In response to media queries on the Global Times website article “Lee Hsien Loong: China could gain Diaoyu Islands but lose its international standing” dated 21 August 2013, the MFA Spokesman said:
The Global Times website article on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's remarks at the 19th Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia is inaccurate and misleading. Using a sensationalist headline, the article took Prime Minister Lee's comments completely out of context and grossly distorted and misreported what he said. Such unprofessional reporting is unhelpful and could harm bilateral relations and affect people-to-people ties.
PM Lee was asked whether it was necessary for countries to cooperate together to have 'close enclosure' against China. PM Lee decisively rejected this approach, and said that this would not be helpful, and that he would not criticise China. PM Lee made a number of additional comments including the following : countries in the region benefitted from China's development; China itself saw it necessary to develop peacefully in a way which was non-threatening to its neighbours; and China will calculate that any gains from a non-peaceful approach to territorial disputes will have to be weighed against broader implications for its reputation and standing in the world. Thus, it would not be "constructive" to say "let us make a friendship amongst all the countries which are frightened of China."
PM Lee spoke on the record, openly, in front of international journalists. His comments were made as a good friend of China and put across China’s position fairly. The transcript of the relevant sections of PM Lee's remarks is attached. Any dispassionate observer will conclude that PM Lee was balanced in his assessment. PM Lee was trying to be helpful, not stir up tensions.
Transcript of relevant sections of PM Lee's remarks
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Moderator: “Education, culture, economics, politics, whatever. So we are interested in…we have a new government here, the Abe administration, and of the China and North Korea, sort of taking that posture towards Abe’s administration. Because Mr Abe seems to be interested in amendment of the Constitution and more independence and that is supposed to be the right-wing now, national union kind of sentiment, is just taking a spring in the Japanese public opinion. And now, we have something to do with the new government. We are interested in how it is the Japanese new government is viewed from the ASEAN nations, particularly your country.”
PM Lee: “Well, I think ASEAN in general and Singapore in particular, we work with the governments of each country as chosen by those countries. And it is the way that democracies work - you elect your government, your government has the responsibility to make decisions for your country and prerogative to decide which direction you want to go. And I think that is our attitude. Specifically on the question you raised on the nationalist sentiments and the questions of constitutional amendment, I would say that this is the prerogative of the countries to decide how they want their constitutions to be and is also the responsibility of the governments to make the wisest choice on these issues.
World War II was a massive event for Japan…After the war, it took a long time for relations between Japan and its neighbours to come back to normal because there was not a reconciliation process that happened in Europe. In Europe, the Germans, they repudiated the Nazis, they repudiated Adolf Hitler. Every school child grows up knowing that that was a bad period, those were bad people. Germany was now into a new phase. And if you read the French textbooks or the German textbooks, you will get more or less the same story of the Second World War. Maybe not be exactly the same perspective, but basically the same story. It did not happen in Asia between Japan and its neighbours.
Many years have passed. As I said just now, the strategic situation is completely different. The populations have grown up. It is a new generation. So it is not the same situation as before. In the case of Singapore, the first generation who lived through the war and the very difficult conditions when the Japanese invaded Singapore, they will never forget the experience. Every year on the anniversary of the fall of Singapore, 15th February, the old people go there to remember the relatives who died and they weep. So they will never forget. My parent’s generation will never forget until the day they die because they lived through that, they know what it was.
My generation did not live through that, but we know from our fathers what it was like and their stories. If my father had been taken away, he would not have come back and I would not be here today. My uncle, my mother’s brother, was taken away and never came back. So these memories move some. My children’s generation, they don’t have those memories, not even second-hand; maybe third-hand. So we have moved on. And as a society, we have moved on.
In the 1960s, there was a period when we discovered the mass graves where the civilians had been massacred in Singapore. There was an outcry. I remember the day because I saw them coming to dig up the graves next to my school. There was a big outcry, I think the Japanese government made an apology, donated some money and we built a memorial. So between Singapore and Japan, the chapter is closed. Officially, we have moved on. And we have very good relations between Singapore and Japan since then - investments, trade, cooperation in many areas.
I think with other countries in Asia, you have not reached that point. Certainly with China, you are nowhere near that point. With Korea, you have not reached that point. So if you reopen the old subjects - whether it is comfort women, whether it is aggression, whether there is an apology or no apology – well, it is your prerogative to do so, but you have to consider whether this will be helpful in the context of your relations with other Asian countries and whether it is the most important thing you want to do. But that is for Japan to decide.”
