Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Singapore's role in cross-strait ties

Impervious to pressure from Beijing, Singaporean

Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) is

visiting Taiwan this week in a private capacity prior to officially taking up his appointment as prime minister next month.

Despite the low profile of the visit and the secrecy surrounding his schedule, the media nonetheless caught the pomp and ceremony extended by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and members of his government to the young national leader. The visit not only benefits Lee's personal reputation, but also substantially promotes the relationship between Singapore and Taiwan. This visit is a masterly diplomatic move.

Building a positive communication channel between the leaders of Taiwan and Singapore is obviously what is expected by the international community and the people of the two countries. Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), the father of Lee Hsien Loong, during his term as prime minister and since his retirement has maintained an active commitment to cross-strait and East Asian affairs. Moreover, Lee Kuan Yew's hard work for Singapore's prosperity has earned him recognition and respect in the international community.

But in the 1990s, in the face of a growing Chinese economy and the active democratic reforms in Taiwan, the older Lee proposed strengthening regional cooperation in order to develop the Chinese market. To this end, he made several speeches unfavorable to the rise of an awareness of national sovereignty in Taiwan. This had the obvious effect of changing the relationship between the leaders of Singapore and Taiwan. The move also cost Lee the role of a special envoy between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Nevertheless, the older Lee retained his political insight. Shortly after Chen was elected Taipei mayor in 1994, Lee enthusiastically and repeatedly invited Chen to visit Singapore and built close private relations with him. Although former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) often criticized his Singaporean counterpart for his differing political views, Chen rolled out the red carpet for Lee Kuan Yew after winning the 2000 election. Invited to Singapore by the Lee family, former Taipei County commissioner Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) secretly visited the city state in May before he assumed the post of the secretary-general at the Presidential Office.

Right after the younger Lee's visit to China last month, he came to Taiwan and met the leaders of both the government and opposition camps, as well as American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director Douglas Paal. He was well received in every respect and successfully boosted his international image. The Singaporean government's diplomatic maneuver and its sophisticated efforts to maintain cross-strait relations are self-evident.

Taiwan-Singapore relations are founded largely on trade and discussions surrounding a free trade agreement between the two countries, cooperation on security issues and the degree of Singapore's involvement in regional affairs. All of this will take place in private, out of the ceremonial limelight.

As for any breakthrough on cross-strait relations, we hope that Lee Hsien Loong will seek to understand Taiwan with even greater sincerity and convey what he has learned about Taiwan to the authorities in Beijing.

As a reasonable man and spokesman for Taiwan, he will be able to help reduce the possibility of a misunderstanding between the two sides. But our expectations for this soon-to-be prime minister should not be raised too high. Even though Singapore has played a role in cross-strait relations, the resumption of cross-strait dialogue will depend entirely on Beijing's attitude.

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