SINGAPORE: How the United States and China work out their tensions and frictions will define the international environment for decades to come, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pix) said yesterday.

“It is natural that the two countries are vying for power and influence, but competition should not inevitably lead to conflict.

“We hope the US and China find a constructive way forward, competing certainly, but at the same time cooperating on major issues of mutual interest,” he said in his keynote address at the 18th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue here.

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu is leading a delegation for the second time to the three-day Asian defence summit which will end Sunday.

According to Lee, some people argue that compromise is not possible or perhaps even desirable, because the US and China hold such different values.

Indeed, he said, one US official recently defined the clash with China as “a fight with a really different civilisation and a different ideology”.

Others observe that the US is a young country that wants everyone to be like it, while China is an old country that believes no one else can be like it, he said.

Lee noted that to expect every country to adopt the same cultural values and political system is neither reasonable nor realistic.

“In fact, humankind’s diversity is its strength. There is much we can learn from one another, from the differences in our values, perspectives, systems, and policies.

“The story of humankind’s progress has been one of exchange of ideas, and continuous learning and adaptation,” said the Prime Minister.

Citing a quote from Henry Kissinger last year, Lee said: “We are in a very, very grave period for the world.”

“No one can predict which way events will develop. At different times in the last two centuries, Southeast Asia has seen rivalry between great powers.

“It has experienced destruction and suffering from war and occupation. It has been divided into opposing camps. It has seen how isolation from the world economy led to stagnation and sometimes conflict.

“At other times, it has benefited from international cooperation that created an open, stable environment where countries could prosper in peace,” he said.

On a long view, Lee noted that “we cannot rule out any of these eventualities.”

But he said “in our own generation, we must work together to maximise the chances that countries will have the wisdom and courage to make the right choices, opt for openness and integration, peace and cooperation, and so preserve and expand the progress which we have made together.” — Bernama