Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Singaporean ties boosted

DIPLOMATIC SPURT The future Singaporean prime minister's visit was hailed as a tremendous success by officials, though what was discussed is unknown

By Lin Chieh-yu and Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTERS , WITH BLOOMBERG

The Presidential Office yesterday said that the four-day visit of Singaporean Deputy Prime Min-ister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) is testament to the two countries' strengthening friendship.

A senior official, speaking to the Taipei Times on condition of anonymity, added that the government had worked hard to impress its guest.

"The visit should be thought of as a trip of `understanding' for Mr. Lee before he is inaugurated as Singapore's next prime minister," the official said.

"The visit was proposed by the Singaporean government and we gladly embraced the opportunity to arrange a top-level reception and provide full assistance in meeting Mr. Lee's expectations [of meetings with high-level figures]," the official said.

The official said that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Lee had a comprehensive discussion "with no restrictions." Lee was said to have been closely concerned with Taiwan's domestic situation, bilateral cooperation, the cross-strait relationship and regional security.

"However, Lee demonstrated caution when touching on cross-strait and diplomatic matters. He was most certainly not serving as a negotiator between [Taiwan and China] and did not deliver a message from Beijing," the official said.

The official also stressed that although Chen and Lee vowed to strengthen trade and military ties, no new agreements were reached during the meeting.

"President Chen met Lee at the Presidential Office, where Lee's father -- former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀) -- had never been, and then the president hosted a dinner at his residence in honor of Lee, in a show that Chen and Lee were good and old friends," a presidential aide said.

Before leaving the country yesterday afternoon, Lee met American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Paal and Lee met privately for an hour and did not respond to media questions about what they had discussed. For his part, Ma said he was glad to meet an old friend but also declined to reveal the contents of their meeting.

Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) said yesterday that Taiwan is eager to boost ties with Singapore.

"We will negotiate with Singapore on signing a free trade agreement," he said.

Before receiving leaders of 39 technical missions serving in allied and other countries, Mark Chen told reporters he did not discuss cross-strait affairs with Lee.

Mark Chen, Presidential Office Secretary-General Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and National Security Council Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) also attended the dinner at Chen Shui-bian's residence.

Mark Chen was tight-lipped about the issues discussed during the dinner. Asked of his personal impression of Lee, he replied: "He is a handsome man."

Mark Chen declined to confirm if it was Singapore that first proposed Lee's trip.

Meanwhile, Singaporean officials yesterday said China's central bank chief has canceled a visit to Singapore.

The governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川), had been scheduled to deliver a lecture today at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the city-state's de facto central bank.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore would not say why Zhou had called off his lecture, a spokeswoman told AFP yesterday.

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