by Frank Li
As part of the research for my book (Saving America, Chinese Style), I searched “China” for all the books about China at Amazon.com. The book about Lee Kuan Yew (Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World) stood out. I bought the book, read it, and reached a simple conclusion that has been in my mind for quite some time: Lee Kuan Yew is like Sarah Palin in several ways! I posted my opinion as a “Customer Review” at Amazon.com, but drew some harsh criticism. After responding briefly in the form of comments, I decided to write and publish this article to put my whole argument in perspective.
1. Who is Lee Kuan Yew?
According to Wikipedia,
Lee Kuan Yew (born Harry Lee Kuan Yew, 16 September 1923), GCMG, CH, is a Singaporean politician. Often referred to by the initials LKY, he was the first Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore, governing for three decades. He is also widely recognized as the founding father of modern Singapore.
As the co-founder and first General Secretary of the People’s Action Party (PAP), he led the party to eight victories from 1959 to 1990, and oversaw the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965 and its subsequent transformation from a relatively underdeveloped colonial outpost with no natural resources into a “First World” Asian Tiger. He is one of the most influential political figures in Asia.
Singapore’s second prime minister Goh Chok Tong appointed him Senior Minister in 1990. He held the advisory post of Minister Mentor, created by his son Lee Hsien Loong, when the latter became the nation’s third prime minister in August 2004. With his successive ministerial positions spanning over 50 years, Lee is also one of history’s longest-serving ministers. On 14 May 2011, Lee and Goh Chok Tong announced their retirement from the cabinet after the 2011 general election.
2. Lee is an accomplished man!
Lee is the founding father of modern Singapore. Today, Singapore is a world leader in several categories, such as the standard of living and education, thanks, almost entirely, to his strong and exceptional leadership!
3. Lee was a world statesman!
Lee was a world statesman [especially on China] for two main reasons:
His accomplishments in Singapore.
The China vacuum: The lack of an alternative Chinese face on the world stage from 1960 to 1990, during which China screwed itself up badly, really badly! Lee is a Chinese (by heritage), and he thinks and speaks like a Chinese, which is far more significant than reason #1!
4. Lee has been overhyped!
In analogy, Lee is like Sarah Palin in several ways as follows:
They both managed a small economy. For example, Singapore is 1/5 in population and geography as compared with Shanghai! Palin’s Alaska to the U.S. is more than 20% of Shanghai to China!
He rose to the occasion because of the “China vacuum”. She rose to the occasion because John McCain was so hopeless and desperate that he had nothing to lose. So he picked Palin as his running mate in 2008 as a shock therapy. Palin would otherwise have had no chance at all to possibly be just one heartbeat away from the American Presidency! (Note: Palin actually had more executive experience than Barack Obama by 2008, but I discussed it amply elsewhere already.)
Both Lee and Palin should be irrelevant now, because the circumstances for their rises have fundamentally changed.
5. Lee should be irrelevant now
Lee should be irrelevant now for one simple reason: China is back, and there are some “real” Chinese out there who think, write, and speak far better than Lee! Any doubt? Just compare this book with mine (Saving America, Chinese Style)! While Lee’s understanding of China is largely correct, his understanding of the West and democracy is so yesterday that he should perhaps immediately retire himself to seclusion half way through my book!
Oh, in case you are unaware, Singapore has never been a true democracy per se for even a single day! Lee ruled like a king for 30 years, and his son is the Prime Minister now. Despite the fact that more than 70% of the population in Singapore are Chinese descents who speak Chinese, the government “worked over the past 40 years to establish English as our first language, and Chinese as the second” (page 203 of 1613, Kindle Edition) – What an accomplishment! It may well change itself back in 20 years though …
6. The China vacuum
I have long maintained that the biggest regional losers as a result of China’s rise are the following:
Country: Hong Kong! It is no longer the financial center of Asia! Shanghai is, instead!
Individual: Lee Kuan Yew! He has been increasingly marginalized as a statesman! Watch out: there will be a lot more “real” Chinese coming out as statesmen in the coming years!
So be very careful in your response to a “loser”! Two examples:
Hong Kong: The people of Hong Kong suddenly started demanding democracy, which they never had under the British rule of 100 years, right before 1997, when China was about to take over!
Lee Kuan Yew: His continued advocacy for a stronger U.S. presence in East Asia is not only self-serving, but also U.S.-destroying! We, the U.S., have been saving the world while bankrupting ourselves at home! Additionally, read this: Be wary of rising China, says Lee Kuan Yew. What a sore “loser”!
7. Bottom line
Lee managed a small country/city (about 3M people) with excellence – That was it!
Economically, both Taiwan and South Korea did equally well, if not better. Remember: size matters! Building a perfect house on a street corner is very different from building the Palace of Versailles!
Politically, Lee ruled like a king for 30 years. He did advocate democracy, but that was “for everybody but us, because we are too small to afford any mess up.”
Lee Kuan Yew is an accomplished man! The folks in Singapore should remember him well into the future. But that’s it, no matter how much hype is out there to project him as a world leader beyond Singapore. He was not, is not, will never be!
Lee was a de facto king after all, which is fundamentally against the western values! Therefore, the western elites should stop worshiping him like the North Koreans do with the Kims!
We live in a complex world, with winners and losers in every area. What does it take to be a winner in what you do? Among many things, a shaper vision of the future! Perpetuation of the past must be tempered with a correct view of the future. Read my book (Saving America, Chinese Style), and you will be much better prepared, guaranteed!