Tuesday 17 September 2013

The Big Ideas of Mr Lee Kuan Yew: LKY School 9th Anniversary Conference

On LKY's 90th birthday, conference speakers recall his big ideas and caring touch
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2013

Speakers at a conference to mark the 90th birthday of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew described him as a man devoted to big ideas like multiracialism and the rule of law - but who also cared for those around him.

The speakers include former president SR Nathan and and former senior minister S. Jayakumar, who told personal anecdotes to paint a more vivid picture of the man.

Professor Jayakumar recalled how Mr Lee, when he was prime minister, once told the transport minister at a Cabinet meeting to relay to Singapore Airlines that it did not reflect well on Singapore if there were no non-Chinese air stewardesses on their flights. He was concerned that foreigners would form an impression of Singapore as a Chinese country.

He also recounted how thoroughly Mr Lee would debate with his lawyers all the merits of any defamation suit before embarking on it - debunking the myth that he believed judges would be partial towards him.

The one-day conference on Monday, titled "The Big Ideas of Mr Lee Kuan Yew", is organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the Shangri-La hotel.

Former president Nathan said he appreciated Mr Lee's efforts to point out to the big powers that Singapore, while small, would not be a lackey to any country.

During his first visit to China in 1976, he rejected a gift from premier Hua Guofeng, a book on the Sino-Indian War because it was China's one-sided version of what happened. Mr Nathan, who was present in the room, noted how the Chinese Foreign Minister put away a paper he was holding as "a sign of displeasure".

But Mr Lee could also be a caring, fatherly figure to those who worked with him.

Mr Nathan remembered how in 1967, he was sent as a junior officer to take notes in a meeting between Mr Lee and the Thai foreign minister. In his hurry to get to the venue, his tie was out of place.

Mr Lee adjusted the tie and said, "almost with a paternal touch": "Nathan, you must remember you are no longer in the labour movement."

"I was moved beyond words," said Mr Nathan on Monday. "I had grown up without a father or an elder brother. Here was the Prime Minister himself coming down to my level to do what they would have done for me. "

Mr Lee's favourite question was: 'So?'
Heng Swee Keat speaks of ex-PM's big ideas and his dedication to S'pore
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2013

"SO?" WAS Mr Lee Kuan Yew's favourite question, recalled his former principal private secretary (PPS) Heng Swee Keat.

He would pose this question when presented with reports on developments. He would often repeat this question to probe any explanation he was given.

These queries would always be followed up by asking: "So, what does this mean for Singapore?"

Recounting this at a day-long conference on the former prime minister's big ideas, Mr Heng said that this was Mr Lee's way of "cutting through the clutter" to get to the heart of issues the country faced and tackle them.

It was this total dedication to Singapore and the clarity of mind applied to survival and success of the country that left an indelible impression on him, said Mr Heng yesterday at the conference organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

"In the same way that he asks himself, we need to always be asking ourselves, 'So?' So what does this mean for Singapore? So what should we do about it? And act on it," Mr Heng said.

Mr Heng, whom Mr Lee once described as the best PPS he has had - serving him from 1997 to 2000 - also touched on Mr Lee's views which stood out for him, in keeping with the conference title, "The Big Ideas of Mr Lee Kuan Yew". For instance, Mr Lee believed the tension between competition and cooperation in society must be constantly recalibrated: Without the pursuit of excellence and competition, society loses its vigour but if the disadvantaged are ignored, it loses its cohesion.

On good governance, Mr Lee believed in the importance of leaders with the right values. Above all, he believed that "leaders are stewards" who must grow the next generation and know when to step aside - a point reiterated by other speakers.

While Mr Lee had a mental map of the world and would be constantly scanning for changes like a radar, the focal point of this map was "always Singapore", said Mr Heng.

He cited examples of how Mr Lee turned his insights into results. These ranged from daring to make public disagreements over the handling of Suzhou Industrial Park in its early years, to having a hand in the revamp of the financial sector after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and to being a "steady, respected voice in the international arena" even in volatile episodes of US-China relations.

He was one of 10 prominent figures who spoke at the conference yesterday on Mr Lee's legacy and controversies in areas such as the rule of law, geopolitics, language policies and good governance.

Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School Kishore Mahbubani opened the conference by pointing out these ideas had contributed to big and practical improvements in Singaporeans' lives.

