The eagle, the lion and the dragon: Singapore's future in the age of Trump

Updated 8:21 PM ET, Tue August 8, 2017

(CNN)Caught between an ascendent China and an increasingly unreliable United States, Singapore's diplomatic future is at the heart of a debate on who really calls the shots in Asia.

The Lion City has historically had strong relations with both countries, an ally in Asia for Washington during the Cold War and one of China's first partners in their efforts to modernize their economy.
Over the years Singapore has been very good at picking "the middle path" between the two superpowers, analysts tell CNN, balancing their positive relationships with both America and China.
But as new US President Donald Trump's attention drifts and Chinese leader Xi Jinping grows more powerful, Singapore finds itself in a tenuous position.
"If anyone can do this balancing act, Singapore can," Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King's College London, told CNN.
"If Singapore can't, no one can."

The mouse who roared

Just seven years ago it seemed like Singapore's path was stable and secure.
"We are in Asia; Asia is booming," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview in 2010.
"China is a big story and a major trading partner for us, but China is not the whole story ... America plays a role in Asia which China cannot replace, and nobody can replace."
Singapore, which marks its National Day August 9, is politically and geographically unique.
The South East Asian nation, which is home to a majority ethnic Chinese population, is the only country in the world to have both English and Mandarin among its official languages.
With a population of five million, the Lion City is also a international financial hub and a fiercely free market.
As its neighbors have succumbed to successive waves of political and financial turmoil, Singapore has remained prosperous and stable.
"It's a bridge between the West and the East," Wang Yiwei, professor at the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China said.
Singapore sits on one of the world's most valuable trade routes, the Straits of Malacca, through which a huge portion of Asia's oil flows every day. The former British colony is today one of the one of the richest countries in the world, in terms of GDP per capita.
In 2015, hundreds of billions of dollars in exports and imports poured through Singapore's teeming waterways, consistently the second busiest container port in the world after Shanghai.
Politically, Singapore regularly punches above its weight. The city state was a founding member of ASEAN, the powerful grouping of south-east Asian nations including Indonesia and the Philippines, and since 2010 has often been invited to participate in G20 events.
CNN contacted Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan for this story but he didn't respond to a request for comment.

Powerful friends

The country's power doesn't just come from its wealth but also from the powerful friendships it has made with the world's two largest superpowers.
Singapore has close historic and military ties to the United States, forged during the Cold War when former leader Lee Kuan Yew took a firm stand against communism in South East Asia.
"When the United States was fighting the Vietnam war, Singapore offered a place for US troops to come for their vacation, sometimes dock their ships and refuel their aircraft," Chong Ja Ian, associate professor at National University of Singapore's Department of Political Science, said.
Today, it hosts a US air and naval presence, including the Littoral Combat ship USS Coronado, and more than 1,000 active duty and civilian personnel, who provide repairs and resupply to members of the US's 7th Fleet.
US President Donald Trump and Singapore Prime Minister Lee meet at the G20 Summit in Germany, July 8.
Despite Lee's firm stance against communism, Singapore was also quick to embrace China once it began to open up economically in the 1980s under then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
"Singapore seized the opportunity for working with the Chinese ... in terms of friendship it blossomed very quickly, not just because of of the economic opportunities but linguistic similarities that made it a bit easier for them to enter the Chinese market earlier," Chong said.
In 2015, China's Xi demonstrated how highly Singapore sat in Beijing's estimation when he held a landmark meeting with then President of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou in the city.
The tactic paid off: China and the United States are today two of Singapore's largest trading partners, according to UN numbers.
A full quarter of Singapore's exports, about $60 billion, are destined for China and Hong Kong while $30 billion of its imports flood in from the United States.
Wang said Singapore is also an important hub for two of China's major political and economic initiatives in the region -- the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Xi's One Belt One Road global investment strategy.
"It's very natural ... Singapore is a very important international trade and finance center not only in China but also for other countries (in the region)," he said.
But in the past year, amid the rise of both Trump and an assertive Beijing, Singapore's position has become less simple.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with prime minster Lee during the G20 at Hangzhou in 2016.