Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Mr Lee Kuan Yew is an old friend, founder and mover of Sino-Singapore ties: China

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was an "old friend of the Chinese people" whose death is "a loss to the international community", said Chinese President Xi Jinping as he and other top Chinese leaders sent their condolences to Singapore over the death of its founding prime minister.

In a statement on Monday morning addressed to Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Mr Xi extended condolences on behalf of the Chinese government and the people to Singaporeans and Mr Lee's family as he described Mr Lee as "a strategist and politician respected widely in the international community".

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew is an old friend of the Chinese people, and founder and mover of Sino-Singapore relationship," Mr Xi said in a statement posted on the Chinese foreign ministry website.

"Mr Lee and China's older generation of leaders set the correct direction for the development of the bilateral relationship, helped deepen the friendship between our people and made important contributions towards cooperation between the two countries.

Describing Mr Lee's death as a loss for Singaporeans and also for the international community, Mr Xi also stressed that China places high emphasis on developing friendly ties and cooperation with Singapore.

"We are keen to work with Singapore in maintaining and developing our traditional friendship, use the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations as an occasion to create new opportunities, deepen our ties and cooperation for the benefit of our people."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, National People's Congress chief Zhang Dejiang, Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi also sent condolences to their Singapore counterparts: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.

Mr Li said Mr Lee's "contributions towards Sino-Singapore ties and China's reform and opening up will surely be recorded in history".

In a statement earlier on Monday morning, China foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed "deep sorrow" over the death of Mr Lee, whom it describes as a cornerstone of Sino-Singapore bilateral relationship.

Mr Hong also described Mr Lee as "an Asian political leader with unique influence, and also a strategist with Oriental values system and international perspective".

"China expresses deep sorrow over Mr Lee Kuan Yew's passing and extends its sincere condolences to the Singapore government, Singaporeans and Mr Lee Kuan Yew's family," he added.

Mr Lee first visited China in 1976 and forged a bond with Deng Xiaoping after the late Chinese paramount leader visited Singapore in 1978. Both leaders viewed each other as visionaries who were also pragmatic in their governance.

Bilateral cooperation deepened in 1992 after Mr Deng hailed Singapore as a model of development for China, paving the way for both countries to work together on the Suzhou Industrial Park in 1994, followed by another government-to-government project in the Tianjin Eco-city in 2008.

Singapore and China are marking 25th year of diplomatic relations this year.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg