Questions and Answers with DPM Lee Hsien Loong on His Visit to Taiwan
1) The Taiwanese press has reported extensively on your visit. Can you comment on their reports?
The Taiwanese media have made all kinds of speculations about my visit. Their reports cannot be taken at face value. I did not speak to any of them.
For example, they said that Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean accompanied me. That is simply untrue. Minister Teo was in Singapore and attended the garden reception hosted by President Nathan for the Singapore Armed Forces.
The speculation that we have offered ourselves as an intermediary is also untrue. Singapore has no intention of doing that, because the two sides do not need any intermediary, and Singapore is not in a position to play an intermediary role.
2) Why did you want to visit Taiwan at this time? Why is it necessary for Singapore to engage Taiwan?
The Prime Minister's job is to see to the well-being of Singapore. This depends on a peaceful and stable regional environment. The cross straits issue is a potential flash point. A conflict across the strait will have dire consequences not just for the involved parties, but the entire region, and for many years.
The last time I visited Taiwan was in 1992. Since then the situation has totally changed. Before becoming Prime Minister, I wanted to update myself on the current position and understand first hand how the Taiwanese saw things, in order to assess for myself how the situation may evolve.
3) Was China aware of your visit? What representations did China make on learning of your visit? Chinese MFA spoke about "solemn representations".
Singapore informed the PRC Government as a courtesy before I left. They asked that the trip be cancelled. We gave their representations serious consideration, but we could not agree. We expressed the hope that they would understand that this private and unofficial visit does not change our very clear position on Taiwan.
Singapore's relations with China are based on equality and mutual respect. Singapore is a good friend of China. But to call off the trip at China's request would have undermined our right to make independent decisions, and damaged our international standing. As a small country, this is a vital consideration in our dealings with all countries.
4) China has issued strongly worded statements in response to your visit to Taiwan. What do you make of these statements?
I have noted China's reactions. Beijing does not want Taiwan to be emboldened to move further towards independence. But our position on the cross straits issue is very clear.
5) The Chinese have said Singapore has made a serious violation of its commitment to the "One-China" policy. What is your reaction to this accusation?
Singapore consistently maintains a "One China" policy and opposes independence for Taiwan. We took this fundamental position even before we established diplomatic relations with the PRC. Most recently PM Goh restated it in his address to the IISS Conference, or the "Shangri-La Dialogue".
My private and unofficial visit does not change or contradict this policy.
6) China has said that Singapore must face all the consequences of your visit and that important exchanges between the two countries will be affected. How do you think bilateral ties between the two countries will be affected? What is Singapore's response? How will Singapore deal with the "consequences", if any?
Our relations with China are deep and broad. The principle is mutual interest and mutual benefit, and not concessions accorded by one side to the other. As we said in our earlier statement, it would be regrettable if relations are affected, because both sides will stand to lose. If our relations cannot survive this episode then they must be shallow and brittle.
7) How will the Taiwan visit affect the way Singapore deals with China and Taiwan in the future?
Singapore conducts a principled foreign policy based on our national interest. We maintain consistent stands on key issues, and act in accordance with them. At the same time we will co-operate with all who want to work with us on the basis of mutual interest.
We are long-time friends of both the mainland and Taiwan, and conduct our relations with both in a way that is consistent with our "One China" policy. We have not allowed and will not allow ourselves to be used to further the cause of Taiwanese independence. My visit will therefore not affect the way we deal with the two sides.
8) What are your impressions of Taiwan after your visit?
The Green side is focussed on the upcoming Legislative Yuan election. They feel that a stronger Taiwanese identity is emerging, and that more Taiwanese now support independence. The Blue side is pre-occupied with the validity of the Presidential elections, the court proceedings and the investigation of the March 19 shooting incident. It may be some time before both Green and Blue leaders and their supporters focus their thinking on the longer term position of Taiwan and work out their respective strategies for the way ahead.
None of the friends I met gave me the impression that the Taiwanese leaders were eager for a confrontation across the straits. Several told me that the leaders will not push for independence. They also recognised that what matters is not what the leaders say, but what they do.
I did notice the stronger Taiwanese identity among the population. I also learnt that most Taiwanese believe that China will not attack them. It seems that most also believe that the US will come to Taiwan's rescue if China does attack. I was troubled by this.
The Taiwanese media are focussed almost exclusively on domestic issues, with very little reporting of what is happening in the world outside, like North Korea or Iraq. The Taiwanese have not fully come to terms with how rapidly China is transforming itself, and consequently, how interdependent the US and China are becoming. This is especially so with Taiwanese political leaders and officials who are not allowed to visit China. For the same reason, the Taiwanese public do not know how other major powers like Germany, France, Italy, and Russia and India are re-positioning themselves and adjusting their policies to this different China that is emerging.
Because of their preoccupation with domestic politics and winning votes, they have not adequately factored in the vast changes in the international situation. So we cannot rule out a miscalculation or mishap that would have serious repercussions on Singapore and the region. We must watch the situation carefully.