Noting that Mr Lee is a man of action who got on with the job of making Singapore a better home for all, Mr Heng added: "The task of creating a better life for all Singaporeans - through expanding opportunities and through building a fair and just society - never ends."

'Big ideas' on law, diplomacy, and race and religion
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2013

FORMER prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's determined approach to upholding the rule of law and diplomacy was important in advancing Singapore's interests, speakers at a conference on his key ideas said yesterday.

On the rule of law, they noted how Mr Lee's single-minded development of it made Singapore more attractive to foreign investors and gave Singaporeans an oasis of safety and security in which they could enjoy their freedoms.

In diplomacy, his belief in consistency, non-alignment, international laws and standing firm in dealings with big powers expanded Singapore's influence despite its small-state status, they said.

The speakers were at a one-day conference marking Mr Lee's 90th birthday. Dubbed "The Big Ideas of Mr Lee Kuan Yew", it was organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Leading the discussion on the rule of law was former senior minister S. Jayakumar, who also held the law portfolio for two decades until 2008. Professor Jayakumar recalled how Mr Lee believed respect for laws was vital to economic success. In commerce and banking, he stressed the importance of modelling laws after common-law countries like Britain and America, as many investors were familiar with the norms there.

"He would always advise the Attorney-General's Chambers not to re-invent the wheel," he said.

Mr Lee's idea of the rule of law, however, avoided blind application of foreign ideas and took into account societal realities here.

To build housing estates quickly, for example, he enacted land acquisition laws which favoured the state, he noted.

And on issues of race and religion, Mr Lee's instinct was always to "smack down" those who tried to stir trouble, because of his understanding of how sensitive they were to the various communities.

Mr Lee also believed the phrase "law and order" would be better rendered "order and law", since without order, the law was inoperable, he noted - especially since he felt the natural order of things in a densely populated city like Singapore was disorder.

Former chief justice Chan Sek Keong added that Mr Lee never equated the rule of law with notions like liberal democracy, human rights and freedom of speech, as some in the West did. But his version meant Singaporeans enjoyed more privileges and societal goods than did people in many countries, argued Mr Chan.

Asked pointedly by moderator Tommy Koh if he thought defamation suits brought by Mr Lee against opposition politicians after general elections were wise, Prof Jayakumar said that Singaporeans were allowed to criticise their leaders on all matters but Mr Lee drew the line on damaging leaders' integrity.

He also sought to debunk what he called a myth: that Mr Lee believed judges would be partial towards him in these cases. He noted how Mr Lee spent an inordinate amount of time going over facts and arguments with his lawyers - precisely because he knew he had to win on legal merit.

Speaking on diplomacy, Singapore's former ambassador to the United States Chan Heng Chee said that thanks to Mr Lee, Singapore had honed the art of small- state diplomacy. She recalled how in Washington, diplomats from small countries in the Caribbean, Africa and Europe would ask her about Singapore's strategy.

In part, this involved Singapore "sticking to its decisions" despite pressure from bigger countries. She cited Singapore executing two Indonesian marines during the Konfrontasi period, and standing up to US pressure on American teenager Michael Fay, who was caned for vandalism.

On the latter case, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Kishore Mahbubani added that each day Singapore proved it would not buckle in the face of the most powerful country on earth, its international space was expanding.

Prof Jayakumar said Mr Lee's small-state strategy included a strong emphasis on respecting international laws. This explained why he objected to Vietnam's use of force in Cambodia in the 1970s and his insistence that water agreements with Malaysia be honoured.

But, ultimately, strong diplomacy was highly dependent on Singapore being a success domestically, because no leader - not even one like Mr Lee - can be influential if he "leads a barren rock", said former permanent secretary for foreign affairs Bilahari Kausikan.

Memorable moments with Mr Lee


"When I accompanied Mr Lee to visit the new Khoo Teck Puat Hospital a few years ago, he peppered (the hospital CEO) with numerous questions about health-care delivery and serving patients.

He then peppered me about the problems with the building design. For example, he wanted to know whether the corridors get wet when it rains - they do. Whether the building might be less warm if we improve the planting of creepers down some of the walls. He even wanted to know whether... when it rained, it flooded and it overflowed to the hospital. The answer, fortunately, is no.

This attention to details by the boss matters. If the boss cares, everybody else up and down the line cares. If the boss doesn't care, standards can begin to slip."


