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Home > Southeast Asia > 

China's threats go beyond Taiwan
Paul Lin
10/29/2004

In an attempt to repair the damage after China was offended by the visit to Taipei of Lee Hsien Loong, Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo criticized Taiwan independence in a speech in the UN General Assembly. The speech didn't get much of a response from Taiwanese media and politicians at the time.

Three days later, however, when Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen returned from the US, he responded to Yeo's criticism during a meeting with an organization from southern Taiwan. His use of a colloquial Taiwanese expression has been played up by some politicians and media outlets, who are now demanding his resignation.

Their reaction has been even fiercer than that of Chen's target, Singapore. This kind of topsy-turvy logic could only occur in Taiwan. But the reaction of these politicians and media was not due to their support or feelings for Singapore. Rather, it is because Singapore has become a spokesperson for China. This is why they so vigorously defend Singapore's anti-Taiwanese statements.

Their aim is to sow discord between Taiwan and Singapore in order to help China isolate Taiwan on the international stage.

Be it "snot" or "balls," such words must of course not enter the language of diplomacy, but it is not a big deal when they are used in a speech aimed at a domestic audience. Sensational reporting by the media, however, has made it seem as if these words were aimed at other countries, which makes it difficult [for Chen] to get off the hook.

But is this really a topic interesting enough to sustain several days of exaggerated media reporting? It is not very different from expressions in Mandarin or Cantonese meaning the same thing.

Although we should condemn Singapore's interference in Taiwan's domestic affairs in strong terms, there is no need to devote too much time and effort doing so, because we must also understand Singapore's position, which in some ways is similar to Taiwan's. First, China wants to annex Taiwan, and Singapore also risks annexation. China has always believed that the descendants of the Yellow Emperor must make up one China, and that there cannot be two Chinas or one China and one Taiwan. That of course also means that there cannot be one China and one Singapore either.

Second, if we are to follow China's "since-the-days-of-old" logic, then we should argue that the minuscule island of Singapore has been part of Malaysian territory "since the days of old." Singapore could only declare independence because of the interference of British colonialism. Doesn't that mean that if China can start a war to "liberate" Taiwan, Malaysia also has the right to start a war to annex Singapore?

It is in order to deal with this threat that Singapore is fawning over China -- it used to exhort Hong Kong not to oppose China, and now it is criticizing Taiwan for opposing China. Singapore shows such a lack of principle that it even allowed China to make whatever changes it wanted to the memoirs of "founding father" Lee Kuan Yew's.

In this respect, Taiwan has retained more dignity than Singapore. Only Taipei's former deputy mayor, Pai Hsiou-hsiung, has had his speech manuscript changed by China -- ?during a visit to Shanghai. China has not, however, dared change speeches by former president Lee Teng-hui and President Chen Shui-bian. As the Chinese saying goes, only if you humiliate yourself will you be humiliated by others.

Although Singapore's leadership is currying favor with China without worrying about sacrificing the interests of Hong Kong and Taiwan, they of course also have a bottom line. For example, even though Singapore upholds "Asian values," the leadership is very clear in advocating that the US should maintain a military presence in Asia, because the US can protect Singapore from being annexed. Taiwan does not act in this way.

A few months ago, a Chinese tourist was humiliatingly treated as a prostitute by Singaporean authorities, seriously damaging the city-state's image. Looking to preserve calm in the overall situation, Taiwan did not exaggerate the incident. Now, however, Singapore requites this kindness with ingratitude to suck up to China.

If Singapore really is following Confucian teachings, it should remember the Confucian saying that "you should not do to others what you don't want done to yourself." Taiwan and Singapore should cooperate to avoid annexation by the regional hegemon.


Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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