Thursday 8 August 2013

Lee Kuan Yew: One Man's View Of The World

'Unvarnished account, minus some rough edges'
Mr Lee says his latest book contains 90 years of various experiences
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2013

FORMER prime minister Lee Kuan Yew yesterday described his latest book, which features his view of the world, as a "gathering of 90 years of various experiences".

It is also a "largely unvarnished account with some of the rugged edges shaved off", said Singapore's founding father, who turns 90 next month.

Appearing to be in good spirits at his book launch at the Istana, he quipped, to laughter from the audience: "I do not want to ruffle too many feathers."

The book, One Man's View Of The World, contains Mr Lee's analysis of geopolitics, the future of world powers such as China and the United States, and what lies ahead for Europe, the Middle East, and East and South-east Asia.

One chapter is devoted to discussing Singapore's future and what a two-party system would bring. Mr Lee also reflects on life and death, God and the afterlife in the 400-page book that he dedicates to his late "wife and partner Choo".

One year in the making, the book is published by the book publishing arm of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

The event was attended by 200 people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, and former senior minister S. Jayakumar. Diplomats, academics and MPs were also present, as well as former Kazakhstan premier Karim Massimov.

They rose when the elder Mr Lee entered through a side entrance, wearing a blue silk Chinese jacket and black sneakers, and walked unaided to his seat.

In a speech, SPH chairman Lee Boon Yang said Mr Lee was "remarkably candid" in his analysis of international politics, now that he is freed from the limitations of being in the Cabinet.

"Mr Lee is an unapologetic realist in his perspective of international relations, one that eschews emotion or ideology," he added.

Mr Lee followed with a brief speech, delivering his remarks in 11/2 minutes: "I won't spoil your reading of the book by telling you more about it."

The two men then unveiled a picture with the book embedded within a frame.

Rounding off his 10-minute appearance, Mr Lee shook hands with former MPs, including former minister of state Ch'ng Jit Koon, who had helped him at his Tanjong Pagar constituency.

About 20,000 copies of the book are on sale at $39.90 (including GST) at leading bookstores. It can be ordered online at

What some say about the book


"Where others hedge their views with reservations, Lee Kuan Yew is blunt and goes straight to the point. No other statesman or commentator can match him as a master of realpolitik."

- Lord Charles Powell, former private secretary to the late former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher


"I particularly value his relatively optimistic view of the potential future of the crucial relationship between China and the United States, but also his sage cautionary advice to both countries."

- Professor Joseph S. Nye of Harvard Kennedy School


"He distinctly reveals Europe's perspective of self-inflicted marginalisation if its politicians further fail to take the right action."

- Former chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt

Money won't solve low birth rate problem: Mr Lee
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2013

IF FORMER prime minister Lee Kuan Yew were in charge of Singapore today, he would introduce a baby bonus equal to two years of the average Singaporean's salary.

This is not to boost the country's abysmal total fertility rate of 1.2. Rather, Mr Lee would do it to "prove that super-sized monetary incentives would only have a marginal effect on fertility rates".

Writing in his new book, One Man's View Of The World, Mr Lee makes clear he would offer this huge baby bonus for at least a year.

The experiment will "prove beyond any doubt that our low birth rates have nothing to do with economic or financial factors, such as high cost of living or lack of government help for parents", he says.

Instead, it is due to transformed lifestyles and mindsets which the Government is relatively powerless against, he argues in the 400-page book that is due to be launched today.

Declining fertility is the biggest threat to Singapore's survival, he says.

But, Mr Lee adds: "I cannot solve the problem, and I have given up. I have given the job to another generation of leaders. Hopefully, they or their successors will eventually find a way out."

In a chapter on Singapore, he also says the suggestion that the "Stop at Two" population campaign of the 1970s played a part in bringing fertility rates down is "absurd".

Rather, falling fertility is a global phenomenon due primarily to women's emancipation and participation in the workplace, he says.

The chapter on Singapore is one of 11 in the new book, which focuses largely on foreign affairs.

Mr Lee covers regions including the Middle East and superpowers such as the United States and China, as well as issues like the future of the global economy and climate change.

He also writes candidly about his past encounters with world leaders and impressions of countries, but the bulk of the book looks forwards as he sizes up these countries' strengths, weaknesses and chances of success.

In the Singapore chapter, Mr Lee also reflects on the historic 2011 General Election, young Singaporeans' desire for a two-party system, and Workers' Party MP Chen Show Mao.

He returns to the issue of low fertility often, pointing to it as the reason Japan, a country he once considered "peerless", is now on what he calls a "stroll into mediocrity".

The demographic changes in Singapore and Japan are similar, he notes; the difference lies in the unwillingness of the Japanese to "shade (the) problem with immigrants" like Singapore has done.

It is this intransigence about accepting foreigners and the deeply ingrained idea that the Japanese race must be kept "pure" that makes their continued decline inevitable, he says.

"If I were a young Japanese and I could speak English, I would probably choose to emigrate," he concludes bluntly.

Mr Lee's new book was written with the research and editorial assistance of a team of Straits Times journalists. They are managing editor Han Fook Kwang, deputy editor Zuraidah Ibrahim, Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong and political reporter Elgin Toh.

Also in the team was a civil servant seconded to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Shashi Jayakumar.

Mr Lee is due to launch the book officially today at the Istana. About 20,000 copies will be on sale at $39.90 (including GST) at leading bookstores from 5pm today.

Online shoppers can order it at

Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew says he wants a quick death
By AFP,, 7 Aug 2013

Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who will turn 90 next month, said in a new book published Tuesday that he feels weaker by the day and wants a quick death.

"Some time back, I had an Advanced Medical Directive (AMD) done which says that if I have to be fed by a tube, and it is unlikely that I would ever be able to recover and walk about, my doctors are to remove the tube and allow me to make a quick exit," he wrote in the book "One Man's View of the World".

The book is dedicated to the Asian statesman's views on international affairs but an entire chapter contains his musings on death, religion and other personal issues. The 400-page work is dedicated to his late wife Kwa Geok Choo, whose death in 2010 shattered the normally stoic veteran politician.

Lee has visibly weakened since then and revealed in the book that despite daily exercise and a disciplined lifestyle, "with every passing day I am physically less energetic and less active."

"There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach," he wrote.


Lee, a British-trained lawyer who served as Singapore's prime minister for three decades and turned it into a high-tech industrial and financial centre, expressed his blunt views on religion in the book.

"I wouldn't call myself an atheist. I neither deny nor accept that there is a God," he said.

"So I do not laugh at people who believe in God. But I do not necessarily believe in God – nor deny that there could be one."

Asked where he drew comfort from if not from religion, he said: "It is the end of any aches and pains and suffering. So I hope the end will come quickly."


Elsewhere in the book, Lee addressed what he considers the biggest long-term threat to Singapore – its low birth rate – and rejected as "absurd" suggestions that his population programme in the 1970s urging couple to stop at two children contributed to the current situation.

