Singapore's PM-elect slips into Taiwan

Jacky Hsu

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived quietly in Taiwan last night on a three-day visit that is almost certain to irritate Beijing.

Mr Lee, who succeeds Goh Chok Tong as prime minister this month, was greeted by Su Tseng-chang, secretary-general of the Presidential Office, at Taiwan's international airport.

He was expected to meet President Chen Shui-bian and Premier Yu Shyi-kun during his trip, a government source said.

Both the cabinet and the Presidential Office declined to confirm the visit.

A ruling Democratic Progressive Party legislator said Mr Lee was in Taiwan to discuss further co-operation in the decades-old Star Light programme, through which the island offers military bases and training for Singapore's soldiers.

The legislator, who declined to be named, said the leaders also would discuss economic and trade co-operation programmes.

As Mr Lee will soon succeed Mr Goh, his meetings with Taiwanese leaders are seen as highly significant.

'Although Singapore recognises [mainland] China diplomatically, it still maintains close co-operation with Taiwan, and Lee Hsien Loong's visit, just weeks before he is to become the prime minister, would help set the stage for increased ties between the two sides,' the legislator said.

Mr Lee's trip comes a month after his father, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, visited the mainland. The senior Lee has long been seen as a mediator between Taiwan and the mainland as he considers escalated tensions in the Taiwan Strait would do the region no good.