Photo of Lee Hsien Loong from Xinhua

In his 3-day visit to China, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was much tamer and dared not mention “South China Sea” in China. The muzzled tone contrasts with Lee Hsien Loong’s rhetoric last year, who repeatedly demanded China to “respect international law” and lay off their claims for the South China Sea territories.

Also missing on the agenda was the Terrex vehicles episode, Operation StarLight in Taiwan. PM Lee Hsien Loong read his script and made no move, squandering his meeting with the China leaders.

However, Lee Hsien Loong’s self-censor is no surprise either after China punished him by detaining 9 SAF Terrex vehicles and pouring tens of billions of investments into Malaysia instead of Singapore. China has also deliberately left out Singapore of the lucrative multi-trillion One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. The moves came after Lee Hsien Loong demanded China to give up their claims in the South China Sea, and even criticised China as “no longer a middle kingdom”.

China’s indirect economic sanction of Singapore resulted in Lee Hsien Loong having to grovel by making a personal trip to China – his first in 4 years since 2013. In the four years, Singapore’s economy took a hit with the current unemployment rate now at it’s 7-year-high of 3%. Lee Hsien Loong also made a wrong bet on the US Presidential Election, choosing to stand with Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump. After he became President, Donald Trump instantly punished Lee Hsien Loong by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Pact (TPP) right after his election.

PM Lee Hsien Loong tried to mend the fence with China by pouring empty praises along with his Ministers as cheerleaders. China however did not take his bait and returned his lips service by offering “many opportunities in many areas”, which none was named.

The Singapore dictator left China at the end of his visit, with nothing to bring home. Lee Hsien Loong told media reporters subtly expressing his unhappiness by highlighting that Singapore is “not a Chinese society” and that he brought non-Chinese Ministers to highlight so.