Despite a slew of so-called "baby bonuses" to encourage couples to have children, Singapore's total fertility rate last year stood at 1.20 children per woman, far below the 2.1 needed to maintain the native-born population.

Lee, who retired from politics in 2011, blamed Singaporeans' changing lifestyles for the problem and said monetary incentives would only have a "marginal effect" on it.

"I have given the job to another generation of leaders. Hopefully, they or their successors will eventually find a way out," said Lee, who handed power to his deputy Goh Chok Tong in 1990 after 31 years in office.

Lee's son, Lee Hsien Loong, is now prime minister after succeeding Goh in 2004.


Singapore's low birth rate has forced the government to open the country to foreigners, who now comprise a third of the population.

The influx, however, has sparked protests from citizens and prompted the government to tighten immigration flows in recent years.

Lee pointed to the example of Japan, which he said is on a "stroll into mediocrity" as the ranks of its elderly swell due to young couples not producing enough babies.

Japan's reluctance to open up to immigrants will further lead to its decline, he said.
"If I were a young Japanese and I could speak English, I would probably choose to emigrate," said Lee.

ST journalists on working with Mr Lee on book
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 4 Aug 2013

Rounding out his ninth decade of life, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, so long a dominant presence in Singaporean public life, was not done talking.

Less than a year after the publication of Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going in 2011, a book based on 32 hours of interviews with Mr Lee, former ST editor Han Fook Kwang, 60, received an e-mail message from Singapore's founding prime minister.

It contained a short draft of a chapter of a new book Mr Lee wanted to write, this time on foreign affairs, and his take on different societies around the world. It would be based on insights he had honed from 50 years at the helm of Singapore's foreign policy, during which he interacted with major world leaders, from Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong to United States President Barack Obama.

Mr Han, who headed the group of The Straits Times journalists behind Hard Truths, gathered a team of four from the newsroom to interview Mr Lee and provide research and editorial assistance for the new project.

Two had also been involved in Hard Truths - Deputy Editor Zuraidah Ibrahim, 48, and Opinion Editor Chua Mui Hoong, 44 - while one was a young political reporter, Mr Elgin Toh, 29.

They were joined by a civil servant who had been seconded to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Shashi Jayakumar, 40.

The ST team worked out an approach similar to the one taken with Hard Truths, and produced an outline of the book. Each chapter would distil Mr Lee's views, followed by Q&A extracts.

Mr Lee's reply: "Good proposals and excellent themes. Gives me scope to sketch my world view of the present, and anticipate the immediate future (in) five to 10 years."

And he signalled his impatience to get started.

"Ready any time," he said.

Last week, The Sunday Times asked Mr Lee via e-mail what fuelled his desire to write this book.

He replied: "To recount what has struck my life before I lose my memory."

Asked what message he wanted to convey, he said it was that "no society remains static. Every society continues to evolve, either for the better or for the worse".

The product of a year's work, One Man's View Of The World marks a departure in several ways from his previous books.

For one thing, it is oriented outwards, with only one chapter on Singapore.

The rest covers countries and regions from China to the Middle East, and issues such as climate change and the global economy.

The final chapter comprises a series of conversations over three days that Mr Lee had in May 2012 with his old friend, former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, 94.

Unlike the first two volumes of his memoirs - 1998's The Singapore Story and 2000's From Third World to First - this 400-page book focuses more on the future than the past.

While brimming with revealing anecdotes of Mr Lee's meetings with world leaders and experiences in foreign countries, the bulk of the book projects forward as he sizes up their strengths, weaknesses and chances of success.

Throughout, his judgments are delivered in characteristically blunt language.

"Mr Lee has the ability to cut to the core of complex international trends as he sees them, unencumbered by political correctness," says Ms Zuraidah.

Whether it is on the Japanese "stroll into mediocrity" or the impossibility of a one-man, one-vote system in China or the Arab countries, Mr Lee's prognosis was always one based on the fundamentals, recalls Mr Han.

"He doesn't get distracted by current events. He always looks at the larger forces, the make-up of the people, their culture and history and how these have shaped their development over the years.

"He believed that even as they evolve, they will change in a way determined by their DNA."

The ST team found that borne out by breaking news.

The night before the manuscript was to be sent off to the printers in July, word came from Egypt that the military had displaced Mr Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president elected after the Arab Spring had dislodged long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The team gathered to decide if they needed to make last-minute changes to reflect events.

"But when we read the chapter again, we realised that not only was his view still valid in light of what happened, but that what happened vindicated his view," says Mr Toh.

In the chapter on the Middle East, Mr Lee wrote that "when the flurry of excitement over the Arab Spring is finally over, the world will probably come to the stark realisation that nothing much has transformed governance in that region. Those that have taken exploratory lurches in the direction of one-man, one-vote, will revert to one-man rule or one-cabal rule."

"In other words, spring is followed by summer, autumn, then winter. Life just goes on, just as it has for millennia past."

But in other areas, the ST team found that Mr Lee's views had drastically transformed over time. Where once he thought Japan and India destined for success, now he saw fundamental flaws in both societies that would hobble them.

"I am older now, and sadder," he wrote in the chapter on India, which he once had hoped would succeed because it was a democracy, unlike China.

On Singapore, his lifelong project, Mr Lee was sanguine.

While expressing disagreement with some of the political changes that have occurred since the historic 2011 General Election, whether on ministerial pay or on the evinced desire for a two-party system, his tone was marked less by combativeness than by "resignation and acceptance", recalls Ms Chua.

It was a far cry from the Lee Kuan Yew in 1988, then aged 64, who told the country that "even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up".

That familiar iron will had mellowed into a prevailing sentiment that his time to lead had passed, and "whatever will be, will be", says Ms Chua.

Asked if he was worried about political trends in Singapore, Mr Lee answered: "No. My job is done. I am 89 years old."

His waning energy was evident to the ST team, whose interviews with him lasted at most an hour each time, as opposed to the over two hours he could do battle during interviews for Hard Truths.

Where he once relished a thrust-and-parry with his interlocutors, building up to a checkmate argument, now he got straight to his point.

In the book, there is a chapter where Mr Lee candidly reflects on life and death, revealing his decision on an Advance Medical Directive and his thoughts on the afterlife.

For Mr Toh, the youngest on the team, having the chance to interview Mr Lee was a priceless experience. "For younger Singaporeans, he is almost a mythical figure," he simply says.

Despite being in his twilight years, the man Mr Toh met was still matchlessly persuasive.

"Even if you disagree with him at first, you can't help but be brought around by the strength of his arguments," he says. "In spite of the breadth of his knowledge, he always manages to incisively get to the heart of a certain society or country."

"The stark clarity of his arguments is always stimulating," adds Ms Zuraidah.

"As journalists, we wouldn't want to pass up the opportunity to engage with him, especially at this stage in his life," Mr Han notes. "Even if only to find out if he has changed his views on the important issues."

