Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

S’pore ‘can be catalyst for India, China meet’ [Straits Times]

S’pore ‘can be catalyst for India, China meet’
Temasek working on details to bring power elite of Asian giants together, says SM Goh
By Ravi Velloor, South Asia Bureau Chief
Source – Straits Times, published 20 March 2010

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (second from left) hosted a lunch for Mr Goh yesterday. With the two leaders are Singapore Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs) Zainul Abideen Rasheed (second from right) and Senior Minister of State (Trade and Industry and Education) S. Iswaran. -- PHOTO: MFA

NEW DELHI: Singapore is looking to be the catalyst for a meeting that will assemble top businessmen and government leaders of India and China, Asia’s twin powerhouses.

‘Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thought it was a marvellous idea for India,’ Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday after a lunch hosted in his honour by the Indian leader.

‘And looking at it from Singapore’s point of view, it is a marvellous advantage for Singapore to be hosting this.’

India and China share a fast-developing relationship that saw bilateral trade top US$41 billion (S$57 billion) last year. But while trade and investment ties are growing, their relationship has sometimes been marred by testy exchanges over their 3,600km undemarcated border.

Mr Goh, who is on a two-day visit to India, said the exact details of the conference were still being worked out by Temasek Holdings, which mooted the idea and will host the conference.

He has been invited to speak at the conference, which may be held sometime next year.

Temasek apparently wants the conference to be a venue where the power elite of both sides will sit down together. Singapore would provide the venue and sees itself in the role more of a catalyst than of an honest broker.

‘They have the idea of combining business networking with something bigger, an overarching framework. They want to attract political leaders and government leaders. So we need to provide something more intellectual, strategy-oriented and long-range,’ Mr Goh said.

China watchers such as Associate Professor Li Mingjiang at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies back the idea, noting that Singapore is in an ideal position to host the talks.

Many other countries in the region, said Prof Li, might have national interests that conflict with those of India or China. Some might be seen to be either pro-China or pro-India, while some East Asian nations might also want a strong India to counter what they see as a rising China.

‘Singapore is the only South-east Asian country that is in the right position to mediate between the two countries. It is geopolitically neutral,’ he said.

An Asian diplomat with experience in India and China said attempts had been made before to bring the two giants together, but on a smaller scale.

‘The fact is, there are entrenched bureaucracies on both sides that stand in the way,’ he said.

Mr Goh, who last visited India two years ago, is here at a time when government leaders are projecting the US$1.2 trillion economy to be within sight of double-digit growth.

The Senior Minister is recognised here as one of the earliest government leaders to see India’s potential, having spoken of sparking a ‘mild India fever in Singapore’ in January 1994. At the time, there was no shortage of India sceptics around the world.

The results of his call for an ‘India fever’ were not quite what he had expected, he said yesterday.

While several Singapore companies invested in India, investments the other way had grown much more rapidly.

For instance, India’s Tata Group now owns NatSteel, and last week, the Fortis health-care group bought a huge stake in Singapore’s Parkway Hospitals to expand into the region and China.

‘The real benefit of the call for an ‘India fever’ was really the development of a Singapore fever in India,’ he said. Bilateral trade hit S$22 billion last year despite the economic downturn, more than three times 2004 levels.

There are some 4,000 Indian companies in Singapore, the second largest foreign corporate contingent on the island.

Singapore was also the top destination for Indian foreign direct investment in the 2008/09 fiscal year, with more than US$5.5 billion invested.


Filed under: Economics, India, International Relations, Politics, Singapore Window

Greater acclaim lies abroad for Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew

There has been quite a bit of attention on Lee Kuan Yew of late (APEC 2009 notwithstanding), and this article is no exception. He always had the balls to do what needed to be done, and his recent comments about the necessity of the US as a counterweight to China’s rise caused ripples on both ends of the spectrum.

His masterstroke / Quotable Quote – “For years he shaped a foreign policy on China and the United States that enabled Singapore to avoid being crushed by their conflicting interests, but also served as a bridge between them.

Greater acclaim lies abroad for Minister Mentor
While the rich few rejoice, many Singaporeans are making do quietly.
Star, Malaysia
Source – The Singapore Window, 7 November 2009

AFTER the rains come a little sunshine, and I’m not referring to the torrential downpours that have been hitting Singapore.

