The three, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Land and Regional Development Minister Datuk Shafie Apdal, are Umno vice-presidents. Umno's top leaders have traditionally been drawn from the ranks of the party's vice-presidents.
They called on Lee at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the evening, and later told the media that they appreciated the elder statesman's candour and advice during their 45-minute meeting.
It was also a chance for them to touch base with some of Singapore's younger leaders who are accompanying Lee on his visit: Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen, Acting Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Masagos Zulkifli.
The three Malaysian ministers also told Lee that at a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak emphasised Malaysia's intent to strengthen cooperation with Singapore in all areas.
Earlier in the day, Lee called on Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin at the Istana Negara.
He was also invited to Najib's home, where he received a warm welcome from the premier's wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.
They chatted for an hour and she asked after Mrs Lee, Lee's press secretary Yeong Yoon Ying said.
Lee replied that Mrs Lee's condition was stable and she could respond when he spoke to her.
Rosmah, who works closely with her husband, spoke about her two children and told Lee her son was learning Mandarin as a third language, while her daughter had plumbed for Arabic. Both are studying at Georgetown University in the United States.
Underscoring the importance of bilateral ties, Hishamuddin said at a press conference after the call that both Malaysia and Singapore faced new challenges amid a changing global landscape.
These challenges would require strength of leadership on both sides to resolve, he said.
The Malaysian ministers discussed some of these challenges with Lee, including regional threats and the current economic crisis.
Hishamuddin said he wished he had more time with Lee as he would have liked to tap the older leader's experience in bilateral matters and nation-building.
“That he is here for such a long time, and giving his time to the young leaders of Malaysia, shows how concerned he is, as we are, vis-a-vis the relationship between neighbours,” he added.
All three also said that ties between the younger leaders on both sides are already in place. The ministers in Lee's delegation, for example, are no strangers to them.
Shafie also observed that as Deputy Defence Minister, he had got to know Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Reflecting on these ties in the context of fresh challenges, Hishamuddin said: “The future, at the end of the day, depends very much on the younger leaders and how the relationships between the communities are built and strengthened to face those challenges.”
Shafie said it was important for both countries to look forward and to build stronger, better ties.
The minister, who hails from Sabah, also invited Lee to visit his home state.
Ahmad Zahid proposed more informal exchanges between Malaysians and Singaporeans at all levels, including ministers, officials and students. Then if problems arose, resolution might just be “a phone call away”, he added.
Lee capped off a busy third day of his week-long visit by meeting Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, president of the Islamic-based opposition party PAS, and his deputy Nasharudin Mat Isa. — The Straits Times