Singapore is finalising preparations for the nine-day Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference which opens there on Thursday (January 14).
Singapore is finalising preparations for the nine-day Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference which opens there on Thursday (January 14). According to reports, however, the meeting may bring the future of the Commonwealth into doubt over the issue of Britain's proposed arms sales to South Africa.
While workmen put the finishing touches to the harbourfront Conference Hall and city gardens, Commonwealth Prime Ministers prepare for the critical meeting. The 32-nation organisation, which grew out of the British Empire, has faced crises before - usually, however, on political and economic issues. This time, the debate centres around racism -- and with several African Prime Ministers threatening to leave the Commonwealth or expel Britain from the organisation, this crisis could prove fatal, say reports. For Britain, which argues that it wishes to sell arms to South Africa for Western protection of the sea routes around the Cape of Good Hope, also has support among the Afro-Asian bloc. Thus, a split between the two sides could break up the organisation. A college next door to the Conference Hall has been converted into a Press centre to provide reporting facilities for journalists from every Commonwealth country -- and others outside. Meanwhile, the city is being face-lifted for the occasion -- gardens are being spruced up, roads resurfaced and syesores covered with fencing or shrubbery. A fleet of limousines has been laid on for delegates, who will stay at four luxury hotels.
While non-Commonwealth South African maintains a rigid policy of separate racial development, conference host Singapore, whose Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew plans to act as a mediator in the arms debate, is a multi-racial society. The population of two million people is made up of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Europeans and Eurasians. Corruption is said to have disappeared since the country gained its independence II years ago, and beggars are fewer. The standard of living i s reported to be one of the highest in Asia.
The conference is only the second to be held outside London -- the other was in Lagos, Nigeria.