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Lee Kuan Yew: The Arch-Globalizer?

What does Singapore’s first Prime Minister have to say about Asia and globalization?

August 9, 2002

What does Singapore's first Prime Minister have to say about Asia and globalization?

Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has been credited with creating one of the world's most dynamic economies. Hardly any other nation is as well adapted to the global economy as the city state at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula. Critics, however, call his creation "Disneyland with death penalty" — or a "shopping mall dictatorship". Yet, despite his critics, Mr. Lee has always been considered an authority on Asia and globalization. Our new Read My Lips explores his views.

How should world leaders deal with China?

“China is a power that has been dormant or comatose for some 200 years. You can either make friends and influence them to become a rule-abiding member of the international community — or try to obstruct their development, in which case you can expect a disruptive player.”

(September 2000)

What is one of Asia's main problems?

“I don’t see a balance inherent in Asia itself. China is just too big. You can put the rest of East Asia together — it just wouldn’t tip the scales.”

(March 2001)

In your view, what is crucial for Asia's future?

“U.S.-China is the single most important relationship, one that will decide the future of the Asia Pacific region.”

(March 2001)

How can other powers have a positive influence on Asia's development?

“The key to peace and stability in Asia will depend on how the United States, Japan and Europe engage China.”

(November 2000)

Does the United States have an advantage over China?

“The Americans can play the Japanese card with the Chinese, and the Chinese card against the Japanese. But Japan and China have no card to play against the Americans — not unless they can act together, which is unlikely”.

(November 1998)

Is good government the key to everything?

"Westerners have abandoned an ethical basis for society, believing that all problems are solvable by a good government."

(March 1994)

How would you tackle America's social problems?

"What would I do as an American? First, you must have order in society. Then you have to educate rigorously and train a whole generation of skilled, intelligent, knowledgeable people who can be productive."

(April 1994)

Where do you see a major difference between your social ideals and those of the West?

"I would start off with the basics to address the problems of society. Working on the individual, looking at him within the context of his family, his friends, his society. But the Westerner says: I’ll fix things at the top. One magic formula, one grand plan. It’s an interesting theory — but not a proven method."

(April 1994)

Do you think the will of the people is important?

“When people say consult the will of the people, I say yes of course, but after we’ve acted. I do not believe that a popular government means you have to be popular when you govern.”

(September 2000)

What is Singapore's economic weak point?

“Whatever we do, we cannot make up for the loss of export demand.”

(October 2001)

Finally, how do you view Singapore's economic success over the last 40 years?

"Look at our harbor. Thirty years ago, we had over 10,000 workers either carrying sacks of rice off on their backs — or trundling them in forklift trucks. Today, you see silent cranes moving containers with one person in the cabin working the crane and a few drivers moving the containers out. From a work force of about 15,000, now it has shrunk to less than 3,000 handling more than 10 times the tonnage they used to handle."

(November 1993)