On whether this would be theirs, and the Singaporean public's, last engagement with Mr Lee, he says: "We thought Hard Truths would be the last book. Never say never.


Why he wanted to write the book

"To recount what has struck my life before I lose my memory."

What the book's central message is

"No society remains static. Every society continues to evolve, either for the better or for the worse."

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew will launch a new book on Tuesday. Titled One Man's View Of The World, the 400-page volume carries Mr Lee's views on the future of the major powers and regions of the world. Here are extracts from the book on China, the United States and the Middle East. Extracts on his personal life and on Singapore will be published next Sunday.
The Sunday Times, 4 Aug 2013

The real battle is over talent

America is not on the decline.

Its reputation has suffered a setback as a result of the long and messy military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a severe financial crisis.

But perceptive historians will point out that a seemingly weakened and weary America has bounced back from far worse situations. It has faced great trials and challenges within living memory: the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the rapid post-war rise of industrial powerhouses Japan and Germany.

Each time, it found the will and energy to recover its position at the front of the pack. America has prevailed. It will do so again.

The success of America lies in its dynamic economy, sustained by an uncanny ability not just to produce the same with less, but to constantly innovate - that is, to invent completely new goods and services that the rest of the world soon finds to be useful and desirable.

The iPhone, iPad, Microsoft, the Internet - these were created in America, not elsewhere. The Chinese have many talented individuals compared to the Americans, but why have they not been able to come up with similar inventions?

Clearly, they lack a spark that America possesses. And that spark means that the Americans can be expected to throw up game-changing innovations from time to time that will again put them in the forefront.

Even if the declinists are right, and America is in fact on a downhill path, one needs to remember that this is a big country that would take a long time to decline.

If Singapore were a big country, I would not be so worried if we adopted the wrong policies, because they would be slow in showing results. But we are a small country and a wrong course of action brings catastrophic consequences within a short space of time.

America, on the other hand, is like a huge tanker. They will not simply turn around like a skiff does.

But I believe that the declinists are wrong. America is not likely to go down. Relative to China, it may become less powerful. Its power projection in the Western Pacific may be affected and it may not be able to equal the Chinese in numbers and in total GDP, but the Americans' key advantage - their dynamism - will not disappear.

America is, by far, the more creative society. And the fact that the Americans are having an internal debate about whether or not they are declining is a healthy sign. It means they have not become complacent.

The US is also a more attractive society than China can ever be. Every year, thousands of bright and restless immigrants are allowed into America, settle and become successful in various fields.

These immigrants are innovative and usually more adventurous, or they would not have left their own countries.

They provide a constant source of new ideas and bring about a certain ferment within American society, a buzz that you will not find in China. America would be far less successful without them.

For centuries, America drew top talent from Europe. Today, it is drawing them from Asia - Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and even South-east Asians.

Because the US is able to embrace these immigrants, help them integrate and offer them an equal chance of realising the American dream, there is a continuous inflow of talent that contributes, in turn, to the creation of new technology, new products and new methods of doing business.

China and other nations will eventually have to adopt parts of the American model of attracting talent to fit their circumstances. They will have to go looking around for talented people to build up their enterprises.

That is the final contest.

This is an age in which you will no longer have military contests between great nations because the nations know that they will destroy each other if they do that.

But there will be economic and technological contests, and talent is the key ingredient in those contests.

America is a society that attracts people and retains them. They have been taking in the best talent from Asia.

One man, one vote: China won't try it

The communist state will not become a democracy in the Western tradition

To understand China and what it will be like in 20 years' time, you have to know what sort of people and society they are.

For 5,000 years, the Chinese have believed that the country is safe only when the centre is strong. A weak centre means confusion and chaos. A strong centre leads to a peaceful and prosperous China. Every Chinese understands that.

It is their cardinal principle, drawn from deep-seated historical lessons. There will not be a deviation from this principle any time soon. It is a mindset that predates communism. It has existed for centuries, for millennia.

Some in the West want to see China become a democracy in the Western tradition. That will not happen.

The Americans believe that you cannot be a successful country without one-man-one-vote elections, either for the president or for the Parliament, and you change leaders every few years. It's their preconceived view of the world.

The Chinese have never had such a tradition. China is a vast country of 1.3 billion people with a different culture and a different history. It will do it its way.

In the autumn of 2011, unrest erupted in the fishing village of Wukan, in Guangdong province.

Farmers lost their land to developers who were in cahoots with local officials. Profits from these land sales went to developers and officials. It started with a relatively small-scale protest by a few hundred aggrieved farmers in September.

By December, it had escalated into a full-scale revolt when one of the protesting villagers died in police custody. Within days, nearly 20,000 villagers were mobilised into action. They physically expelled officials from the village, erected roadblocks and armed themselves with simple weapons. They demanded the return of their farmland.

Although there was a blackout of all Wukan-related news in the Chinese media, many Chinese were able to read about what was happening over the Internet, from foreign news outlets.

In the end, the deputy party secretary of Guangdong met protesters and settled the matter. The authorities acknowledged that the villagers had legitimate complaints, some of the land was returned to them and villagers arrested in earlier protests were released.

Later, free elections were held by secret ballot. A chief organiser of the protests won a landslide victory and was made the new village chief. Wukan became a cause celebre for those who hoped to see democratic reform in China.

Reports tell us that similar protests are happening in other parts of China every day. Some think these incidents are evidence of a weakening Chinese state.

But the truth is that none of these incidents are allowed to escalate into national movements. The Wukan incident shows this. The Communist Party sent no less than the deputy party secretary of Guangdong to mediate and to restore order.

There are two lessons from Wukan.

The first is that the Communist Party retains its hold. Order is restored with the help of the party. The second lesson is how the party can use a mix of hard and soft measures to keep peace.

Before any incident escalates, the very powerful state security apparatus can come down hard on unrest to nip the problem in the bud. But it is also able to take the side of villagers against corrupt local officials.

It is too simplistic to think of the Communist Party as corruption-ridden. In fact, throughout the rebellion, Wukan villagers were careful to declare on their banners that they supported the Communist Party, but were opposed to corrupt local officials.

This has been a common strategy taken by Chinese protesters for thousands of years. They know that opposing the central authority means certain annihilation.

So they oppose wrongdoing by local officials while declaring loyalty to the centre. No one challenges the centre unless they are prepared to go all the way and take control of the whole country, which is most unlikely.

Political evolution

As change sweeps across the country, China's politics must evolve too. It is not possible for any system to remain unchanged forever.

One of the most astounding things I have seen in my lifetime is how the Leninist system in the Soviet Union could throw up a law graduate in Mikhail Gorbachev, who decided that the system was bad and ought to be reformed. I can't say that it will not be repeated in China.

However you fine-tune the choice of leaders, you'll get a generation that says: "Look, this is stultified. Let's liberate it." Nobody can say that won't happen.

