No country can avoid engaging with both the US and China, Bilahari Kausikan said

India will find it easier to navigate the emerging world order, veteran Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan feels.

Delivering the 3rd Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture Singapore's former Foreign Secretary expressed the belief that the US and China will remain at the center of the international order.

But they will also compete robustly with each other, leading to tensions in the world, he added. According to him, international relationships will become more complicated as countries grapple with political and economic considerations that pull them in different directions. "What I believe is emerging is an order of dynamic multipolarity," he pointed out.

Kausikan, who is currently Chairman, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, was speaking on the topic 'The Future of Global Uncertainty'. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar presided over the event.

The former Singapore Foreign Secretary explained that shifting combinations of regional middle powers and smaller countries will continually arrange and rearrange themselves in variegated and overlapping patterns along the central axis of US-China relations.

"We will have to learn to think of concepts like ‘order’ and its corollary ‘balance’, ‘equilibrium’ and even ‘stability’ in dynamic rather than static terms. To successfully navigate this emerging system will require a fundamental shift or mind-set and approach that not every country will find comfortable," he stated.

It is here that countries like India, and Singapore, have an advantage over the others given their ability to deal with numerous geopolitical actors, the former Singapore Foreign Secretary opined.

"To successfully navigate this emerging system will require a fundamental shift or mind-set and approach that not every country will find comfortable. I believe that India and Singapore may find it relatively easier than most, because what is required is largely already our diplomatic modus operandi," he argued.

According to Kausikan, no country can avoid engaging with both the US and China, since dealing with both simultaneously is a necessary condition for dealing effectively with either. "Without the US, there can be no balance to China anywhere. And without engagement with China, the US may well take us for granted," he remarked during the course of the lecture.

He used the occasion to drive home the point that competition was an inherent characteristic of relations among sovereign states, never entirely absent at some level of intensity in all the international relationships.

Kausikan also explained that the conflict between the West and Russia over Ukraine that led to the annexation of Crimea, and the present war arose because of differences of values or interests.

"Every country has its own values, which are still of interest to them, even if you find them abhorrent, and you will have to deal with them, whether by diplomacy or deterrence. The West and Europe in particular, confuse posture for policy and feeling virtuous for action. Nothing really effective was done about Crimea until it was too late to stop the current war," he pointed out.

During the course of the lecture, the veteran Singaporean diplomat described as an "illusion" the idea that as China reformed and opened up economically, its political system would move in a relatively more open direction.

"We owe President Xi Jinping a vote of thanks for making it clear to all except the terminally naive, that the purpose of reform in a Leninist system is always and only to strengthen and entrench the power of the vanguard party. Similarly, the US and Europe ought to thank Mr. Putin for inadvertently rescuing and revitalizing the idea of the West," Kausikan remarked.

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture series is organized by the Ministry of External Affairs as a tribute to late Prime Minister Vajpayee who contributed immensely to crafting India’s Foreign Policy both as External Affairs Minister and as Prime Minister.