leekuanyew

China sending V-P to attend funeral service

Regional leaders confirm attendance; Queen sends condolences in rare move

China is sending Vice-President Li Yuanchao while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Tan Dung confirmed their attendance for tomorrow's funeral service for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Asia's best-recognised elder statesman.

The Chinese announcement yesterday followed intense speculation on who Beijing would send for the ceremony, which is to be attended by a host of other leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

After initial talk of a trip by President Xi Jinping, speculation had centred on Executive Vice- Premier Zhang Gaoli, co-chair of the Sino-Singapore bilateral cooperation mechanism, as the chosen envoy.

"The top two national-level posts, strictly speaking, are the president and the vice-president. While Zhang Gaoli is ranked higher in the party, his attendance will be as a government official, while Li will convey China's respect as a country," Professor Sun Jingfeng, an expert on Sino-Singapore relations at Henan Normal University, told The Straits Times.

Britain, which this year hosted its first Singapore state visit in 50 years, is sending Mr William Hague, Leader of the House of Commons and the First Secretary of State, while Canada's representative is Governor-General David Johnston.

In a rare gesture, Britain yesterday released condolences conveyed by Queen Elizabeth II to President Tony Tan Keng Yam over Mr Lee's death.

The United States presidential delegation is led by former president Bill Clinton and includes Dr Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state in the Nixon administration and an old friend of Mr Lee.

"Mr Lee's achievements as Prime Minister were fundamental to making what Singapore is today, and his long and distinguished service can only be admired," the Queen wrote.

"He had many friends around the world, and my country was foremost amongst them.

"Philip and I send our deepest sympathy to you and the people of Singapore."

Condolence messages continued to pour in from around the world, with many national figures travelling to their local Singapore missions to write in condolence books.

Among those who did so was Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Manila.

In Thailand, no fewer than seven former prime ministers signed the book at the Singapore embassy, while Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn sent condolences.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is leading the country's delegation to the funeral, while Malaysia's monarch, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, is representing his country.

As the world's media and leading commentators continued pondering Mr Lee's legacy, the mourning for him has sometimes been spotted in the oddest of places.

Reports said that in several towns and villages of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, billboards of Mr Lee have come up and people have joined street processions to mourn his passing.

Tamil Nadu sends large numbers of workers to Singapore and families that depend on their remittances were keen to show their gratitude to Mr Lee.

Mr Lee's political career began in trade unions.

This week, tributes also flowed from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, which recognised Mr Lee's contribution to tripartism.

ILO director-general Guy Ryder, in a tribute made at the governing board, said Mr Lee's contributions had been so important in addressing the concerns of the working people.

"With his passing, the international community has lost a global statesman and a leader of the region," Mr Ryder said.

velloor@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Kor Kian Beng

in Beijing