But even if it did happen, it will not result in one man, one vote. There will be a displacement of one set of leaders by another set of leaders, because culturally and historically, the belief in China is that a strong central authority leads to peace and prosperity.

One man, one vote has never been in China and has never produced a prosperous China. And they're not going to try it.

No matter how many Wukans crop up, in the medium term, I do not see an uprising succeeding.

Yes, the Chinese have a tradition of peasant-led rebellions, or qi yi. But this tends to happen when life becomes unbearable. At the moment, the lives of ordinary people are getting better. Why should they want a revolution?

They know that a revolution could cost them all the progress they have achieved since Deng Xiaoping opened up the country.

For their young people, economic prospects have never been better, standards of living are being enhanced daily and China is strengthening as a nation. I don't see them rocking the boat.

Disenfranchised rural workers are not in the numbers and are not organised. They long to join the middle class in the cities and to better their lot.

The middle class, in turn, is anxious to get to the top. After it manages to get into position and consolidates itself, it may want more transparency and a greater say on how the country is governed, but that may be some time off.

In short, while the present system needs to evolve, it is not on the verge of falling apart.

China under Xi Jinping: Will it be a bully?

It is hard to predict what policies President Xi Jinping will pursue and what legacy he will seek for himself over the decade that he is in charge.

Chinese leaders do not broadcast their future plans before assuming office. They prefer to keep their heads below the parapet.

China is at a critical period in terms of domestic challenges and Mr Xi will want to focus his energies on tackling those problems.

Much will also depend on what external events suddenly come upon him. Your best plans go awry when you are confronted with a serious unexpected development.

But I believe he will respond in a thoughtful way, without panicking. He carries weight and I think he will carry the party with him. His military background will give him clout with the military as well.

His foreign policy will be closely watched. China's rise has become a source of consternation for many countries, whether in the West or in Asia.

A strong China brings many benefits to the global community, such as growing investments by Chinese firms that go abroad. But China's neighbours are starting to sense a more assertive foreign policy stance from the sleeping giant that has woken up.

The United States also is experiencing a strong challenge to its pre-eminence, if not globally, then certainly in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the heart of the matter is whether or not one believes China's repeated guarantees that it seeks nothing more than a peaceful rise and that it will never become a hegemon.

There are two views. One, that the Chinese will quietly become strong and quietly increase their influence, without acting like a bully. The other, that they'll flex their muscles and try to browbeat everyone.

I think they will choose the former, but grow their muscles at the same time.

Deng Xiaoping was convinced that it was wise for China to maintain a low profile as it gradually became stronger. He believed in keeping your light under your bushel, or what the Chinese call tao guang yang hui.

The Chinese know that they need another 30 to 40 years of peace to catch up with the rest of the world. They have come to the conclusion that if they stay on course, avoid upsetting the existing powers and make friends with everybody, they can only grow stronger and stronger.

It will give them the space to deal with internal problems and to continue to grow their economy.

They are also mindful of the need to avoid the paths that Japan and Germany took. The rise of Germany and Japan resulted in a competition in Europe and Asia respectively for power, influence and resources that led to two terrible wars in the 20th century, and ultimately ended their rise.

If China gets involved in a war, it risks internal disturbance, clashes and disorder, and it may go down again - perhaps for a long time.

So, for the Chinese, the rational calculation would be: "We've waited so long for this opportunity to catch up with the developed world. Why be in a hurry and jeopardise our gradual rise?"

What Arab Spring? One-cabal rule will be back

When the flurry of excitement over the so-called Arab Spring is finally over, the world will probably come to the stark realisation that nothing much has transformed the governance in that region.

As dramatic as the changes look, and as sensational as newsmen have made them out to be, when we look back with broad lenses many decades from now, it is highly doubtful that any of them would prove to be part of a substantive and permanent shift towards popular rule in the region.

It is far more likely that these democratic experiments will not last. Before long, I expect many of the countries that have taken exploratory lurches in the direction of one man, one vote to revert to one-man rule, or one-cabal rule.

In other words, spring is followed by summer, autumn, then winter. Life just goes on - just as it has for millennia past.

The Middle East region lacks a history of counting heads and making decisions on that basis. There is no democratic tradition - whether in ancient Islamic times, in more recent colonial history, or in the post-colonial nationalistic era.

When the British and French protectorates broke up into separate states, they all ended up with one-man rule - not by coincidence, but for deep cultural and sociological reasons.

One might argue, of course, that democracy, being a relatively novel phenomenon in human history, begins somewhere in every region, and that in many places, including a number of Asian countries, it has taken root - or at least appeared to do so - despite a similar absence of democratic tradition.

But there is one key difference. On top of not having any prior experience in representative forms of politics, the Middle East also lacks vital social factors that form the foundation on which democracy must stand.

The first is a sense of equal citizenship. This is the idea that you and I, despite all our differences in wealth, social standing, achievement, physical and mental attributes, and so on, are on par at some level for no reason other than that we are both citizens of a particular nation.

We possess the same rights and responsibilities that the nation accords to any individual belonging to it. We are legally equal, and morally so as well. This concept necessarily precedes the development of actual democratic practices and institutions. It has to gain acceptance not only in intellectual or progressive circles but also throughout society.

What we see in many parts of the Middle East, however, are tribal or feudal systems. In Saudi Arabia, tribal leaders bring gifts to the King once a year. Like in ancient China, the King gives them more valuable gifts in return. The loyalty held by ordinary people is to the tribe - not to the nation, for no nation exists, and certainly not to fellow citizens...

Observers have pointed out that some Arab states have become nations, in the more modern sense - most notably Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

Even in these cases, however, there is a second and no less vital ingredient they lack which is necessary for democracy to mature and for the citizenry to accept the outcome not just of the first election after the revolution but all subsequent elections as well. This ingredient is what I call the wherewithal to make real economic progress.

The ability is missing simply because they have insisted on keeping women in the background.

Arabic society in general is male-dominated. They have refused to allow women to be educated equally and to become as productive as men in society - precisely what is needed for the potential of these countries to be unlocked and for their economies to become modernised. They have resisted this, always finding some excuse or other...

Even in the Middle Eastern countries where women attend universities in near-equal proportion to their male counterparts, they are prevented from reaching their full potential in many other ways.

Often, they are denied entry into prestigious courses, such as the sciences, engineering or law, and are expected instead to take up more traditionally "female" occupations like teaching.

Even when they do make it out of the educational system as equals, the labour force participation rate for women in many Middle Eastern countries trails that for men by a large margin for various reasons.

Some have to endure discriminatory work practices ranging from unequal pay to sexual harassment. Others simply do not find it worth the trouble battling daily with inconveniences such as restrictions on women travelling in public alone or with a general social intolerance towards married women who do not stay at home to take charge of domestic affairs.

New democratic regimes cannot survive for long without delivering real economic progress. After all, what does democracy mean to the man in the street if it does not bring him tangible results? Little more, surely, than having to stand in a line from time to time, waiting to mark a piece of paper.

