Ms Lee Chia-fen, the wife of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu from Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT) has cancelled her campaign trip to Singapore as the government said it did not permit “foreign political activities” in the country.
Ms Lee has been stumping for her husband, who is the main opposition of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen in the January general elections, to Taiwanese in the region, having visited Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan. She is currently in Malaysia.
In a statement on Monday (25 November), KMT said that the election event scheduled in Singapore was cancelled following the government’s concerns over security. A day later, they announced that the visit was cancelled altogether.
There is an estimated 50,000 Taiwanese living in Singapore, according to media reports.
Responding to media queries on the cancellation, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said, “The Government does not permit the conduct of foreign political activities, including campaigning and fundraising, in Singapore.”
The spokesmen explained, “We have consistently maintained the same policy for all parties.”
“We expect all residents and visitors to respect and abide by our laws,” he added.
According to a survey as reported by Straits Times, Mrs Lee’s husband is lagging behind sitting President Tsai who is showing a 50% level of support from the people with his running mate William Lai, a former premier.
KMT’s Mayor Han and running mate Simon Chang are at 28.3% while People First Party chairman James Soong and Ms Sandra Yu have 7.8% of support. This is according to a survey released by the Cross-Strait Policy Associated in Taiwan.
South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted Singapore-based writer and former correspondent in Beijing, Peh Shing Huei, who said that Singapore’s statement is in line with it’s approach to diplomacy as a small country.
Peh said Singapore has been firm in opposing foreign interference in local politics and similarly would not want to be seen as meddling in the domestic politics of other nations.
“The moment the country is seen as a stakeholder in Taiwan’s elections, I think there will be a lot of trouble going forward,” he said.
Though Singapore has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it has an informal tie to the territory which China claims as its province, including military links which China strongly opposes. Under a deal signed by the late Lee Kuan Yew during his term with then Taiwanese leader Chiang Ching-kuo in 1975, Singapore’s soldiers have been allowed to train in Taiwan.
In 2004, just before he was sworn in as Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong made a private visit to Taiwan where he offered to mediate talks between them and China. However, the visit wasn’t received well by China at all as they temporarily suspended diplomatic exchanges with Singapore.
Though later in 2015, Singapore hosted a landmark first meeting between leaders China’s President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s then-President Ma Ying-jeou just three months before a Taiwanese election.
Peh said that this meeting and other incidents showed Singapore’s consistency in maintaining their neutrality due to its long-standing relationship with Taipei dating back to before the city established formal ties with China. Peh added that Lee Kuan Yew was also seen as an ‘honest’ broker between the two parties.
“I think that has given Singapore the kind of trust from both Beijing and Taipei that can be hard to find in this increasingly difficult environment,” he said.
Singapore and politics by foreigners
This barring of Ms Lee from stumping for her husband in Singapore as the country doesn’t allow “foreign political activities” is not entirely novel. The policy is widely known.
Just last week, Hong Kong businessmen Alex Yeung was repatriated by Singapore for organising a gathering without a permit. Mr Yeung was investigated for organising a gathering intended for people of Chinese ethnicity living in Singapore to share their opinions on the current protests in Hong Kong on 11 October.
The Singapore Police Force (SPF) told CNA late Wed (20 Nov) that Yeung will also be banned from re-entering Singapore without prior permission from the authorities.
“The Police would like to remind the public that organising or participating in a public assembly without a Police permit in Singapore is illegal and constitutes an offence under the Public Order Act,” said SPF, adding that the police will not grant permits for assemblies that advocate political causes for other countries.