Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

China officials pay tribute to 'world class strategist' Lee Kuan Yew

BEIJING - Two Chinese officials have paid tribute to founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, with influential thinker Zheng Bijian hailing him as a "world-class politician and strategist" and former Suzhou party boss Chen Deming noting the Singapore pioneer's contributions towards cross-strait relations.

 Speaking to reporters after signing the condolence book on Tuesday at the Singapore embassy in Beijing, Mr Zheng, who coined the "peaceful rise of China" theory, also lauded Mr Lee as someone with "an open and broad global perspective and also a positive strategic mindset".

"As we enter the 20th year of the 21st century, we need to expand our global perspective and strategic mindset. We need to continue Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy by advancing and opening up. This is the responsibility of the succeeding generations," added Mr Zheng, aged 83 this year.

He is one of the vice-chairmen of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory body. He previously served as deputy director of the Chinese Communist Party's publicity department and executive vice-president of the Central Party School, the party's premier training school.

Mr Chen, China's top cross-strait negotiator as president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), spoke about Mr Lee's contribution to cross-strait ties and his constant support for the "One China" policy.

He pointed out that the first high-level meeting between China and Taiwan took place in Singapore in 1993 between then-ARATS president Wang Daohan and his Taiwanese counterpart, Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu.

Mr Chen, 66, also recalled a conversation he had with Mr Lee on race relations in the early 2000s when both countries faced terrorist threats, in the wake of the MRT bombing threat in the Republic and simmering violence in China's restive Xinjiang region.

"Mr Lee shared with me how Singapore handled its race policy with different races living together and interacting with each other. From a young age, children of different races also played and grew up together...

"This policy should be helpful to us especially with the problems that China is currently facing," said Mr Chen, who had worked closely with Singapore officials through his leadership posts in eastern Suzhou city from 1998 to 2002.

The former commerce minister was party boss of the Administrative Committee.of the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), the first government-to-government project launched in 1994 that deepened bilateral cooperation between both countries.

Mr Zheng also shared personal anecdotes of Mr Lee, describing their friendship dating back to the 1980s was, in essence, a "spiritual interaction".

"That is because we have a common wish, which is to see how the Asia-Pacific would develop peacefully. My personal belief for China is peaceful rise, which is similar to peaceful development. My impression is that this is something he largely agreed with," added Mr Zheng, who has not met Mr Lee in recent years.

He also shared anecdotes that reflected Mr Lee's personal side as a dedicated husband. When he invited Mr Lee to speak at the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan island in 2005, Mr Zheng said the then-Minister Mentor responded that he would have to bring his wife Kwa Geok Choo along as she was ill. He said the Lees arrived on a private jet borrowed from the Brunei Sultan.

"He told me 'I can't leave her home alone'. This impressed upon me deeply that he is something full of 'ren qing wei'," added Mr Zheng, using a Chinese phrase to describe someone who is thoughtful and kind.

Also, he said he had hired well-known Chinese photographer Zhang Jianshe to take photos of Mr Lee and Madam Kwa, who died in 2010, when the Singapore leader spoke at the Central Party School some years back.

The photos were sent to Mr Lee, who requested for them again in 2013, recounted Mr Zheng.

"He said he missed his wife a lot and wanted to display photos of them in every room of his house. So he requested for the photos again, which we did after putting them together meticulously," recounted Mr Zheng.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

esthert@sph.com.sg