VZCZCXRO3881 PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHGH RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHVC DE RUEHGP #1932/01 2920841 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 190841Z OCT 07 FM AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4263 INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1998 RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1842 RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 4105 RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5723 RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 1359 RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SINGAPORE 001932 SIPDIS SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/17/2017 TAGS: PREL PGOV ECON CH TW BM SN SUBJECT: LEE KUAN YEW ON BURMA'S "STUPID" GENERALS AND THE "GAMBLER" CHEN SHUI-BIAN Classified By: Ambassador Patricia L. Herbold. Reasons 1.4(b)(d) ¶1. (C) Summary: ASEAN should not have admitted Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam into the organization in the 1990's, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told visiting EAP DAS Christensen and the Ambassador October 16. Expressing his scorn for Burma's leaders, MM Lee called them "dense" and "stupid." After discussing China's influence over Burma, he suggested that Indonesian President Yudhoyono, as a former general, could potentially be an interlocutor with the regime. Turning to cross-Strait relations, MM Lee characterized President Chen Shui-bian as a "gambler" who was ready to "go for broke" on independence. He thought that Japan might be willing to speak out publicly to constrain Taiwan now that Yasuo Fukuda was prime minister. China's strategy for Southeast Asia was simple -- "come grow with me" because China's rise is inevitable. MM Lee urged the United States to pursue more Free Trade Agreements to give the region options besides China. End Summary. ASEAN's Problematic Newer Members --------------------------------- ¶2. (C) Regional stability will be enhanced the more ASEAN is able to "get its act together," Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told visiting EAP DAS Christensen and the Ambassador during an October 16 meeting. However, ASEAN should not have admitted Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam as members in the 1990's, Lee argued. The older members of ASEAN shared common values and an antipathy to Communism. Those values had been "muddied" by the new members, and their economic and social problems made it doubtful they would ever behave like the older ASEAN members. ¶3. (C) MM Lee was most optimistic about Vietnam. He characterized the Vietnamese as "bright, fast learners" who will contribute to ASEAN's development. Vietnam also does not want to see China's influence in Southeast Asia become too great. Cambodia has not recovered yet from its difficult history and the political system is too personalized around Prime Minister Hun Sen. MM Lee dismissed Laos as an outpost for China, saying Laos reports back to China on theQproceedings from all ASEAN meetings. Burma's Generals: "Dense" and "Stupid" -------------------------------------- ¶4. (C) Turning to Burma, MM Lee expressed his scorn for the regime's leadership. He said he had given up on them a decade ago, called them "dense" and "stupid" and said they had "mismanaged" the country's great natural resources. He asserted that China had the greatest influence over the regime and had heavily penetrated the Burmese economy. China was worried that the country could "blow up" which would endanger its significant investments, pipelines, and the approximately two million Chinese estimated to be working in the country. India was worried about China's influence in Burma and was engaged with the regime in an attempt to minimize China's influence. India lacked China's finer grasp of how Burma worked, however. Resolving the Crisis in Burma ----------------------------- ¶5. (C) MM Lee thought one possible solution to the crisis in Burma would be for a group of younger military officers who were less "obtuse" to step forward and recognize that the current situation was untenable. They could share power with the democracy activists, although probably not with Aung San Suu Kyi, who was anathema to the military. It would be a long process. He said that Burma's ambassador in Singapore had told MFA that Burma could "survive any sanctions" due to its natural resources. Lee said dealing with the regime was like "talking to dead people." SBY as Envoy? ------------- ¶6. (C) Asked about the possibility of ASEAN naming a Burma envoy, MM Lee said an envoy could not be from Singapore, because Singapore is seen as too close to the United States. He suggested that Indonesian President Yudhoyono could potentially be an interlocutor. As a former general, SBY SINGAPORE 00001932 002 OF 003 might be able to meet with Senior General Than Shwe and get him to listen. Furthermore, SBY is "keen to play the role of peacemaker," but the challenge would be getting someone who is not too close to the United States to ask him to do it. MM Lee said that Vietnam was a possibility. Chen Shui-bian: The Gambler --------------------------- ¶7. (C) MM Lee told DAS Christensen his September 11 speech to the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council set the right "balance" and made it clear to both sides where the United States stands. He criticized President Chen Shui-bian for being a "gambler." Chen had discredited himself with his corruption scandals and the only card he had left was promoting Taiwan independence; with nothing left to lose, Chen was ready to "go for broke." MM Lee asserted that Chen feared a post-election criminal investigation regardless of whether the KMT or DPP won and had to "consolidate his position." Chen wanted to secure his legacy and avoid becoming a mere "footnote" in Taiwan history. ¶8. (C) Lee said he had told Frank Hsieh and Su Tseng-chang in separate meetings earlier this year that Taiwan would gain nothing from pursuing independence and would pay a great cost if it did. They responded that if Taiwan did nothing, it would be reunified with the mainland; they did not want to be a part of the PRC under any circumstances. Lee said he understood their negative history with the KMT but found their "antipathy, hatred, and revulsion" toward China to be "unbelievable." A Role for Japan ---------------- ¶9. (C) Japan should speak out to restrain Taiwan from making provocative moves towards independence, MM Lee said. He asked what Japan had agreed to do in response to the proposed referendum on joining the UN under the name Taiwan. DAS Christensen noted that Japan has expressed its opposition privately with President Chen, but did not agree to make any public statements opposing the referendum. MM Lee suggested that Japan might be willing to make a public statement now with Yasuo Fukuda serving as prime minister. Fukuda has close ties to the KMT and his father even risked China's ire to attend former President Chiang Ching-kuo's funeral in 1988, according to Lee. Dealing with a Rising China --------------------------- ¶10. (C) The more fundamental issue was how to deal with a rising China, MM Lee observed. The intellectual resources of the United States were being "sucked away" by the problems in the Middle East, making it difficult for the United States to focus on China. Over the next several decades, China wants to concentrate on its internal economic development and to avoid a conflict over Taiwan, Lee averred. However, if Taiwan declared independence, China would have no choice but to respond with force because its leaders have left themselves no "loopholes." China hopes that the Taiwan issue will be resolved on its own over the next fifty years when Taiwan's economy becomes "totally embedded" into China. He pointed to the case of Hong Kong, where the economy has been booming in recent years due to its greater access to China's market and the influx of tourists from the PRC. ASEAN and China --------------- ¶11. (C) China's strategy for Southeast Asia was fairly simple, MM Lee claimed. China tells the region, "come grow with me." At the same time, China's leaders want to convey the impression that China's rise is inevitable and that countries will need to decide if they want to be China's friend or foe when it "arrives." China is also willing to calibrate its engagement to get what it wants or express its displeasure. In the case of Singapore, China took "great umbrage" over then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's July 2004 visit to Taiwan. China froze bilateral talks, and the proposed bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has not progressed. However, China did not "squeeze" any of Singapore's investors and China remains the largest SINGAPORE 00001932 003 OF 003 destination for Singapore's FDI. MM Lee urged the United States to pursue more FTAs with ASEAN, or at least key members of ASEAN, which would give the region more options. He said Malaysia's unwillingness to bend on its "bumiputera" policy had been an impediment to a U.S.-Malaysia FTA. ¶12. (U) DAS Christensen has cleared this message.