Things changed in from mid 1970s and after the visit of Deng Xiao Ping in 1978. Diplomatic relations took a dramatic change with LKY making visits to China and a special relationship and rapport were developed between the two leaders. There was an understanding to work closely for the benefits of both countries. Singapore was a shining example of what a new country could do and to transform itself into an economic miracle. Many Chinese delegations came and gone, to study how Singapore did it, and Singapore delegations too visited China to share our experience.
Singapore was special to China and Lee Kuan Yew and his senior ministers had very close relationships with their counterparts with Goh Keng Swee stationing himself in China as special economic advisors after his retirement from political office. Today, both these men have gone. Relations between the two countries are still very good. But no one in Singapore has the same kind of rapport and relationship that LKY had with China’s leadership. There were a lot of admiration and respect and deference to LKY when he was still around.
With the departure of LKY, would the relationship between China and Singapore still be on the same level or plane, that China would still have a special place for Singapore, to listen to what Singapore is saying? LKY could say anything he wanted about China, encouraging the Americans to be in the region to counter the influence of China to the chagrin of China’s leadership. They kept quiet and at times gave a silent smile to the position of Singapore, standing up to China and snuggling closely in bed with the Americans. Could this state of affair continue without LKY?
If we are to read the media and the speech by Bilahari Kausikan, the position of Singapore towards China and the balancing act with the Americans are still the same, business as usual, only the personalities have changed.
In the absence of LKY, in the absence of that special rapport between the top leaders, is Singapore taking China for granted, that this lovely state of affair, the special place of Singapore, to stand up to China and expect to be embraced warmly by the Chinese leadership will continue? Who in China is going to embrace who in Singapore, to be able to engage in deep four eye discussion at the highest level on the most sensitive issues?
Would the new China leadership turn around and say that things are getting out of hand, that Singapore is taking them for granted, that Singapore thinks it can still ruffle up China and challenging China’s core interests, taking the side of the Americans, that this has to stop? LKY could get away with anything he said and done. He was no ordinary off the mill politician or political leader. Leaders of the world listened to him and tried to make out what he was saying, not necessarily agreeing with him. Does Singapore today have the same kind of politician with the same stature and deference to say the darnest things, and get away with it?