Lee Hsien Loong’s critical remarks worth noting

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Editorial

In his National Day Rally speech, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong criticized Taiwan’s political parties and its media. The criticisms sounded unpleasant to some people on this island. A few politicians affiliated with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have reacted vehemently to Lee’s remarks. But, the Singaporean leader’s views are on the whole objective and sensible. Lee said Taiwan’s political parties were preoccupied with domestic politics and its press was a free-wheeling and parochial lot which thrived on juicy news and speculation. One cannot agree more with these observations.

Lee recently took a trip to Taiwan to meet with government officials on the island. The journey angered Beijing, which said it damaged “China’s core interests and the political foundation for Chinese-Singaporean relations.” Lee’s statement that Taiwan’s political parties are obsessed with politics is undoubtedly true. This view is similar to a comment made by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei about two months ago. The ruling DPP has done little since it took power as the ruling party to improve the economic performance of the country. What the party is concerned about are mainly political issues such as elections and the amendment of the Constitution. And, as Lee remarked in his speech, the opposition Kuomintang and People First Party have focused their attention on how to overturn the results of the presidential election. As a result, they have neglected the more important issue of consolidating the opposition forces to create a more effective curb on the abuse of power by the ruling party. Lee’s criticism of Taiwan’s media is to a large extent valid. Democratization of the island has led to the removal of all restrictions on the press that formerly existed. Yet some media organizations, abusing freedom of the press, often print stories based on speculation and or unfounded rumors either to increase circulation or swing public opinion. Sensationalism is common in the media these days. Almost all TV stations as well as newspapers, to lift their audience ratings, seldom hesitate to pepper their reports with offensive images.

Noteworthy also is Lee’s comment that Singapore cannot support Taiwan if it provokes a war with mainland China. “If a war breaks out across the (Taiwan) strait,” Lee said in the speech, “we will be forced to choose between the two sides.”

“As a friend of both sides,” he added, “any decision is going to be painful, but if the conflict is provoked by Taiwan, then Singapore cannot support Taiwan.” The Presidential Office here has reacted to Lee’s remarks in a largely modest, peaceful tone. Su Tseng-chang, secretary-general to the president, said that Lee’s remarks “were his overall observation of Taiwan’s society and political parties.” Lee’s comments, Su said, are “straightforward remarks from a good friend.” But Su argued it was impossible for Taipei to start a military conflict with Beijing. Su said that President Chen Shui-bian clearly said in his inaugural speech on May 20 that, in revising the Constitution, the issues of sovereignty, territory and independence or unification would not be touched on. Taiwan has handled cross-strait relations with goodwill and pragmatism while the mainland continues its saber-rattling and military threats against Taiwan, Su added. These reassurances sound pleasant but cannot all at once dispel the doubts of watchful political observers. Although the Chen administration may not abruptly change the status of Taiwan into that of an independent state, it is pursuing the goal of achieving statehood in a gradual, step-by-step manner. If this process continues, war in the Taiwan Strait will eventually be inevitable. The Singaporean leader, like his father Lee Kuang Yew, is an astute statesman. His criticism of Taiwan should be taken as the advice of a good friend by the government and people here.