Within one or two election cycles, there would inevitably be disillusionment with the system, followed by a reversion to some form of authoritarian rule.

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's new book launched last Tuesday, One Man's View Of The World, presents what he thinks about the future of major powers and regions. In these extracts, he speaks about death and dying, a younger generation of Singaporeans who have known only a thriving Singapore, as well as Japan's ageing society and Europe's currency woes.
The Sunday Times, 11 Aug 2013

Life after Cabinet... and death

My daily routine is set. I wake up, clear my e-mail, read the newspapers, do my exercises and have lunch. After that, I go to my office at the Istana, clear more papers and write articles or speeches.

In the afternoons and evenings, I sometimes have interviews scheduled with journalists, after which I may spend an hour or two with my Chinese teachers.

I have made it a habit to exercise daily. At the age of 89, I can sit up and I do not need a walking stick.

When I was in my 30s, I was fond of smoking and drinking beer. I quit smoking because it was causing me to lose my voice at election campaigns. That was before medical research linked smoking to lung and throat cancer, among other things. Oddly enough, I later became hyper-allergic to smoke.

The drinking gave me a beer belly and it was showing up in pictures appearing in the press. I began to play more golf to keep fit, but later on turned to running and swimming, which took me less time to achieve the same amount of aerobic exercise.

Now, I walk on the treadmill three times a day - 12 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes after lunch and 15 minutes after dinner. Before dinner, I used to swim for 20 to 25 minutes.

Without that, I would not be in my present condition physically. It is a discipline.

I continue to make appointments to meet people. You must meet people, because you must have human contact if you want to broaden your perspective.

Besides people in Singapore, I meet those from Malaysia, Indonesia, and, from time to time, China, Europe and the United States.

I try not to meet only old friends or political leaders, but people from a variety of fields, such as academics, businessmen, journalists and ordinary people.

I have cut down on my overseas trips significantly, because of the jetlag, especially when travelling to the US.

Until 2012, I was still travelling to Japan once a year to speak at the Future of Asia Conference - now into its 19th year, organised by the Japanese media corporation, Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei).

For a time, I was going to China nearly once a year, although I am reluctant to go to Beijing now because of the pollution. But the leaders are there, so you have to go there to meet them.

The JP Morgan International Council, which I am on, did me the honour of holding its 2012 annual meeting in Singapore, so did the Total Advisory Board.

Going to France is all right. It is a 12-hour direct flight on an Airbus 380, there and back. But to go to New York is much more tiring - especially because of the time change, from night into day and day into night.

Travelling overseas helps me widen my horizons. I see how other countries are developing. No country or city stays static. I have seen London and Paris change, over and over again.

Being out of Government means I am less well-informed of what is going on and the pressures for change. I therefore go by the decisions of the ministers, by and large. I seldom express a contrary opinion - at least, much less than when I was in Government and attended Cabinet meetings, which allowed me to participate fully in the debates.

Occasionally, when I disagree strongly with something, I make my views known to the Prime Minister. There was an instance of this when the Government was looking to reintroduce Chinese dialect programmes on free-to-air channels.

A suggestion was made: "Mandarin is well-established among the population now. Let us go back to dialects so the old can enjoy dramas."

I objected, pointing out that I had, as prime minister, paid a heavy price getting the dialect programmes suppressed and encouraging people to speak Mandarin. So why backtrack?

I had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off. There was one very good narrator of stories called Lee Dai Sor on Rediffusion, and we just switched off his show.

Why should I allow Cantonese or Hokkien to infect the next generation? If you bring it back, you will find portions of the older generation beginning to speak in dialects to their children and grandchildren. It will creep back, slowly but surely...

Life is better than death. But death comes eventually to everyone. It is something which many in their prime may prefer not to think about. But at 89, I see no point in avoiding the question.

What concerns me is: How do I go? Will the end come swiftly, with a stroke in one of the coronary arteries? Or will it be a stroke in the mind that lays me out in bed for months, semicomatose?

Of the two, I prefer the quick one.

Some time back, I had an Advance Medical Directive (AMD) done which says that if I have to be fed by a tube, and it is unlikely that I would ever be able to recover and walk about, my doctors are to remove the tube and allow me to make a quick exit. I had it signed by a lawyer friend and a doctor...

If you do not sign one, they do everything possible to prevent the inevitable.

I have seen this in so many cases... Quite often, the doctors and relatives of the patient believe they should keep life going. I do not agree. There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach.

In such cases, one is little more than a body.

I am not given to making sense out of life - or coming up with some grand narrative on it - other than to measure it by what you think you want to do in life. As for me, I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied...

Different societies have different philosophical explanations for life and the hereafter.

If you go to America, you will find fervent Christians, especially in the conservative Bible Belt covering much of the country's south.

In China, despite decades of Maoist and Marxist indoctrination, ancestral worship and other traditional Buddhist or Taoist-based religious practices are commonplace.

In India, belief in reincarnation is widespread.

I wouldn't call myself an atheist. I neither deny nor accept that there is a God. The universe, they say, came out of the Big Bang.

But human beings on this earth have developed over the last 20,000 years into thinking beings, and are able to see beyond themselves and think about themselves. Is that a result of Darwinian evolution? Or is it God? I do not know.

So I do not laugh at people who believe in God. But I do not necessarily believe in God - nor deny that there could be one.

Fate of Singapore in 100 years' time

On Aug 22, 2012, I received a thank-you card from a Singaporean by the name of James Ow-Yeong Keen Hoy.

From his elegant, cursive handwriting, I guess he must at least be in his 50s. Young people these days prefer to type, and when they do write, they simply do not write as beautifully.

He wrote: "My family is deeply grateful and has benefited from your magnificent leadership and solid contributions that have enabled our nation to achieve peace, happiness, progress, prosperity, solidarity and security all these good years. A big thank you!

"May we have the honour to sincerely wish you, Sir, peace and joy, wisdom and longevity and all the very best in the coming good years. And may our beloved country be blissfully and richly blessed and be mercifully safeguarded now and always. God bless."

I quote at length from this card to highlight the enormity of the mindset shift, from an older generation, including this writer, his peers and his seniors, to a younger one that takes for granted Singapore's affluence.

People like Mr Ow-Yeong have seen Singapore develop from the unsettling 1960s, when hardship and poverty were still the rule rather than the exception, to today's vibrant and cosmopolitan Singapore, providing well-paying jobs to a highly educated population.

Many older Singaporeans also progressed from living in shanty huts to high-rise apartments with present-day conveniences and surrounded by safe neighbourhoods.

They have a good understanding of the nation's imperatives - what it took for us to get here and what it would take to keep up our success - as well as its vulnerabilities.

The younger voters do not share those views. Having been born into a Singapore that had in many ways already arrived, they see all that is around them - a working system generating stability and wealth - and they ask: "Where is the miracle?"...

Even as things stand, we have regretfully shifted the system away from attracting the best talent through reductions to ministerial pay.

