US and China on collision course, says Singapore leader Lee Hsien Loong

President Joe Biden urged to steer relationship to safer waters

FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2013, file photo, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as they pose for photos at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (AP Photo/Lintao Zhang, Pool, File)
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The US and China are on course for a major clash if both countries refuse to back down from uncompromising positions, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday.

Mr Lee told the World Economic Forum that China “will not collapse like the Soviet Union” and the US should not view the country as a threat.

He urged China to show “greater responsibility” on the world stage so it could be viewed as a legitimate power in the eyes of its detractors.

Earlier, China warned Taiwan that seeking independence "means war". China recently stepped up military activities with warplanes flying near the island.

Three days after US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Chinese military aircraft reportedly simulated missile attacks on a nearby US aircraft carrier during an incursion into Taiwan’s air defence zone.

Mr Lee named deteriorating US-Chinese relations as the most worrying trend on the world stage.

“Both powers have adapted more assertive, uncompromising postures,” he said. “The US now sees China as a strategic rival and challenger to its pre-eminent position. And China is vigorously asserting what it sees as its rightful place in the world.”

But, he said, it was not too late to change course.

“Given the enormous stakes, as difficult as it will be, it cannot possibly be too late for the US and China to reset the tone of their interactions and avert a clash between them, which will become a generational twilight struggle,” Mr Lee said.

“The new US administration has an opportunity to steer the relationship to safer waters. Americans are seeing China as a challenger, almost as a threat. If you see China as a threat, that will be a problem. China is not going to collapse like the Soviet Union did.”

Mr Lee warned certain countries against hijacking vaccine supplies during the global race to immunise people against Covid-19.

epa08972436 Norwegian Borge Brende (L), President and Member of the Managing Board of the World Economic Forum, WEF, looks on as Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong displayed in screens during a videoconference at the Davos Agenda, in Cologny, Switzerland, 29 January 2021. The Davos Agenda, held from 25 to 29 January 2021, is a online edition due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 disease) outbreak gather global leaders to shape the principles, policies and partnerships needed in this challenging new context.  EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos. EPA

The European Union plans to block exports of vaccines that are not legitimate after the bloc's inoculation campaign was thrown into disarray by AstraZeneca's decision to reduce deliveries.

Mr Lee likened the global vaccine struggle to the early days of the pandemic when countries scrambled for PPE supplies.

“It was every man for himself,” he said. “I think we will see the same with vaccines because supplies are short. But if the virus is brewing in other continents, soon enough it will reach your shores by land, air or sea.”