Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 8 News List


Singapore's inclusiveness

As a Singaporean, I applaud the recent "unofficial" visit to Taiwan by Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong(李顯龍) to see his personal friends ("Singaporean ties boosted," Wednesday, July 14, 2004, Page 1).

However, I was taken aback by China's reaction to Lee's "unofficial and private" trip to Taiwan. For whatever reason, the Chinese authorities came to conclude that such a private visit denotes that Singapore was no longer adhering to the "one China" policy. In my personal opinion, that conclusion is as absurd, as is the threat that "Singapore will have to bear all the consequences of the visit."

First of all, China has to recognize that like itself, Singapore is a sovereign country. As tiny as the island of Singapore may be, surely Singaporean leaders and citizens are free to visit any country on social visits or for holidays. The Chinese authorities should also realize that threats of "consequences" will only lead to problems instead of solutions. China's foreign ministry spokesman said: "Lee Hsien Loong has been in the upper echelons of the Singaporean government for many years. Hence his status does not change during an "unofficial and private visit."

Regardless of who visits Taipei, Chinese authorities ought to accept the reality that politicians in Taiwan do have personal friends. The key issue here is that these friends are not accorded the usual official diplomatic or red-carpet treatment, which is usually reserved for the leaders of Taiwan's official diplomatic allies. China must not read too deeply into such visits from leaders from other countries, whether it is by a former vice president of the US or the future prime minister of Singapore. In view of the global challenges facing us today, be it in the fight against terrorism or economic and trade issues, all countries have to tailor their policies and priorities according to their best interests. And Singapore is no different.

Singaporeans and Chinese people have to accept the reality that Singapore's strong and firm relationship with China does not insinuate that we should cease to maintain friendships with other countries. China may well argue that Taiwan is part of China, but Lee has never declared or acknowledged Taiwan as being independent. Where then is the basis to claim that the private visit constitutes a "serious violation of the Singaporean government's commitment to the `one China' policy?"

Personally, I believe it is due time for one of Singapore's senior leaders to visit Taiwan, even if it is on a private visit. As it is, Singapore has military personnel training in Taiwan and also has a trade representative office in Taipei. Just as Singapore has much to gain from the various exchanges with China, I am certain that a similar approach with the Taiwanese would serve us well. I visited Taipei in May, almost eight years after my previous visit. I am amazed at how much the Taiwanese society has improved. During his visit, Lee also met older-generation politicians such as KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and politicians of the younger generation, such as President Chen Shui-bian(陳水扁), Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the up-and-coming Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌). Perhaps China might be worried that a firm Singapore-Taiwan relationship would result in a scenario where Singapore loses focus and priority on Sino-Singapore relations. China should be reassured that the city-state has different objectives in its relationships with both China and Taiwan.

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