If I were a Cabinet minister at the time the change came up for discussion, I would have stood firm. But the younger generation of ministers decided to go with the trend.

It is true that no country in the world pays ministers as we do. But it is also true that no other island has developed like Singapore: sparkling, clean, safe, with no corruption and low crime rates.

You can walk the streets or jog at night. Women will not be mugged. Police do not take bribes, and if they are offered bribes, there are consequences for the ones offering.

None of this came about by coincidence. It took the construction of an ecosystem that requires highly paid ministers.

With every pay reduction, the sacrifice that a minister makes - giving up his profession or his banking job - becomes greater.

Some will eventually tell themselves: "I don't mind doing this for half a term, 21/2 years, as a form of national service. But beyond that, it has to be: thanks but no thanks."

The final outcome would be a revolving-door government, which will inevitably lack a deep understanding of the issues or the incentive to think about problems in a long-term manner.

Will Singapore be around in 100 years? I am not so sure. America, China, Britain, Australia - these countries will be around in 100 years. But Singapore was never a nation until recently.

An earlier generation of Singaporeans had to build this place from scratch - and what a fine job we have done.

When I led the country, I did what I could to consolidate our gains. So too did Goh Chok Tong.

And now, under Lee Hsien Loong and his team, the country will do well for at least the next 10 to 15 years.

But after that, the trajectory that we take will depend on the choices made by a younger generation of Singaporeans.

Whatever those choices are, I am absolutely sure that if Singapore gets a dumb government, we are done for. This country will sink into nothingness.

Singapore's economy in a global world

For his book, One Man's View Of The World, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was probed by Straits Times journalists Han Fook Kwang, Zuraidah Ibrahim, Chua Mui Hoong and Elgin Toh, and civil servant Shashi Jayakumar, who was seconded to work on the project. Below is an exchange on the Singapore economy:

On the issue of making productivity gains, we lag behind many developed countries. In manufacturing and services, Singapore's productivity is only 55 per cent to 65 per cent of that in Japan and the United States.

Because we have large numbers of migrants who do not fit into the workforce so easily and who do not speak English.

Some hold work permits and do not stay for long - they leave within a few years, after developing skills.

Moving on to income inequality: Could more have been done to raise the wages of those at the bottom, despite the realities Singapore faces?

The inequalities are there because at the lower end, there's an enormous supply of Chinese and Indian workers, not here but in China and India.

So unless you are skilled, that gap will widen to your disadvantage.

But you ask yourself how many small and medium-sized companies will pack up if we cut off the foreign workers?

But isn't it a chicken-and-egg situation? Precisely because it is so easy and cheap to hire foreigners, the SMEs continue to rely on them. If the tap were tightened, they would be forced to find new ways of operation. There will be some that will shut down, but maybe some level of churn is necessary so that the economy can go on to be more productive.

You cut them off and you find the SMEs just caving in.

Would that be a bad thing, or could that just be a necessary transition?

If our SMEs collapse, we will lose more than half of our economy.

In a way, that is what the Government is now trying to do. They are trying to slow down the growth in the foreign labour force.

Yes, because the Singapore public feels uncomfortable with so many of them. Not because of the economics. From an economic point of view, we should grow.

So how do you see this ending now that we have started to tighten the tap? Does it mean that we will lose half of our economy?

As you bleed out the present workers on work permits, the economy will shrink. But we are keeping the same level and just slowing down the inputs of new workers. Not stopping them. You stop it, you are in trouble.

Our tax rate is now very low compared to many other developed countries. Is there scope for moving it up?

If you raise it too much, you find your best people leaving. Already, we are losing them. Many of our best students go to America, they are headhunted by the big companies and don't come back.

The people who are middle-aged and beyond will stay. They have no choice. Those who are still flexible, below middle-aged, will leave in larger numbers.

And without top-quality Singaporeans, this place would not be the same. Without my generation, there would be no such present Singapore. It's Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam, Lim Kim San who helped build this place.

In today's world, they would probably go to America and get a job with Microsoft and not come back.

But you and your generation decided to come back to Singapore after being educated at the best universities in the world. Is it not possible for a younger generation of Singaporeans to come back also if they feel a sense of home or purpose?

My generation - we were not allowed to stay in America or Britain after graduation.

Could you not have stayed on as a lawyer in Britain?

No. I wouldn't have made a living. I didn't do my chambers in Britain. I came back and started working here.

What about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's generation? My point is, maybe the decision to come back is not merely one of economic opportunity.

No, the only reason that will bring them back is their parents.

That's one big reason. But how about a sense of patriotism, or a sense of having something to contribute to the land?

You're talking about a globalised world. The world is their oyster.

And maybe Singapore is a special part of the oyster?

No. The world was not globalised then. It is now.

Japan's insular attitude and population woes

The most serious challenge facing Japan is demographic. Its population is rapidly ageing and not replacing itself. All its other problems - a stagnating economy and weak political leadership - pale in comparison.

If Japan does not solve its demographic problem, its future will be very grim.

The numbers alone make for sobering reading. The fertility rate stands at 1.39 children per woman, far below the replacement level of 2.1. With fewer births, the number of workers supporting each senior person has shrunk from 10 in 1950 to 2.8 in recent years.

This is projected to continue dropping - to two by 2022 and possibly to 1.3 by 2060. By the time it hits 1.3, it may become so unbearable for the young workers that they will choose to leave.

The population, which grew in the 61/2 decades after the war from 72 million to 128 million, has registered declines for the past three years and is currently 127.5 million.

A shrinking economy cannot be far behind. The situation is wholly unsustainable.

For years, Japanese women accepted their culturally assigned role in the family and in society. They were quite happy to stay at home to bear and rear children, to serve their elderly folk and to take charge of household matters.

But as the women travelled and interacted with people from other parts of the world, and as they tasted the freedom of working and being economically independent, attitudes changed dramatically and irreversibly.

Some Japanese women working for Singapore Airlines, for example, married Singaporean air stewards. They saw how women in Singapore lived - separate from their in-laws and without their husbands bossing them around.

Japanese society tried its best to hold back the tide and to keep the women economically reliant on the men for as long as possible - but failed.

In one or two generations, women abandoned the role they played in the old society. They made their own calculations and decided that the former deal was no longer worth their while.

They did not want to be burdened by children. Many have therefore chosen to remain single. Others got married but did not have children.

Unhelpfully, a significant number of Japanese employers have refused to move with the times. Unlike the Swedes, who have made it possible for their women to have babies and careers, many Japanese companies still convert the women who leave to give birth into temporary employees.

For women who are ambitious and on the rise - as well as for those who feel they need the full-time income that corresponds to a career - the decision to have children becomes unnecessarily costly.

Many never find the courage to take the leap, even if they were inclined to have children.

Singapore's problem with low birth rates is not dissimilar from Japan's. But there is one key difference: we have shaded our problem with immigrants.

