Ex-Singapore official: Zhou Enlai was center of Bandung Conference

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-4-21 10:28:46

"Zhou Enlai was the center of the Bandung Conference," said 91-year-old Lee Khoon Choy, who met Zhou in 1955 during the first Asian-African Conference (also known as Bandung Conference), in an exclusive interview with Xinhua here.

Lee, born in 1924 in Penang, Malaysia, joined the People's Action Party in 1959 in Singapore and was elected into the Legislative Assembly at the same year. By the time he retired from public service in 1988, he had held various positions in the government, including as a Member of Parliament and senior minister of state, and served as Singapore's ambassador and high commissioner to eight countries.

However, back in 1955, when Lee first met Zhou, the then premier of the People's Republic of China, he was a reporter at the Chinese newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau. He was in Indonesia to cover the Bandung Conference, a gathering of leaders and representatives from 29 Asian and African countries, most of them newly independent, to promote economic and cultural cooperation and to oppose colonialism.

The conference adopted a final communique containing ten principles, which underlined respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations and recognition of the equality of all races and the equality of all nations.

Even though more than half a century has passed, Lee can still remember many details. He recalled that Zhou and his "strong" Chinese delegation including Chen Yi, the then foreign minister, were the center of attraction as soon as they arrived.

"They received a warm welcome from overseas Chinese. They gave the delegation a very warm applause and some even set off firecrackers to celebrate."

Every time Lee talks about Zhou, he made a thumbs-up gesture to show his respect.

"Zhou Enlai came to the conference with a prepared speech. After listening to the speeches against China, I saw him leading the Chinese delegation in a walk back to their hotel room. There was a big crowd clapping hands when the delegation walked out of and back into the Merdeka Building in Bandung," Lee said. "When Zhou returned to the conference table, he threw away his prepared speech and spoke off the cuff."

"That came to be the historical moment of China's diplomacy," Lee said.

Zhou said he had come to the conference to seek peace and not enemies. He said China was willing to negotiate with America for peace.

"Zhou's speech totally changed the atmosphere of the whole conference. He became the very center of the stage, with everyone' s attention on him."

For then 31-year-old Lee, this was not the only impressive moment with Zhou.

"I have always remembered one sentence from Zhou - overseas Chinese like you should take part in politics," Lee recalled.

"Many people at that time were hesitant to step into politics, but after the Bandung Conference, a lot changed their minds," Lee said.

For Lee himself, Zhou's words had also more or less changed his life. Lee didn't make up his mind to join politics after the Bandung Conference, but was finally persuaded by then Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1959, an old friend who Lee Khoon Choy met when he went to London to attend a class for advanced study in journalism ten years prior (1949).

Lee has since then served in government for almost three decades before he retired in 1988. In 2005, he was invited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to attend the 50th anniversary of the Bandung Conference. But to him, there's "no second Bandung Conference" like the one in 1955.

"China brought up the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence at the Bandung Conference, which was very good," he said.

"During the conference, Zhou got the opportunity to explain to other countries that China was not trying to subvert their political power, and it was the first time China established connectivity with countries in the world. Zhou made a great contribution to this."

It was not until 20 years later when Lee and Zhou met again. In 1975, Lee, the then minister of state for foreign affairs, visited China with Singapore's foreign minister S. Rajaratnam.

Zhou, who was suffering from cancer at that time, met them in Beijing where he was hospitalized. To his surprise, Zhou "had a really remarkable memory."

"He said, 'Oh, we met in Bandung and you had interviewed me," Lee said and smiled.

That trip later kicked off bilateral communications between Singapore and China.

Since the first trip to China in 1975, Lee has visited China more than 100 times, either as a politician, diplomat, tourist, businessman or antique collector. He has witnessed the dramatic changes of China.

"I admire Xi Jinping's axe on corruption, it will do great good to China," Lee said.

Posted in: Cross-Borders

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