Ng Eng Hen’s “bromance” with Chinese Minister of National Defence

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Screenshot from Ng Eng Hen's Facebook video

Earlier this month, local Chinese news site RedAnts pointed out Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen’s “bromance” with Chinese Minister of National Defence General Chang Wanquan on the latter’s official visit to Singapore from Feb 4 to Feb 8.

On his Facebook page, Dr Ng posted a video titled “Lunch with GEN Chang Wanquan”, documenting snippets of Gen Chang’s last day in Singapore. After having chilli crab for lunch, they walked out of the restaurant holding hands and laughing, before bidding farewell to each other with a bear hug. Both joked that if Gen Chang had not made this trip to Singapore, Dr Ng would have scolded him.

Lunch with GEN Chang Wanquan

We concluded Chinese Minister of National Defense GEN Chang Wanquan's visit on a high note – over chilli crab at Long Beach Seafood Restaurant.I wished my good friend: 一路顺风 (safe travels) and 新年快乐 (Happy Chinese New Year).

Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday, 7 February 2018

 

This is Dr Ng and Gen Chang’s seventh official meeting together. Dr Ng said that he is “happy and honoured to host (his) good friend” and very touched when Gen Chang said to him that “coming to Singapore, is not like going away, but visiting good friends in the same town”.

According to RedAnts, this might be Dr Ng and Gen Chang’s last meeting in their official capacities, thus explaining their emotional farewell.

Gen Chang, who also holds the rank of State Councillor (ranked immediately below the Vice-Premiers), is expected to retire in March this year after China’s “Lianghui”, as at 69 years old, he has passed the unofficial retirement age of the Chinese Communist Party of 68. He stepped down as a member of the CPC Central Committee at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2017.

“Lianghui”, or “Two meetings”, is the annual plenary sessions where thousands of delegates from the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) come together to discuss the country’s policy intent for the year. The NPC performs legislative functions akin to a parliament, while the CPPCC is a political advisory body which consists of delegates from all walks of life, representing various social groups.

As for Dr Ng, there is a possibility that after the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, he may hand over his portfolio to one of the 4G leaders. Dr Ng, a key member of the 3G leadership, is 59 this year, and has helmed the role of Defence Minister since 2011.

Aside from chilli crab, Dr Ng also treated Gen Chang to durian, and together with the ASEAN Defence Ministers, they tossed Yu Sheng to usher in Chinese New Year.

Personal relationships, or “guanxi”, is an important part of Chinese diplomacy. While Sino-Singapore relations have not been smooth sailing in recent years, it is nice to see both leaders enjoying such a close personal relationship and engaging in “makan diplomacy”. Hopefully, this helps foster closer relations between both countries and set a precedent for the new generation of leaders.