Lee Hsien Loong’s trouble

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Editorial

Singapore’s incoming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, after waiting in the wings for more than a decade, is eager to show that he is a real Dragon (Loong means dragon) when he takes office early next month.

But his auspicious start has been marred by a controversial trip to Taiwan, a journey he insists was “private and unofficial.” Beijing, however, does not see eye to eye. Mainland China views it as a move that has damaged the country’s “core interest” and reacted with a series of protests, including the cancellation of scheduled visit to Singapore by high-ranking officials, including People’s Bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan. The more ominous protest could be the cancellation of an FTA (free trade agreement) talk between the two countries, scheduled for November. Singapore, one of the four Asian Dragons, thrives on trade and is in the process of negotiating FTA with a number of neighboring countries. Zhang Yun, the mainland’s ambassador to Singapore, told a vernacular newspaper in Singapore that Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to Taiwan, during which he met with President Chen Shui-bian, has sent “a wrong signal” to the world. “I was shocked, confused and disappointed by the visit,” he was quoted as saying. It is unclear as to why Lee Hsien Loong had decided to ignore Beijing’s repeated opposition to the visit, because his father Lee Kwan Yew, founder of the city state and a world-class statesman, maintains cordial relations with leaders of both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Maybe the new Dragon is willing to demonstrate his independence and a new style of leadership. It remains to be seen how he will repair the damage to the ties between the two countries. It is interesting to note that Beijing admires Singapore’s political system under which one party, the PAP (People’s Action Party), has ruled the state since its founding. Singapore’s not-too-free press is also praised by Beijing as a good model. Now the coziness is damaged. The future prime minister of Singapore will have to make things up when he succeeds Goh Chok Tong as prime minister on Aug. 2.