After two years of depressing news, people here have at last some blessings to count, and perhaps feel a little proud of being Singaporeans.

They came as the economy improved enough to allow the government to rule out another recession, and the global tribute paid to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s achievements in the past 50 years.

A major public relations feat will happen next week when 10,000 delegates, including many world leaders, arrive to attend the 17th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference.

Lee’s acclaim by the United States and the 10 Asean countries has raised the Republic’s morale and standing at a time when both are badly needed in the wake of its worst recession.

It is ironic, though.

The foreign recognition comes at a time when the Minister Mentor is losing popularity among young Singaporeans who have a different set of values and little recollection of what he did in the past.

However, Singapore’s founding father has shown he still retains the world’s admiration for his role in the contemporary history of Singapore and the region.

In Washington last week, he was accorded the first lifetime achievement award by the US-Asean Business Council – with tributes from the current US and two former presidents at the ceremony.

President Barack Obama, who met him at the Oval Office and who will be in Singapore, said Lee was “one of the legendary figures of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries… somebody who helped to trigger the Asian economic miracle.”

Among a list of high-powered figures who were present were Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who said: “All of us who have worked with him have benefited from his wisdom, his insight and his dedication.”

Henry Kissinger said: “I’ve known him for 40 years. I would say I’ve not learned as much from anybody as I have from Lee Kuan Yew.”

The accolade shows an appreciation of the man’s tremendous accomplishments, but he remains to the world as controversial as he is admired.

Amidst the praises, his Law Minister K. Shanmugan was in another US city repeatedly defending against charges that the Singapore system that Lee had put up is undemocratic and lacks human rights and press freedom.

His “lifetime award” has also raised questions about whether this was his last hurrah, and if the 86-year-old leader intends to seek another five more years in office.

“It is always risky to predict an imminent Lee retirement. He has a habit of proving it wrong,” said a local reporter. “However at 86, he is visibly slower. How long can he go on?”

The international buzz is adding to the national debate about what possible impacts his eventual exit will have on Singapore.

Although he has distanced himself from the day-to-day running of the country, Lee is widely believed to hold significant influence over the Republic.

The general feeling is that the country will continue to move ahead without Lee, but replacing his vast experience and his global stature is virtually impossible.

For years he shaped a foreign policy on China and the United States that enabled Singapore to avoid being crushed by their conflicting interests, but also served as a bridge between them.

At times, it hit a sensitive nerve as it did last week when he urged the US to deepen its “indispensable” role in Asia as a counterweight to China’s emerging power.

“The size of China makes it impossible for the rest of Asia, including Japan and India, to match it in weight and capacity in about 20 to 30 years. So we need America to strike a balance,” Lee said.

Within hours, it drew strong reactions from thousands of Chinese bloggers, some accusing Lee of being used by the US to undermine China.

One described Lee as “a political animal… (who) relies on China to develop his country’s economy, but is ushering wolves to deal with China.”

Another was reported to have said, “Just because he has achieved some success in Singapore, he dares to play the guiding light that shows US the way.”

Ironically, American liberals have accused Lee of more or less the same thing – setting Singapore up as an example for China on how it can have a predominant one-party democracy.

Lee’s successes abroad and the “feel good” factor for Singaporeans, especially the older people, were reflected by a blogger who said:

“Without Lee Kuan Yew, we Singaporeans would not be respected especially when travelling overseas. People associate Singapore with him, that’s for sure.”

After a long 50 years, the People’s Action Party (PAP) is feeling the heat from a new generation of demanding, tech-savvy voters who frequently disagree with its policies.

Aggravating the strains is the hardship brought about by the global crisis.

Much of the blame is levelled, fairly or unfairly, at Lee’s influence. Some foreigners have found the level of vehemence hard to understand given Singapore’s advanced state of progress.

During a dinner among regional journalists, one editor from a developing country asked me to explain why so many Singaporeans were so angry with the architect of their prosperity.

“We’d be happy to swap our leader for Lee anytime,” he said. It reflects how much society is changing.

Lee recently said the evolving mindsets of the young and their response to the world’s changes will alter Singapore’s political landscape in future “and not because I won’t be around.”

Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com

Filed under: International Relations, Singapore, Singapore Window

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