Japan has been remarkably intransigent about accepting foreigners. The idea that the Japanese race must be kept pure is so deeply ingrained that no attempt has been made to publicly discuss alternatives.

A multiracial Japan is simply not imaginable - whether among the Japanese public or its political elite.

I have seen for myself this pride in racial purity on display. During the Japanese Occupation in Singapore, I spent time working in the Cathay Building as an English- language editor.

On Dec 8 each year, there was a ceremony there in which a Japanese soldier wielding a big samurai sword would say: "Ware ware Nihonjin wa Amaterasu no Shison desu (We Japanese are the descendants of the Sun Goddess)."

In other words, we are and you are not.

I doubt they will repeat the line as much these days, but I do not think the basic belief has changed.

One civilian Japanese officer educated and born in America, called George Takemura, was not fully trusted. He worked in the Hodobu (Japanese information or propaganda department) during the Japanese Occupation and dealt with the cable news editors like me. He was gentle in speech and behaviour.

Holding firmly to such a belief has serious implications. It means the most commonsensical solutions to their demographic dilemma may be automatically precluded.

For instance, if I were Japanese, I would seek to attract immigrants from ethnic groups that look Japanese and try my best to integrate them - Chinese, Koreans, perhaps even Vietnamese.

And in fact, such a group already exists within Japan. There are 566,000 ethnic Koreans and 687,000 ethnic Chinese living in the country.

Speaking perfect Japanese, they are fully assimilated to the rest of society in their ways and habits and long to be accepted as full, naturalised Japanese citizens.

Indeed, many were born and bred in Japan. And yet, Japanese society has not accepted them.

To fully understand the extremity of this insular attitude, one has to consider another group that has been rejected: pure-bred ethnic Japanese from Latin America, also known as nikkeijin.

From the 1980s, tens of thousands of them, mainly from Brazil, have moved to Japan under liberal migration policies drawn up in the hope that they were the answer to the nation's ageing population.

In making the trip halfway across the globe, these nikkeijin were going in the reverse direction of their grandparents or great grandparents, who had emigrated in the 1920s in search of jobs in the labour-intensive coffee plantations of Brazil.

The experiment failed. Having grown up in an entirely different society, the nikkeijin were so culturally alienated from their genetic relatives in Japan that they were treated as foreigners.

Finally, in 2009, at the height of the economic crisis, the government offered unemployed nikkeijin a one-time resettlement fee to return to Brazil.

In another society, one with a different attitude towards foreigners, this experiment may have succeeded. Indeed, the Japanese government must have believed in the possibility of success before they implemented the policy.

Even they had underestimated the level of intolerance.

Foreigners currently make up less than 1.2 per cent of all residents in Japan, compared with 6per cent in Britain, 8 per cent in Germany and 10 per cent in Spain.

Japan is so homogeneous that young Japanese who have spent time overseas, usually because their parents were sent abroad to work as expatriates, have a difficult time adapting when they return, even if they had studied in Japanese schools.

So much in everyday communication is left unspoken, and the other party is expected to make inferences based on body language and guttural noises.

It will take many more years and a very fundamental shift in attitudes for the country to contemplate a demographic solution that is based on attracting immigrants.

But does Japan have the luxury of waiting many more years before confronting this problem? I doubt it.

If they leave it for another 10 to 15 years, they would have gone down the slippery slope, and it may be too late to recover.

Life, to be sure, will remain comfortable enough for middle-class Japanese for many years to come. Unlike the developed countries of the West, Japan has not accumulated enormous foreign debts.

The country is also technologically advanced and the people are well educated. But eventually Japan's problems will catch up with it. If I were a young Japanese and I could speak English, I would probably choose to emigrate.

Europe's currency problems

The fundamental problem with the euro is that you cannot have monetary integration without fiscal integration - especially in a region with spending and thrift habits as diverse as those of Germany and Greece.

The incongruity would break the system down eventually. For this reason, the euro was destined to flounder, with its demise written into its DNA.

Its difficulties over the last few years should not be seen as stemming from either the failure of one or two governments to spend within their means or the failure of others to warn them of the dangers of not doing so.

That is to say, the euro's troubles are not the result of a historical accident that could have been prevented if a few actors involved had made different decisions - more responsible ones - in the course of its implementation.

Instead, it was a historical inevitability that was waiting to happen. If things had not come to a head in 2010 or 2011, they would have come to a head in another year, with another set of circumstances.

I am not convinced, therefore, that the euro can be saved, at least not in its present form, with all 17 countries remaining in the fold.

From the inception of the euro project, clear-eyed and well-respected economists, including the likes of Harvard Professor Martin Feldstein, had been sounding alarm bells about its inherent paradoxes.

The British did not join because they did not see it working. They were not convinced about the benefits and were fully cognisant of the dangers.

However, the governments which joined the euro zone in 1999, as well as the populations that elected them, while eager to move on the single currency, were not prepared to accept fiscal integration because of the loss of sovereignty that it obviously implied.

In the end, their choice to go ahead with the euro anyway reflected a misplaced belief that Europe was somehow special enough to overcome the contradictions. It was a political decision.

In the United States, one currency can work for 50 states because you have one Federal Reserve and one Treasurer.

When one state runs into economic hardship, it receives generous transfers from the centre in the form of social spending on individuals living in that state and government projects.

The federal taxes raised in that state will not be sufficient to pay for the federal spending disbursed to that state.

If one were to keep accounts, that state might be running deficits for years - but it is a sustainable situation precisely because nobody is keeping accounts.

The people living in that state are considered fellow Americans and the people living elsewhere do not actually expect the money to be repaid. It is effectively a gift.

The other extreme works too, of course - that is, Europe under a pre-euro system, with each country having its own finance minister and managing its own currency.

Under that system, when one country experiences a slowdown, it can roll out remedial monetary policies because it is free from the shackles of a common currency.

These include expanding the supply of money - what the Americans call "quantitative easing" - and devaluing the currency to make the country's exports more attractive.

But these were tools that the euro zone countries gave up as a result of their entry into a common monetary community.

They did so, furthermore, without ensuring that there would be budgetary transfers similar in type and magnitude to those that depressed states in the US receive.

What do you get, then, when a motley crowd tries to march to a single drummer? You get the euro zone.

Some countries surged ahead while others struggled to keep pace.

In countries that fell behind economically, governments were under electoral pressure to maintain or even increase public spending, even though tax receipts decreased.

Budget deficits had to be financed through loans from the money markets. That these loans could be obtained at relatively low rates - since they were made in euros, not, say, drachmas - did nothing to discourage the profligacy.

The Greeks eventually became the most extreme example of this decline, going further and further into the red.

To be fair, the community as a whole also has to bear some responsibility, since there were rules under the Stability and Growth Pact that allowed for sanctions on governments that ran repeated deficits. But these sanctions were never imposed on any country.

For some time, experts with boundless optimism hoped that these governments could close the competitive gap with stronger nations like Germany by cutting welfare programmes, reforming tax collection, liberalising labour market rules or making their people work longer. But it did not happen.

