Why the South China Sea Saga Matters

South China sea
 
The following is a conversation overheard at a coffee shop. The names have been changed to protect the conversationalists' identity but here's the gist of their conversation.
 
Lup Cheong: Ah Johnny. There you are. Come come I want to ask you about something.
 
Johnny: What do you want to talk about this time bro?
 
Lup Cheong: Can you explain to me why should I care about the South China Sea matter? Our Tjeng hu got nothing better to do go and antagonize the PRCs is it?!
 
Johnny: Aiyo. Have you been living under a rock?
 
Lup Cheong: No la... this kind of diplomacy issues always fly over my head one. So tell me, why should are we so kaypoh?! South China Sea is so far away from us and we got no stake in what happens there, so why can't our tjeng hu keep quiet over this matter?
 
Johnny: China is unhappy that we aren't taking their side against Asean and America. China buey song us because we've come out and told them to respect the rule of law after the International Court told them that they've overstepped their bounds.
 
Lup Cheong: Why is rule of law such a big deal to our government?
 
Johnny: Because our very survival as a country depends on everyone in the world respecting the rule of law!
 
Lup Cheong: Huh?!
 
Johnny: PM Lee actually said it best during the National Day rally: “Big powers can insist on their own interests and often do. They do not submit to adjudication by international tribunals, they may not comply with their rulings and China is not the only country to do this and nor is this the first time something like this has happened. Nevertheless, Singapore must support and strive for a rules-based international order. We have to depend on words and treaties. They mean everything to us. We cannot afford to have international relations work on the basis that might is right. If rules do not matter, then small countries like Singapore have no chance of survival.
 
Think about that for a minute. We are a small and rich country. Bigger countries can easily eat us up if they bo chap our sovereignty rights. That's why our tjeng hu is always emphasizing the importance of respecting the rule of law. Just look at how Iraq tried to
 
makan Kuwait during the first Gulf War. That could easily happen to us too if the world was a lawless place.
 
Lup Cheong: Wow. This is some very deep stuff.
 
Johnny: Bro, remember also, that this isn't the first time that China has tried to use coercive tactics on us. It also happened back in 2004 when then DPM Lee Hsien Loong visited Taiwan and the pressure the Chinese applied on us was much more intense during that time. Back then like now, the Chinese used intimidation tactics towards us as an attempt to influence our domestic politics -- just look what they got caught doing in Australia. They know they cannot buy politicians in Singapore, so they try to intimidate Singaporeans, thinking we will do their dirty work and pressure our leaders into complying with China's wishes. The sad part is that China's tactics may actually working on some of us.
 
Lup Cheong: What do you mean it's working?!
 
Johnny: I was at a policy dialog recently to talk about challenges to our country's future. A young guy actually stood up and said that PM Lee stirred shit with China by going for that state dinner at the White House with Obama! The guy actually said that was a massive mistake on our part and insinuated that we should either roll over for the Chinese or mind our own business over the South China Sea matter. Imagine that! There are actually some Singaporeans who think that we shouldn't stick up for our own interests!
 
Lup Cheong: But what about the Chinese threatening to not do business with us? Wouldn't that hurt us in the long run?
 
Johnny: Remember bro, business is not a favour. If the Chinese did not think they aren't going to make money with us, then not even the most favourable position on the South China Sea is going to make them do business with you. The South China Sea saga will blow over sooner or later. We just need to remain united in the meantime and stick to our principles. The Chinese might not like what we're doing but they'll eventually have to acknowledge that we are a nation of principles.

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