李总理：“嗯，我觉得亚细安整体而言，特别是新加坡，我们都会与这些国家所选择的政府合作。这是民主国家运行的方式 - 你推选出你的政府，你的政府就有责任为国家做出决定，有权力决定国家要走的方向。我认为这就是我们的态度。你提到有关民族主义情绪和宪法修正案的问题，我认为决定自己的宪法是每个国家的权力，可是每个政府也有责任在这些问题上，作出最明智的决定。
我认为，日本与亚洲其他国家，仍未做到这一点。尤其是同中国，距离那一步还很遥远。与韩国，也是相同的情况。所以，如果你重提往事 - 无论是“慰安妇”或侵略等课题，或是已经道歉或从未认错；虽然，你有权决定不要道歉，但是你必须要考虑到这是否会对你与亚洲其他国家的关系有利，或是对你而言，这是不是你要做的最关键事情。这都是要由日本来决定的。”
Moderator: “I see. I am very struck by your candid comments. I think it is a very rare opportunity to hear your memory. You have a memory; people in Singapore have a memory but they don’t use it in a negative way, in a sense. Whether you keep the memory inside and based on that experience you have to overcome for the future, is that…”
PM Lee: “Well, we try to do that. Every generation grows up in a new environment and new circumstances. The old generation always feels ‘we want them to remember what we remember’, but the young generation did not live through those and they will have to form their own key memories. But at the same time, we hope that the most salient and relevant parts of what the older generation has learnt and seen, sometimes at great human cost, will be passed on and will be able to benefit the next generation.”
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Question: “Thank you very much, Your Excellency, I very much appreciate your encouraging speech. I used to live in Singapore. I really appreciate Singapore and love Singapore. Let me ask you one thing about China. People know China is very important, I agree with you but at the same time, I have a big concern about China’s expansion to the Pacific. China has started saying that not only Okinawa, not only Senkaku, but also Okinawa is under dispute. And also, China proposed to the United States, ‘Let’s divide the Pacific Ocean – East side must belong to the US, west side belongs to China’. For that matter, I am saying that we need to cooperate with each other, with ASEAN, India, Korea and Russia to prevent China from expanding to the Pacific. So close enclosure against China may be necessary. Containment may not be, a bit too strong to do that, but close enclosure against China may be necessary to prevent such aggression. Thank you very much.”
问：“非常感谢您，阁下，您的演讲激励人心。我曾经在新加坡居住。我真的很欣赏新加坡，也很爱新加坡。现在，让我问一个关于中国的问题。众所皆知，中国是非常重要的，我同意您的看法，但同时，我对中国在太平洋扩其展影响感到极度担忧。中国已经开始说，除了钓鱼岛，冲绳岛的主权也可争议。此外，中国也向美国提出，‘让我们划分太平洋 - 东侧必须属于美国，西侧则是属于中国的’。对于这个问题，我认为我们需要相互合作，连同亚细安，印度，韩国和俄罗斯，共同阻止中国伸展到太平洋地区。所以，联手包围中国可能是必要的。也不需要遏制中国，这么做有点过于强烈，但包围可能是必要的，以防止中国的侵略。非常感谢您。”
PM Lee: “Well, Singapore is good friends with Japan. Singapore is also good friends with China. So I do not think it is wise for me in Tokyo to criticise China, or anywhere publicly to criticise China. I think that every country in the region benefits from China’s prosperity and progress; hopes to participate in it and hopes to cultivate good relations with China. Certainly all the ASEAN countries do so and I believe even amongst the Japanese people and Japanese companies, many would like to take advantage of the huge market and huge opportunities which China offers. Therefore, we have to work with China and China itself has to see in its own interest to develop in a peaceful way which is not threatening to its neighbours and which enables it to integrate into the global economy.
I think their leaders understand this. You watch what they say to themselves. They often remind themselves that it is necessary for China to be a benign power and not to repeat the mistakes of previous powers which have tried to succeed through force of arms. And some years ago, they had a television series entitled ‘The Rise of Great Powers’ and they listed all the countries, all the great powers, over the last several centuries, starting from the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the British, the Americans, the Russians, the Japanese and showing the history of how they succeeded and when they went (to) try for expansion, it did not work. So I think at some level, they understand this. And certainly, if they are taking a long-term approach, they will make this calculation that whether it is the Senkakus, whether it is the South China Sea, what you gain on the Senkakus or the South China Sea, but you lose in terms of your broader reputation and standing in the world, you have to make that calculation very carefully.
So I will be very careful about saying, ‘let us make a friendship amongst all the countries which are frightened of China’. I do not think that is a constructive and helpful approach. I think let us all make friends and develop constructive relations with one another in a multi-dimensional way. Not all links in Asia are centred on China, we also have cooperations between Japan and Asean, between Japan and America, between India and countries in East Asia, I see Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is visiting Japan soon. And also with the United States, which wants to make good relations with China and does not see a division in the Pacific Ocean between the two. So I would be very careful about these over-simplifications and maintain a constructive approach, encourage a constructive approach, so that we do not by our words and actions bring about the outcome we do not want.
We take this position consistently. We tell this to the Japanese, we tell this to the Americans, we tell this to the Chinese. Last year, I visited Beijing. I made a speech at the Central Party School, where they send the senior cadres for training, and I explained to the audience in Mandarin why I felt that China’s wisest policy was to maintain their position of restraint and demonstrate, not just by words but also by its actions. That it works by international norms, that there is room in its international relations for win-win partnerships and relationships of mutual respect and equality. And I think the audience took my point.”
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