TAIWAN: George Yeo, Singapore’s former foreign minister, has proposed the concept of a “Chinese Commonwealth” as a potential framework for future political integration between Taiwan and China.
Yeo made this proposal during his speech at the Asia-Pacific Forward Forum in Taipei on Wednesday (13 Sep), emphasizing that the division between China and Taiwan exists primarily “at the political level; not at the cultural and civilizational level.”
The 68-year-old former PAP politician warned that the status quo across the Taiwan Strait may seem attractive but it is unsustainable, as it “only postpones the problem”, considering the relative strength of the PRC versus the US is shifting in the PRC’s favour.
“By 2050, the PRC’s economy will be significantly bigger than that of the US even allowing for a lot of uncertainty.”
“If the PRC’s per capita income reaches half that of the US, the PRC economy will be roughly equal to that of the US and EU combined.”
He recalled that Singapore’s founding father, the late Lee Kuan Yew saw the trend as inevitable and constantly urged Taiwan leaders to negotiate earlier rather than later with the Mainland. Taiwan is likely to achieve a better outcome for itself by negotiating earlier.
“The choices are therefore stark. Broadly speaking, they are binary. Taiwan can hang on to the status quo in the hope that something will happen to the Mainland one day which makes unification unnecessary.”
Or, Taiwan can work towards gradual convergence with the Mainland into a future China which is not what the PRC is today, Mr Yeo added.
Mr Yeo then proposed the idea of a “Chinese Commonwealth” as a potential arrangement to facilitate negotiations between both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
He explained that the specific details of this commonwealth could be discussed and refined during talks.
Yeo stressed the importance of realistic hope, as opposed to false hope, for Taiwan’s future. He cautioned against building hope on the “illusion” of Taiwan’s independence and highlighted the dangers of such an approach.
Regarding the timeline and nature of this potential future “One China,” Yeo admitted that predicting such developments is challenging.
He mentioned historical examples like Iceland’s tribal meetings and Switzerland’s Old Swiss Confederacy as models for building a common framework.
He also suggested ASEAN as a possible model, emphasizing the sovereignty of each member country.
Yeo expressed his wish for a gradual process leading to peaceful reunification, as he believed that the alternative—inevitable war—would be tragic for Taiwan, the Mainland, Singapore, and the world at large.
“Speaking as a Singaporean, I wish no better outcome than a gradual process which leads towards eventual peaceful reunification because the alternative is inevitable war which will be tragic, not only for Taiwan and the Mainland but also for Singapore and indeed the entire world. ”
During a panel discussion, Mr Yeo compared the initial process of building this commonwealth to that of ASEAN, where each country maintains its sovereignty.
Taiwan’s former Foreign Minister David Lin expressed that a model similar to the U.K. and Singapore’s participation in the Commonwealth would be more attractive to Taiwanese people than the “one country, two systems” approach seen in Hong Kong.
Taiwan professor highlighted the challenges and obstacles of the “commonwealth” idea
However, Philip Hsu, a political science professor at National Taiwan University, highlighted the challenges and obstacles to such an integration.
These include the significant disparity in comprehensive national powers between Taiwan and China, Beijing’s focus on a unitary state in its unification stance, and the issue of national representation at international organizations.
“The first is the disparity in the comprehensive national powers between Taiwan and China, a drastic difference from past successful supranational integration such as EU; the second is that Beijing’s official canon about unification has always focused on a unitary state, rather than a confederacy, and this is related to the third instance, and that is the issue of national representation at governmental organizations, which I think is very hard for Beijing to accept…for example, full membership in the U.N.,” Hsu said.
Responding to a question about whether Singapore would consider joining the commonwealth, Mr Yeo clarified that while Singapore might participate in economic and cultural aspects, it would never engage in political association within a Chinese commonwealth.
“Maybe in the economic and cultural sense, but never the political sense,” Yeo said.
“We are multiracial. Singapore has to affirm that very strongly and cannot afford any political association in a Chinese commonwealth,” Yeo added.
Mr Yeo’s complete speech is available on his Facebook page:
George Yeo served as Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs between 2004 and 2011.
Mr Yeo was the leader of the People’s Action Party (PAP) team which contested and lost Aljunied GRC to the opposition Workers’ party in in the 2011 General Election. He later opted out of Presidential Race in the same year.
Despite retiring from politics in 2011, he has continued to participate in public events and media interviews.
Mr. Yeo was the chairman of Kerry Logistics Network from August 2012 until November 2013 and became an independent non-executive director of Creative Technology in 2021.
He has also been an independent non-executive director of AIA Group since 2012 and Pinduoduo since 2018.
He now holds positions with the World Economic Forum and in academia.