The situation finally began to unravel with the global financial crisis of 2008.

Easy credit dried up and the markets' falling confidence in the credit-worthiness of governments like Greece's caused their borrowing rates to soar.

Germany and the European Central Bank were forced to intervene with bailouts to stop the debt crisis from spreading throughout the already crestfallen euro zone.

As at June 2013, the euro community has avoided catastrophe by throwing enough money at the problem.

But the 17 governments need to face up to the more difficult question of what to do to address the fundamental contradiction in the euro project - monetary integration without fiscal integration.

They might try to postpone this for some time, but they know they cannot do so indefinitely or history will repeat itself and another crisis will come along, requiring bigger bailouts, which, if push comes to shove, the Germans will probably have to underwrite.

Prompt action is far better than procrastination, especially since further down the road, as memory of the pain and panic of the debt crisis fades in the minds of voters, the political will to act decisively is also likely to wilt.

* When China becomes region's most influential power
A collection of interviews with Lee Kuan Yew on geopolitics is now available in paperback. Over 100,000 copies of One Man's View Of The World have been sold in hardcover since its publication in 2013. Below is Han Fook Kwang's postscript written for the paperback reissue.
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor At Large, The Sunday Times, 18 Jun 2017

Lee Kuan Yew first suggested doing this book five months after he had stepped down from the Singapore Cabinet following the 2011 General Election. He wanted to focus on issues outside Singapore, how he saw world events unfolding in the next 10 years. It would enable him to cast his expansive mind far onto the international horizon and into the future, tapping his experience and insights from his travels and meetings with world leaders.

He asked us to help him do such a book, incorporating the concept in our previous book, Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, which was based on extensive interviews with him. I e-mailed him a proposed outline of the book, and he replied within two hours, a little after midnight on Nov 15, 2011: "Good proposals and excellent themes. Gives me scope to sketch my world view of the present, and anticipate the immediate future, five to 10 years. Am willing to start any time."

He was keen to get going. When we took our time to sketch out the book's chapters and prepare the background material, he e-mailed me again: "Is your team ready to start?"

We had our first interview with him on Jan 9, 2012 and the last one in October that year.

What do I remember of these sessions with him now, some five years later? Looking back, it wasn't anything he said in particular - although he said much, enough to fill the pages of this book, and more. What I remember most was his determination to complete the book and to attend every interview scheduled despite his failing health. The deterioration in his physical stamina was quite marked and visible. In that January session, he was alert and in good form, perked perhaps by the anticipation of starting on another book. But his voice had grown weak and would become softer still over the next 10 months of interviews. In Hard Truths, many of the interviews lasted two hours. But this time round we had to wrap it up before the hour was up. Often he would stop to take his medicine. Once he hiccuped throughout the interview. But always he persevered despite the discomfort.

He was still sharp mentally, though, and he took all our questions.

It is possible now to look back at his answers and say where he was right or wrong in his predictions and analyses. But it has to be a tentative assessment. The political landscape can be very fluid and change dramatically in weeks if not days. Indeed, unpredictability is the new norm with one dramatic event after another - Brexit, Donald Trump's election, the impeachment of former South Korean president Park Geun Hye, to name a few in the past year. Imagine how risky it would be, trying to forecast what might happen in the next 10 years. But when you have Lee Kuan Yew in front of you, how to resist picking his brains on what is likely to unfold in China, the United States, Europe, Japan, South-east Asia and, of course, Singapore?

He was right on the unsustainability of the European Union, pre-Brexit, firm in his view it could not remain for long in its present form and predicting a messy break-up.

This was what he said: "I'm not sure it will last 10 years. The only alternative is to make it work by integration. The European Central Bank becomes the Federal Reserve and instead of different finance ministers you have one for Europe and the budgets of all the various countries will be supervised by that one finance minister, then it'll be like the United States. I don't see that happening. So the break-up (will be) messy and they will try and postpone it. For how long? Ten years? I doubt it. Can they save it by having a core Europe? Doubtful but even if it does, the euro has failed."

Could he have predicted Britain leaving? Alas, we did not ask. It seemed so improbable then.

He did not, of, course, foresee someone like Donald Trump becoming president but he was right in believing in the dynamism of the American system, especially on the economic front. The interviews were done in 2011 when US economic growth was only 1.6 per cent and still struggling to recover from the recession in 2009 following the financial crisis. But he was confident that growth would return. The US is now one of the best-performing economies in the developed world.

Mr Lee put it this way:

"Relative to China, they will be less powerful but they are not on the decline. They are a more creative society. Look, even today, iPhones, iPads, all the Apple products, Microsoft, the Internet, who comes up with it? It's a more creative society. The Chinese civilisation, when the centre is strong, the country prospers. And the country prospers because the centre makes sure that everybody obeys the centre. In America it's different. Nobody obeys Washington or New York. Anybody can start another centre if you've got money."

On China, which we spent the most time on, he was confident the centre would hold. The Communist Party had a strong grip on power, now equipped with "helicopters, the Internet, cellphones and rapid deployment of security forces" and would move only gradually on loosening the political system.

What about democracy and a one-man-one-vote system, which some foreign observers thought could come to China?

"When I read that, I said: 'These people know nothing about China.'"

When we quizzed him on the shifting balance of power between China and America, his eyes would narrow, his gaze fixed on some point unbeknown to us as he scanned the realm of possibilities.

It was the sort of question this book was meant to ask, probing his long-range thinking.

"In time I see the Chinese striving to keep their eastern seaboard free from American spying... But to be able to push the Americans further from their coast, they need to improve the technology behind their long-range missiles... So eventually, there will be a balance... in 20 or 30 years.

"The first balance will be pushing the Americans out of the 12-mile limit. The second balance will be pushing them out of their 200-mile exclusive economic zone. And once they can do that, they become the most influential power in the region."

He was always the hard-headed realist.

We spent as much time on Singapore, his lifetime project, but now facing new challenges with a new generation that had just voted the People's Action Party out of a group representation constituency (GRC) in Aljunied, in the 2011 General Election.

How did he see the political winds shifting? Would it result in further changes down the road, perhaps even lead to a two-party system?

He refused to see it in those terms, downplaying the significance of the Workers' Party's (WP) victory and rejecting the idea that it signalled a new era for politics here.

That GRC result, he pointed out, was because WP leader Low Thia Khiang left his Hougang ward to lead the fight in Aljunied and introduced a new candidate, Chen Show Mao.

He was telling us, don't read too much into it.

Mr Lee passed away on March 23, 2015, six months before the General Election in which the PAP recovered much of the ground it had lost in 2011 and almost recaptured Aljunied GRC.

Many attributed its better- than-expected showing to the "LKY" effect.

In death, as in life, Singapore had felt his overpowering presence.

The writer is Editor-at-Large and former editor of The Straits Times. He led the editorial team behind One Man's View Of The World.

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