Singapore might be the smallest member country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), but it certainly is one of the most powerful when it comes to military and economy. The death of the country’s founding father, Lee Kwan Yew, caused a period of insecurity, but Singapore is getting its momentum back once again.
Singapore’s political influence and capability
Aside from having a huge military budget, people are volunteering in the military in Singapore. Being an industrial country with no agriculture sector, the country is successful economically.
Military and economic capability explains the country’s great influence over countries inside and outside the association. The country’s land, air, and naval forces surpass that of its larger ASEAN neighbors (i.e. Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia).
These two factors, along with its neutral relationship with most countries in the world, make Singapore a perfect middleman, a role it has always played between China and the US. Now, it is doing so between some of its fellow ASEAN neighbors and China.
Caught in between ASEAN and China
Ethnically, people with a Chinese and Malay descent inhabit Singapore, making it the perfect candidate to chair the ASEAN-China relations. Countries involved have met to discuss the issue regarding the South China Sea and the ruling of the United Nations Tribunal.
In order to perfectly balance its role as a nation with good relations towards China while at the same time assuming its responsibility as a regional coordinator, Singaporean leaders have carefully chosen which meetings to attend, and which not to.
This allowed the country to get the messages of the regional bloc across the sleeping giant without risking its national relations with it.
Tensions will increase even more in the coming months and years. As long as the South China Sea issue is not resolved, Singapore will continue to be in a difficult position.