Not Invited: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Photo: AFP
China’s decision not to invite Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to last weekend’s Belt and Road Forum highlights the still-strained ties between the two countries, observers say, though officials in the Lion City have tried to shrug off talk of any diplomatic rift.
Of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members, only three countries were not represented by their heads of government at the high-level summit in Beijing: Singapore, Thailand and Brunei. Twenty-nine national leaders and the representatives of 28 other countries attended the two-day meeting to discuss the China-led initiative to rebuild the ancient Silk Road trade route through a network of new ports, railways and roads.
The Singapore delegation was led by national development minister Lawrence Wong, while Thailand was represented by foreign minister Don Pramudwinai and four other cabinet ministers. Brunei, the tiny but oil-rich kingdom ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, was represented by second foreign minister Lim Jock Seng.
In an interview with travelling Singaporean media, Wong revealed that the invitations were decided by China. It was the first official acknowledgement that Lee was not invited. In sharp contrast, regional counterparts including Malaysia’s Najib Razak, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte prominently highlighted their participation in the summit on social media. Lee’s office did not respond to This Week in Asia’s queries on the matter.
The Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo and Malaysia’s Najib Razak in a photo shared on Najib’s Twitter account. Photo: Twitter
Smaller nations with less-established diplomatic ties with Beijing also s