space that we have. That is no reason why Singapore would not do well in the years to come,” he says.