Singapore’s Lee meets with Taiwan leaders to enhance ties

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Staff and Agencies

Visiting Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held a meeting with President Chen Shui-bian and the two also dined together yesterday. Both sides declined to reveal contents of the bilateral talks. Accorded with protocols for a chief of state, Lee stayed at the Presidential Office for an hour before heading for lunch with opposition Kuomintang leader Lien Chan. A smiling Lee waved to reporters after the lunch, but did not answer any questions. His trip, described as a private and informal visit, has been shrouded in secrecy since his arrival on Saturday.

“Taiwan and Singapore have had a good relationship and we hope to maintain these relations in the future,” Lien told reporters. Lien described Lee as a good old friend. The meeting focused primarily on economic and trade issues, said Lien, a former vice president who lost the presidential election in March by a razor-thin margin.

Also present at the luncheon were Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng, Taichung City Mayor Jason Hu, Taoyuan County Magistrate Eric Chu and Yulon Motor Group CEO Kenneth K.T. Yen.

Wang said no political issues were brought up during the lunch meeting.

“The conversations focused on Taiwan’s economic development, such as the investment conditions in industrial parks in Taichung and Taoyuan areas as well as small- and medium-size enterprises on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait,” Wang said.

As Singapore is a multi-racial city-state, Wang said, ethnic topics were also discussed during the luncheon.

Lien’s aides said Lien and Lee held a 50-minute closed-door meeting before the luncheon.

Local evening papers said Lee will also meet with Douglas Paal, director of the Taipei Office of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), before wrapping up his Taipei visit Tuesday. The AIT represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

The Presidential Office declined to confirm or deny Lee’s meeting with Chen. The foreign ministry also declined comment, since Lee is making the trip as a low-profile private visit.

Analysts said Chen and Lee should have focused talks on the further strengthening of existing bilateral cooperative programs, the promotion of bilateral trade, developments in cross-Taiwan Strait relations as well as the general Southeast Asian situation. Some legislators in Taiwan have speculated that Lee might be carrying a message from Beijing to Taipei, since he had met both Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao in May.

Lee’s father, modern Singapore’s founder, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, maintains close ties with both sides of the Taiwan Strait and hosted ice breaking talks between Taiwan and China in Singapore in 1993.

But some analysts said China’s strong condemnation of the visit meant it was unlikely that the younger Lee was a Beijing-endorsed messenger.

“I don’t think he is conveying a message from Beijing…but to some extent, he will reflect China’s views too since he was just there,” said George Tsai, analyst at Taiwan’s Institute of International Relations.

China’s Foreign Ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction” on Sunday over Lee’s visit and told the Southeast Asian island it should be prepared to suffer any consequences that could arise.

Beijing protests against any countries having dealings with Taiwan and is particularly suspicious of President Chen, who narrowly won a second term in a controversial election in March on a campaign centered on provocative claim concerning Taiwan independence. Accompanied by Singapore Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean, Lee called on Taiwan’s defense ministry later in the day. He had a 25-minute talk with Minister Lee Jye. Defense ministry spokesman Huang Suey-sheng said the Singapore leader’s visit was a courtesy call. He declined to reveal what the two Lees talked about, but said that they are old friends.

Taiwan has been helping Singapore train some of its troops since 1975.