Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Future Singaporean PM building bridges: experts

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Singaporean Deputy Prime Min-ister Lee Hsien Loong's (李顯龍) visit to Taiwan marks the government's efforts to break through China's diplomatic barricade to reach Southeast Asian nations experiencing leadership changes, analysts said yesterday.

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Lee was making a "private and unofficial visit to Taiwan to meet with friends he last saw in 1992." However, the government's reception of Lee was on a level with that given to any heads of state who have visited the country, observers said.

Lee, who has been appointed by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party to succeed Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟) as prime minister next month, was greeted by Presidential Office Secretary-General Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) when he arrived at CKS International Airport, where hundreds of police were deployed to protect Lee.

Singapore maintains good ties with China. Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi (吳儀) had invited Lee to visit China from May 12 to 17. After Lee's arrival here, China's Foreign Ministry quickly unleashed a characteristic volley of rhetoric, expressing "strong dissatisfaction" with his trip.

"The Singaporean side should take full responsibility for what results from this event," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) said in a statement released on Sunday.

One of the reasons Lee risked China's displeasure to visit Taiwan, said Lin Wen-cheng (林文程), a former senior advisor to the National Security Council, is to boost Singapore's military co-operation with Taiwan.

In the military co-operation program known as Operation Hsing Kuang (Starlight), Taiwan provides training venues for Singaporean artillery, armored vehicles and infantry units.

Singapore has operated several training camps in Taiwan under the Starlight program. In 2001, China offered to provide Singapore with facilities on Hainan Island as part of its efforts to sabotage Singapore's longstanding military links with Taiwan.

The London-based Jane's Defence Weekly said at that time that Singapore was reluctant to accept the offer for fear of changing its existing arrangement with Tai-wan, adding that Singapore's "conservative leadership would be disinclined to widely expose their regular troops to Mainland China influences."

Lin said that Singapore chose to officially side with China rather than Taiwan for the sake of its national interest. But Singapore, as a nation opposed to communism, "remains very vigilant to China's influence," he added.

The city-state plays a special role in cross-strait relations, Lin said. In 1993, Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) met China's top negotiator with Taiwan, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Wang Daohan (汪道涵), in Singapore. This historic occasion later became known as the Koo-Wang talks.

Lee is the son of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), who used to be a mediator between China and Taiwan and is a good friend of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).

"Lee Kuan Yew's friendship with Lee Teng-hui made it impossible for him to keep playing the role of cross-strait mediator," Lin said.

Considering Lee Kuan Yew's history of passing messages between Taiwan and China, speculation has been rife since Lee Hsien Loong arrived on Saturday about whether he was also carrying messages from Beijing.

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