Taipei/Singapore Relations Require Joint Effort
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 29, 2012
Summary: State-to-state exchanges must be based on reciprocity. The purpose of diplomacy is to safeguard and promote the national interest. The considerations for each side will be different. But as long as each side respects the other's needs, the relationship will be mutally beneficial. The Taipei/Singapore relationship is not one-sided. Singapore is not Taipei's benefactor. Past exchanges and cooperation took place only because Singapore reaped certain desired benefits. Taipei must not expect too much from Singapore. But it hopes Singapore will take another look at close cooperation in the past, sound development in the future, and cherish the opportunities the relationship has made available.
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Taipei and Singapore lack formal diplomatic relations. Yet the relationship, friendship, and cooperation between Taipei and Singapore is even closer and older than between many diplomatic allies. Recently however, puzzling rumors about frictions between leaders in Taipei and Singapore have emerged. Friendship and cooperation between Taipei and Singapore is in the interest of both sides. But friendship and cooperation must be based on mutual respect and the preservation of each side's national interests. Healthy relations must be maintained by Taipei and Singapore together.
The public on Taiwan feels particularly close to Singapore. Both the Republic of China and the Republic of Singapore have predominantly Chinese populations. They have also engaged in long-term exchanges. Officially and unofficially, the two have remained extremely close. In earlier years, Singapore was concerned about anti-China sentiment in Indonesia. That is why it refrained from establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing. That is also why it was free to deal with Taipei. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew repeatedly visited Taipei, and enjoyed a close personal relationship with the late president Chiang Ching-kuo. Singapore lacked appropriate training sites for its military. The "Starlight Plan" solved the problem by enabling Singapore's military to train on Taiwan. The two sides also established channels for military cooperation.
In 1998, Singapore invited newly inaugurated President Lee Teng-hui to Singapore for a visit. Singapore established a diplomatic precedent for Republic of China Presidents visiting nations with which it had no diplomatic relations. Singapore served as a host for the Koo/Wang Summit. It played a positive role in promoting peaceful relations across the Taiwan Strait. The relationship between Taipei and Singapore has of course also suffered temporary setbacks, such as the Chen regime's "booger controversy." But more recently the two sides stabilized relations. Taipei and Beijing reconciled and signed ECFA. Singapore and Taipei signed an Economic Cooperation Agreement.
The general impression was that Singapore was very friendly to Taipei. This of course was why the recent rumors were so surprising. First rumors emerged that Shi Ya-ping, the ROC representative to Singapore, had offended Singapore's leadership and the two sides had broken off relations. Shi Yaping was transferred home. One reason offered was that he sang the national anthem and hoisted the national flag on National Day, and met with opposition parties. Another reason offered was that Shi Ya-ping forcefully demanded to see Lee Kuan Yew for economic and trade negotiations.
Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Shi Yaping have denied such rumors. News emerged that Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu led a delegation to Singapore to participate in an aerospace exhibition. This provoked strong dissatisfaction in Singapore. Singapore even instructed the commander of the Starlight Forces to send a letter of protest to the ROC Ministry of Defense, terminating Taipei/Singapore military cooperation. The ROC government was scheduled to visit Singapore toward the end of February to conduct military exchanges. That too has been "postponed indefinitely."
The Ministry of Defense and the Minstry of Foreign Affairs have already issued denials. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that Taipei and Singapore have close and friendly relations. They will continue to promote the Economic Partnership Agreement with Singapore. They said Taipei values its relationship with Singapore. The Ministry of Defense said that cooperation was not being terminated, The activities were merely undergoing adjustments.
Frankly, the truth of diplomacy often cannot be made fully public. What frictions if any actually arose between Taipei and Singapore? Both sides are likely treat them as top secret, They will trade blows privately, But to outsiders they will remain tight-lipped. The current rumors are not necessarily true. But they are not necessarily false either. News of Kao Hua-chu's visit to Singapore provoked a strong reaction from the Singapore government. According to some analysts, Singapore was putting on a show for Beijing's sake.
Relations between Taipei and Singapore have endured long term.. According to some analysts, this is because amidst exchange and cooperation, the two sides have been able to maintain and promote their own national interests, Also, the two sides have built up considerable mutual trust, cooperation, and friendship through past interactions. This result was not easy to achieve. It is a valuable legacy for both Taipei and Singapore. It is a relationship worth preserving. If Singapore has refused to deal with Shi Yaping and has broken off military cooperation with Taipei, they would be strong measures that will be difficult to counter. They would be inconsistent with the principle of proportionality. They would fail to consider the long tradition of relations between Taipei and Singapore.
News that Kao Hua-chu visited the Singapore Air Show was leaked by a legislator. It was not Kao Hua-chu's intent. Nor was it an act of malice on the part of the legislator. It may have been contrary to the two sides' long held tacit agreement. But the political and media environment on Taiwan is completely different from Singapore's. This was an isolated incident. It was neither deliberate nor malicious. It did not undermine bilateral cooperation. Will Singapore cut the military cooperation that it has maintained with Taipei over so many years? Even assuming it has, and that it was a pragmatic decision based on political expediency, the public on Taiwan will nevertheless perceive it as extremely hurtful.
State-to-state exchanges must be based on reciprocity. The purpose of diplomacy is to safeguard and promote the national interest. The considerations for each side will be different. But as long as each side respects the other's needs, the relationship will be mutally beneficial. The Taipei/Singapore relationship is not one-sided. Singapore is not Taipei's benefactor. Past exchanges and cooperation took place only because Singapore reaped certain desired benefits. Taipei must not expect too much from Singapore. But it hopes Singapore will take another look at close cooperation in the past, sound development in the future, and cherish the opportunities the relationship has made available.