Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou flew to Singapore on Tuesday, a day after the death of the city-state’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, to pay respects and to offer his condolences to the Lee family, it has emerged.
The Taiwanese military deployed an E-2K, a US-made early warning aircraft, an F-16, as well as a Mirage 2000 jet fighter for the protection of the president as he made his way to Singapore on a China Airlines flight on the low-key visit, according to the Apple Daily.
Singapore’s week-long national mourning period culminates in an invitation-only state funeral to be held this Sunday, which Ma is not expected to attend.
Earlier, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying hinted that an official invitation to Taiwan would not be welcome by saying that Lee had “always upheld a One China policy while he was alive”. “We believe that the Singapore side will act in accordance with the One China principle carefully and appropriately deal with the relevant issue related to Taiwan,” she said at a press conference.
Prior speculation that president Xi Jinping would be present at Sunday’s funeral did not come to fruition. The Foreign Ministry has announced that vice president Li Yuanchao will be representing China at the funeral, now shaping up to be a gathering of some of the world’s most powerful leaders.
Japan’s Shinzo Abe, India’s Narendra Modi, South Korea’s Park Geun Hye, Australia’s Tony Abbott, and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo will be present at the funeral, as will Myanmar’s Thein Sein, Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha, Cambodia’s Hun Sen, Vietnam’s Nguyen Tan Dung, and Abdul Halim, the King of Malaysia. Former US president Bill Clinton is leading an American delegation that includes Henry Kissinger, an old friend of Lee Kuan Yew. The United Kingdom will be represented by its First Secretary of State William Hague.
In related news, former Taiwan president and Kuomintang chairman Lee Teng-hui has remarked that Singapore is set to undergo a systemic change in its politics with the demise of Lee Kuan Yew.
“If I pass away, Taiwanese democracy will survive. But with the passing away of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s system may not survive,” said Lee Teng-hui during a door-stop interview on Tuesday. “I’m for democracy, he’s for ‘Asian values’, that is, one emperor on top with a finger in every pie, and his family members all involved in politics, as you saw in China’s 5,000 years of history.”
“He’s my good friend, we’re about the same age, but where we differ is that he leans towards China, and I don’t. Taiwan needs to stand up on its own, that is my viewpoint,” added Lee Teng-hui. “Throughout Taiwan’s 400 years of history, we’ve been lorded over by others. It’s a pitiful society and it just breaks my heart. Once upon a time, the Japanese were our masters, now the Kuomintang are our masters. What do they take the people of Taiwan for, we’re their slaves, that’s what it is.”
In 1990, Singapore became the last country in Southeast Asia to switch diplomatic ties from the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China. The Singapore Armed Forces, however, continues to conduct large-scale military exercises and operate its own military bases in Taiwan, despite China’s multiple offers to land-scarce Singapore to shift training facilities to Hainan. These military relations date back to the 1970s when Taiwan was still under the rule of Chiang Ching-kuo.
Walking a tightrope between China and Taiwan, Singapore’s relationship with both sides of the straits has encountered several hiccups over the years. When Lee Hsien Loong made a visit to Taiwan in 2004 just before taking over as the prime minister of Singapore, China accused him of “hurting the feelings of 1.3 billion Chinese” and froze meetings and business deals with Singapore overnight.
To mend ties with China, Lee used his maiden National Day Rally speech to warn Taiwan, then under the Democratic Progressive Party, against pressing for independence.
The remarks were not well-received by Taiwan’s then foreign minister Mark Chen. “Even Singapore, a country the size of a piece of snot, can swagger around to criticise Taiwan at the United Nations,” he famously remarked. “It was nothing but an effort to embrace China’s ‘balls’, forgive me for using such a word.”