SINGAPORE – It is better that Asia’s security arrangements remain in their current configuration, rather than having countries divided into blocs, or forming an Asian equivalent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (May 20).
He was speaking with Japanese media group Nikkei ahead of its International Conference on the Future of Asia, which he is due to attend this week in Tokyo.
In an interview published by Nikkei on Monday (May 23), PM Lee had been asked about the military balance in Asia, and whether a collective security framework in the region, similar to Nato, is necessary.
In response, he said that Europe – where a majority of Nato’s member states are from – has a different history from Asia.
In Europe, Nato brought together the Western countries against the members of the Warsaw Pact, also known as the Soviet bloc.
PM Lee noted that after the Soviet bloc collapsed and the Soviet Union broke up, Nato continued to exist and is now dealing with a perceived threat from Russia, which is a similar situation as during the Cold War, but not quite the same.
He added that in Asia, there was never a grouping which was the equivalent of Nato.
Instead, many countries in the region enjoy good ties with China as well as with the United States and its treaty allies.
Some, like Japan, South Korea and Australia, are US treaty allies themselves, and many more are not, but are friends of the US, like Singapore, which is a major security cooperation partner, said PM Lee.
He added: “But even many of the allies maintain important relations with China. So I think that that is a better configuration than one where countries are divided along a line and one bloc confronts another.
“That is the history in Europe, but it has not been the history in Asia. And I think it is better that it remains not.”
Asked what must be done to maintain a rules-based order, given the current global situation, PM Lee said it is a good sign that the United Nations (UN) General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.
But it is also important for countries to uphold existing international frameworks, such as the UN, as well as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.
“These are frameworks which enable all countries to work together even if we have differences and disagreements and even conflicts with one another.
“If you remove that, or undermine that, then you are back to the law of the jungle.
“In the law of the jungle, it is not only the weak who will suffer. Even the strong will have a rough time, because you will be spending all your time fighting one another and dissipating valuable energies,” cautioned PM Lee.