BANGKOK - Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met his Vietnam and Cambodia counterparts over the weekend, their first meetings in the wake of furore over his remarks on the 1978 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.
PM Lee told reporters on Sunday (June 23) that he had asked to meet Vietnamese PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc on the sidelines of the 34th Asean Summit in Bangkok on Saturday, given “some issues in our bilateral relationship recently”.
In expressing his condolences for the death of Thai statesman Prem Tinsulanonda last month, PM Lee had written about how Asean – then comprising Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines – came together “to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge”.
Both Hanoi and Phnom Penh protested, with their leaders saying PM Lee’s comments did not reflect history.
On Sunday, PM Lee said of the meeting with Mr Phuc: “I stated my position and explained why I had spoken about the period of the Cambodian war and Singapore’s perspective on the matter. He explained forthrightly Vietnam’s position on this matter.”
"Naturally, the two positions are different and we do not expect to change their minds, and they do not expect us to change our minds on this matter.
"But both of us have moved beyond that to become friends and partners... The best way to move forward, in our view, is on the basis of candour and honesty about what has happened in the past, so that we can develop trust and we can work more closely together and trust one another," he said.
Mr Lee also met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday afternoon. The meeting had a similar theme.
"He had the same view that 'you are not going to convince me of your perspective, I am not going to convince you of my perspective but we should move ahead'," he said.
"I think we have a mutual understanding. It is helpful for us to understand where each other stands, rather than to gloss over and pretend that there is no issue whatsoever."
Mr Lee also met Indonesian President Joko Widodo briefly on Saturday, and congratulated him on his re-election formally, and said he was looking forward to working with him again, particularly at the next Singapore-Indonesia Leaders' Retreat, which will be hosted by Singapore later this year.
He added: "Although I did not have a bilateral meeting with (Malaysian PM) Dr Mahathir, I had a chance to chat with him, as we were waiting on the sidelines for meetings to start and end."
Separately, the Prime Minister's Office said PM Lee met Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha on Sunday and congratulated him on his election as Prime Minister as well as on Thailand's successful hosting of the summit.
"Both Prime Ministers affirmed their close friendship and looked forward to working together to strengthen bilateral ties. PM Lee thanked Prime Minister Prayut for his personal support for defence cooperation and SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) training in Thailand," the PMO said.
The leaders agreed that both countries can enhance cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, education, and smart cities.
They also recognised that cyber security is a growing transboundary issue and agreed to step up exchanges and deepen cooperation in this area. They added that they looked forward to the next Singapore-Thailand Leaders' Retreat, which Thailand will host later.