Singapore and the Sea of Discontent


Southeast Asia is home to roughly 630 million people, who combined produce a GDP of around 2.4 trillion dollars. It is also a region beset with complicated territorial squabbles, stemming from border to sea-lane disputes. There are many fault lines in this region, and none are more volatile than the South China Sea, a misnomer by some accounts but also a fragile zone of conflict on the precipice of conflict.

As an economic and military juggernaut, China is beginning to realize the challenges it faces in the 21st century. One is energy and the other is territory, hence when 80 percent of Chinese oil imports flow through the Strait of Malacca and into the South China Sea, and when competing nations contest the nine-dashed line, it is clear that China will, short of naval warfare, do everything in its power to establish dominance in a region contested by other naval powers.

Singapore is economically tied to the boom in China, and diplomatically associated with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). At present, Singapore is not heeding the maxim si vis pacem para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war). In short, Singapore’s foreign policy initiatives are based on a simplistic calculation that the cost of war in the region will exceed any gains, which it believes would deter any nation from initiating hostilities. It is a dangerous assumption.

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