Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who stepped down from the cabinet this year following the ruling People’s Action Party’s worst showing in post-independence elections, revealed recently that he considered Taiwan to have been independent since 1989.
Speaking at the recent Singapore Global Dialogue, the 88-year-old prefaced his statement by saying he didn’t “see Taiwan being able to resist the pull of the mainland, with or without American help” and that there would “come a time when the Seventh Fleet cannot intervene because of Chinese aircraft carriers”.
“China has always considered Taiwan as a part of China, and they want China to be reunified,” Lee added. “The fact that Taiwan was independent from 1989 to the present does not make any difference.”
The moderator unfortunately did not query Lee on what exactly he meant, but Taiwanese media, which have since leapt on his statement, say Lee was most probably referring to the year that former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-Hui (李登辉) came to power. (Shanghaiist finds this explanation puzzling because Lee Teng Hui actually came to power in 1988, not 1989.) Lee Teng Hui has frequently been accused of secret support for Taiwanese independence and was expelled from the Kuomintang for helping to establish the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union.
It remains to be seen how the Chinese will react to Lee’s latest remarks. Two years ago, Lee sparked a furore in a trip to Washington when he urged the United States to remain engaged in the Pacific, saying Asia needed the U.S. to “strike a balance” to counter China’s unstoppable rise.
The biggest crisis in Sino-Singapore relations was in 2004, when Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, made a visit to Taiwan prior to becoming Singapore’s third prime minister. The condemnation came swiftly, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue accusing Lee Junior of “hurting the feelings of 1.3 billion Chinese”.
Meetings and business transactions between Singapore and China were reportedly frozen overnight, and swiftly resumed when Lee Hsien Loong reiterated his support of the One China policy and criticised the then DPP government of overestimating public support for their calls for an independent Taiwan. His about-turn led Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, Mark Chen, to infamously describe Singapore as a “nation no bigger than a piece of snot”.
Watch a video report by China Times after the jump…