Singapore — According to now-declassified files in the National Archives in London, how Singapore’s Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew outspokenly criticized the way the United Kingdom handled issues in Hong Kong led Britain to believe that Singapore may have had its own agenda back then.
A report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) says that PM Lee, who was the senior minister of Singapore in the early 1990’s had been critical of the UK government’s constitutional reform as “ill-timed, futile and in breach of the spirit of our agreements and understandings with China,” wrote J.S. Smith, who was the private secretary to then foreign secretary Douglas Hurd.
Mr Smith wrote this to Roderic Lyne, the private secretary of John Major, the UK Prime Minister at this time, saying that PM Lee was “at his most outspoken.”
Mr Smith added, “He also accused us of conspiring with the US to introduce democracy to China.”
He had written the note to My Lyne as part of the preparation for the meeting between Mr Major and then Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, which took place on April 18, 1994, in London.
PM Lee had said at the University of Hong Kong in 1992, “Hong Kong deserves democracy, but alas, in the world as it is, we do not often get what we deserve.”
In the presence of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, PM Lee also said that China could see Mr Patten’s initiatives to strengthen democracy as a conspiracy between the UK and the US to influence the democratisation movement in China, one that used Hong Kong as a pawn the SCMP writes.
At that point, Mr Patten was being roundly criticized by Beijing for his plans for political reforms, which Beijing perceived as a transgression of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as well as Hong Kong’s own mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
But the Government in the UK supported Mr Patten’s plans.
Mr Smith also wrote, “Singapore’s public criticism has toned down since the public exchanges of 1992. But our reporting shows that the views of the Singapore government remain that the UK and the Governor had mishandled relations with China.
Singapore has their own agenda, given their ambition to play a greater part in the development of China’s economy.”
Gordon Duggan, British High Commissioner to Singapore during this time, said via telegram to London on April 11, 1994, that PM Goh was “modest, conciliatory, caring and thoughtful individual, a technocrat.”
Meanwhile, he described PM Lee as Mr Goh’s “visionary, [one or two adjectives redacted] predecessor”.
PM Goh had ascended to the Premiership in November 1990 and was on his first visit to London since becoming Prime Minister.
Before declassifying documents, Government departments in the UK are allowed to cross out individual words sentences or paragraphs.
Anyone is allowed to appeal to Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office concerning the omitted portions in documents that have entered the public record. This office was set up to uphold information rights that are in the public’s interests. -/TISG