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Li Xueying
Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014

Asia

Ups and downs in Singapore-HK ties

The Straits Times | Li Xueying | Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014

PM Lee Hsien Loong signing a guest book with Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying in Hong Kong last week. Words like “twin cities” and “special relationship” have long been used to describe ties between Singapore and Hong Kong.

One spring day in April, 1958, a tanned 35-year-old Singaporean wandered the narrow, steep alleys of Hong Kong, deep in thought.

There would have been much to occupy Mr Lee Kuan Yew: it was the year before a political upstart called the People's Action Party won at the polls, setting the stage for its rule over Singapore for at least the next half century.

At one point, he decided he wanted a suit tailored, in this city famed for its Shanghainese tailors who had fled communist rule in China.

He was measured in the morning, fitted in the afternoon and the suit was delivered that night.

"It made a deep impression on me," he recounted in a speech in 1992 in Hong Kong. "Singapore tailors do not work at that speed."

That first visit was the beginning of a lifelong personal attachment that Singapore's first prime minister had for the Pearl of the Orient. He visited nearly every year, most recently in 2012.

Over the decades, as the two cities charted their separate but interwoven destinies - at times collaborators, at times competitors - relations have evolved as well, waxing and waning in phases.

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spent three days here, his first visit as head of government. It was the culmination of a flurry of high-level visits between the cities in recent years.

As PM Lee noted to the Singapore media at his visit's conclusion: "In its society, economy and city planning, Hong Kong faces many challenges similar to ours. So in the past two years, we have received many of their senior officials. Many of ours have also been to Hong Kong to learn. Thus, my trip this time is aimed at understanding their situation."

Words like "twin cities" and "special relationship" have long been used to describe ties between Singapore and Hong Kong, both of whom are former British colonies with a majority ethnic Chinese population.

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