Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Singapore to play a cross-strait role

By the Liberty Times editorial

Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) was here in Taiwan on a four-day visit last week.

Besides paying a visit to President Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁 at the Presidential Office, he also attended a dinner banquet hosted by the president at the Presidential Residence and visited other government officials as well as American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal.

Lee left Taipei last Tuesday and returned to Singapore. His visit to Taiwan received much media attention here. Chen and Lee reportedly had a very pleasant meeting, during which the two discussed a host of issues related to relationship between Taiwan and Singapore, including enhancement of bilateral cooperation, trade, the future development of Southeast Asia and peace and stability in the cross-strait relationship.

While Lee's visit was unofficial, and thus, the contents of his discussions with Chen were not revealed, a visit from the future leader of Singapore was enough to highlight the solidarity between Taiwan and Singapore.

Despite strong protest by Beijing, Lee was determined to come to Taiwan, which makes the visit that much more significant.

Lee came to this country and met its leaders out of consideration for Singapore's national interests and other issues concerning his power succession.

To Lee, cross-strait tension and polarization may not only endanger peace and stability in Asia, it will also impact the national security of Singapore. Lee came to Taiwan right after his visit to Bei-jing two months ago. Regardless of whether he was here as a messenger of Beijing, the visit shows how much Singapore cares about the cross-strait situation. Many people describe the future leader of Singapore's visit to Beijing, then to Taipei, as a "trip of enlightenment."

Lee will necessarily have to seek an appropriate strategic role in the ever-changing and unpredictable international power structure and the increasingly tense cross-strait situation.

This will enhance Singapore's position in Asia. Lee's trip to either side of the Taiwan Strait was an attempt to understand the views of its leaders in preparation to succeed his father, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀).

It remains to be seen whether Lee came to Taiwan in the role of cross-strait arbitrator or merely a messenger of Beijing. If he does act as an arbitrator, he will be following the path of his father, who traveled back and forth between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, establishing friendships with leaders on both sides, finally ushering in the 1993 meeting in Singapore between officials from the the Straits Exchange Foundation and the PRC's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.

But Lee will have to leverage his diplomacy and play an active role in establishing security and peace -- not to mention maximizing the interests of Singapore.

The main purpose of Lee's trip to Beijing and his recent visit to Taipei was to understand his friends and foes in order to maintain Singapore as an active player in Asia. His diplomatic visits thus far have shown his wisdom. By understanding the cross-strait situation, Lee can offer assistance in bargaining while at the same safeguard the interests of Singapore without being drawn too far into cross-strait issues. Chen would do well to learn from such wisdom, as Taiwan is also a small country in the Asia-Pacific region.

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