By Jiawei Liu
“Beijing residents joke that to get a free smoke all they have to do is open their windows,” said Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, in an after-dinner speech to US businessmen this week.
Lee also joked, “(In) Shanghai, if you want some pork soup, you just turn on the tap.”
Lee’s jokes did not only cover China issues, he displayed a sense of humour which hadn’t been apparent on previous trips abroad, and would be an anathema to his Chinese counterparts.
Lee also met with President Barack Obama later in his trip.
According to the Boston Herald:
He spoke about the challenges facing China as it emerges from its leadership transition, and on the need for Washington and Beijing to get along.
Singapore gets on well with both, and Lee said China, which remains cautious about political reform, looks at the prosperous city state to try to understand how to balance its economic and social goals as it develops.
With a little deprecation, Lee described Singapore as a “tiny bonsai model” for China to learn from.
Singapore is a longstanding and close partner of the US. Later this month, the US will begin rotational deployments of navy vessels in the region.
According to Channel NewsAsia:
Singapore has traditionally been a key source of advice and interpretation of events in Asia, particularly in China, for US administrations, and Obama said that Mr. Lee had been especially helpful to him.
Mr. Obama also praised Singapore as an outstanding economic partner. He said trade between US and Singapore has doubled over the last decade since the two countries signed their free trade agreement.
Lee has previously called upon China to emulate the US as it becomes a superpower. Many reformers in China look to Singapore as a potential model for more democratic state capitalism. Deng Xiaoping himself was reportedly inspired by Singapore when he began reform and opening.