Saturday, October 02, 2004

Taiwanese Foreign Minister hurls snot at Singapore 

Foreign Minister George Yeo’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly warning of the dangers of Taiwan’s push for independence continues to generate unhappiness.

In his speech, Mr Yeo had said that cross-strait tensions could get out of control and that the push by certain groups in Taiwan for independence could spark war with China which could drag in other countries.

Following that speech, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Mark Chen accused Singapore of “currying favour with China”, as reported by Channel NewsAsia. “Even Singapore, a country the size of a piece of snot, can criticise Taiwan at the UN,” he told a pro-independence group. Other news agencies had more colourful translations of his remarks (see Asia Times and eTaiwanNews reports).

Now, pro-independence groups in Taiwan have burned the Singapore flag in protest.

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry has been restrained in its response to these actions. After Mr Chen's remarks, it stated: “Many other countries also believe that Taiwan is pursuing a dangerous course towards independence. Resorting to intemperate language cannot assuage these concerns.”

The problem is that in Taiwan, temperance is not the norm in politics, especially when it comes to an emotive issue like Taiwanese independence.

Singapore has gotten itself mired in a highly sensitive situation ever since then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid a visit to Taiwan in July. After getting criticised by China over the visit, it has been trying to patch its relationship with Beijing by criticising pro-independence activism in Taiwan. Since the pro-independence movement in Taiwan is actually quite popular, the Taiwanese are obviously not going to be too happy with Singapore, hence the current imbroglio.

Singapore is in a no-win situation, in my opinion. With emotions and stakes high on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, it needs to handle the situation in a very sensitive manner. Unfortunately, sensitivity is not a trait that Singapore has a reputation for having.


Singapore's foreign policy has the inherent disadvantage of a small state, which requires it to be extra-sensitive. Your analysis that sensitivity is not a trait of Singapore's foreign policy, or for that matter, PAP leadership, is absolutely correct. However, one has to take into consideration the context. With a new, inexperienced, and technocratic patch of people in the foreign ministry, I foresee more trouble ahead in terms of Singapore's relations with other countries.

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