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South China Sea tensions shake trade and investment confidence, affect regional prosperity: PM Lee

Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 19:01

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THE impact of South China Sea tensions cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but they have a very real impact on trade and investments - key fundamentals of South-east Asian nations' - and China's - prosperity, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday.

THE impact of South China Sea tensions cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but they have a very real impact on trade and investments - key fundamentals of South-east Asian nations' - and China's - prosperity, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday.

However, it will be hard to change each country's position over these waters, so careful consideration must thus be taken to resolve these maritime disputes, Mr Lee added in his comments to Singapore media present in the Laotian capital of Vientiane.

Speaking on Thursday afternoon as the three-day 28th and 29th Asean summits in Vientiane drew to a close, Mr Lee noted that South China Sea tensions had affected the region's atmosphere of peace, calm and confidence, which have been vital to South-east Asia's progress.

"The region has prospered because there has been peace, because the countries have worked together cooperatively, because we have deepened our interdependence on trade and our investments," said Mr Lee.

"Even (Chinese) Premier Li Keqiang said today that China needs a peaceful and stable environment because China is a developing country," he added.

Thus, all parties should try to mitigate these risks, because for investors "it's one of those situations where you don't feel that it is good, but neither can you say 'I can count how many dollars it has cost me. It's a minus for me, I know it'."

Mr Lee's comments came a day after leaders of the 10 Asean countries - including Mr Lee - shelved aside in official documents any mention of an international ruling that saw China's claims over large swathes of the South China Sea had no legal basis.

Instead, they had agreed with China on ways to dial down tensions over these waters.

But even as the regional neighbours avoided open conflict for now, Mr Lee does not see the issue fading out soon. This is because how each state views the South China Sea is intricately tied to their world view.

"I don't think that differences in perspectives on the South China Sea can easily be overcome, because they are fundamental to the strategic situations that the countries are in," he said. "These are realities of international relations, and we have to navigate and find our position, find our way through such an unpredictable world."

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