Senior US officials were allegedly told during a private meeting with Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀) that Beijing aims to bring Taiwan into its fold by forging greater economic links and that it did not matter if the process took one or even three decades.
Held in Singapore’s Presidential Palace in May last year, the meeting was attended by US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and former US charge d’affaires Daniel Shields, according to reports of the confidential talks revealed as part of the recent cache of classified US Department of State cables released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.
In the copy of the meeting transcript, Steinberg asked Lee for his assessment on recent political and economic developments between Taiwan and China. Lee, a former prime minister who still holds significant authority in Singapore through his son, the current prime minister, said that what mattered to Beijing was that Taiwan did not declare independence.
“If that happened, China has 1,000 missiles and is building its capacity to hold the US fleet at a distance. The implicit question for Taiwan’s leaders is if that is what they want,” the cable cites Lee as saying.
However, Lee said that Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) does not appear to be in a hurry to unilaterally change the cross-strait status quo, differing from his predecessor, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), who “wanted to show he was a great man by solving the Taiwan issue in his lifetime.”
“Hu is more patient and does not have any fixed timeline,” the cable quoted Lee as saying. “[He] is pragmatic; it does not matter to Hu if it takes 10 years or 20 or 30.”
In the meantime, Lee told the US officials, “Hu could live with [president] Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) positions on the 1992 consensus and on not addressing the reunification issue during his term in office.”
Beijing’s calculation, he added, appeared to be preventing Taiwanese independence in the short term and then “bringing Taiwan ‘back to China’” in the long term.
As examples of Taiwan’s increasing dependence on Beijing, Lee reportedly said that even pan-green farmers in southern Taiwan need China’s market to sell vegetables and other products while Taiwan’s continued participation in the World Health Assembly also relies on approval from Beijing.
“The key is building links with Taiwan. As in the case of Hong Kong, if necessary, the tap could be turned off,” he says in the cable.
The frank assessment comes just two weeks after Lee, 87, met with top Chinese officials in Beijing, including Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is widely expected to succeed Hu when he steps down in 2012. The same cable also includes his views on China, its economy and relations with North Korea.
Lee last visited Taiwan in 2000, following the inauguration of then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).