For years, the Chinese government sent thousands of officials to be trained in Singapore's universities, trying to tease out how their country can emulate the Singapore system that combines a dominant-party rule with an open economy.
At the end of their course, they "remain unconvinced that we have told them everything", says Straits Times journalist Peh Shing Huei, recounting what a Singapore diplomat once told him.
The Chinese seem "unwilling or unable" to grasp the fundamental difference between Singapore and China - which is that the former holds free and regular elections that endow the Government with legitimacy.
"So unless the Chinese Communist Party is willing to go down that way, it is very difficult for the Singapore model to take root in China," said Mr Peh in answering a question on whether Singapore's political model can be transplanted into China.
More importantly, he added, the issue of size makes such comparisons between China and Singapore impractical, if not futile. Singapore is a city state, while China is a huge country with problems such as rural-urban tensions that are inconceivable in Singapore.
"The number of cars in Beijing is more than the number of people in Singapore," he quipped. "Any comparison would be tricky."
Mr Peh was speaking yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong, where he gave a talk on his book, When The Party Ends.
The book, inspired by his time as The Straits Times' China bureau chief between 2008 and last year, was launched in Singapore earlier this month.
The 38-year-old, who is now deputy news editor, was also probed on the difference between working as a journalist in China and in Singapore.
The levers of media control in China are not as sophisticated and refined, he says, citing an incident in 2011 where an official showed up unannounced at his home to warn him against covering the so-called Jasmine Revolution calling for democracy.
"In China, if you stray, you don't know what will happen," noted Mr Peh. His book, published by Straits Times Press, is available in bookstores for $28 before GST, and also at www.stpressbooks.com.sg
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