"Many years ago, when I was training to be an army officer under the SAF Overseas Scholarship scheme, I was summoned, together with (current DPM) Teo Chee Hean, to the Istana.

There, two young 18-year-old officer cadets presented themselves to PM Lee Kuan Yew. And he told us that the maritime command, as the Navy was then called, needed to be beefed up, and he wanted us to go over from the army. It was an intimidating encounter for the two of us.

When he asked us... to give it a try, it was hard to say anything, except to nod and gulp in agreement. These two landlubbers went on to join the maritime command. Teo became the Chief of Navy. I held a more modest position as Head of Naval Plans...

When I (look) back to those days, I see the PM making it his business to build up the Navy and to get good people into it. If something is important to him, he does not just take a personal interest, but also makes sure that the system is properly resourced by the right people and the right leaders."


"Mr Lee, then Senior Minister, was told he would have a meeting with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and President Clinton would do a 'drop-by' for about 15 to 20 minutes. Senior Minister had a conversation with Berger first. Then President Clinton strolled in, Coke can in hand, and sat on the sofa opposite Mr Lee. The back and forth went on and the meeting lasted about 45 minutes. I was told later that President Clinton was so impressed by Mr Lee that he turned to his officials and demanded: 'Why have I not met this man before?'

Later, Bill Clinton came to Singapore a couple of times after he stepped down from his presidency on his lecture rounds and he met Mr Lee again. He invited Mr Lee to the Clinton Global Initiative a few times. Finally, Mr Lee made an effort to attend a CGI in Hong Kong, scheduled from Dec 1 to 3, 2008. This was shortly after his heart surgery on Nov 29 to implant a cardiac pacemaker. He made an effort to show up, against his doctors' orders, because he had given his word. I am told as he spoke, the wound on his arm, where his drip had been, started to bleed. But he kept on speaking and he bled onto the sleeve of his jacket. That's the kind of commitment Mr Lee shows and that is his way."


"In 1967, I was sent as a junior officer to take notes of his meeting with the visiting Thai Foreign Minister. I hurriedly put on a tie and jacket and rushed to the assignment.

On my arrival at the door, the Prime Minister came close to me, adjusted my neck tie and said with almost a paternal touch these words: 'Nathan, you must remember you are no longer in the Labour Movement.' I was moved beyond words.

I had grown up without a father or an elder brother. Here was the Prime Minister himself coming down to my level to do what they would have done for me."


"I remember once he came back after a trip from abroad, and at Cabinet meeting he said to the Minister for Transport: 'Please give this feedback to Singapore Airlines. I travelled in this long flight, and in the cabin crew, there was no Malay, Eurasian or Indian. Surely, we do not want to give the impression to international passengers who have never been to Singapore that Singapore is a Chinese country...'

By his policies, he gave minorities opportunities as well as dignity. His greatest contribution is to ensure that racial harmony is embedded in the DNA of Singapore."

Panellists discuss LKY’s use of defamation lawsuits and ISA
Ex-Minister Mentor ‘prepared for robust criticism’ of policies but drew red line at integrity
By Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, 17 Sep 2013

Was former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s practice of suing opposition politicians after general elections a “wise thing” to do, and is the Internal Security Act (ISA) consistent with the rule of law?

Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh threw these posers — oft-cited criticisms levelled at Mr Lee by his detractors — at former Law Minister S Jayakumar and retired Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, who were discussing the country’s rule of law at a conference yesterday to mark Mr Lee’s 90th birthday.

Professor Jayakumar, who helmed the Law Ministry for 26 years, reiterated that the defamation suits were not Mr Lee’s way to “drive home a point that (the Opposition politician) should not have stood for the elections”, citing how media publications, such as the Far Eastern Economic Review, were also one-time defendants.

Rather, the point Mr Lee was trying to make was to get those who impugn his integrity to justify their allegations, he added.

“He is prepared for a robust criticism of his policies. He can be criticised for foolishness, maybe even for incompetence, for arrogance, but his red line was — not on reputation and integrity,” Prof Jayakumar said.

“So whether it’s opposition politician or any other source, if you allege his integrity, say corruption for example, he would want to demonstrate that that is a red line ... He’s prepared to justify his record.”

He noted that although in other jurisdictions, “in the cut and thrust of politics, all sorts of accusations are hurled”, Mr Lee wanted to “establish a threshold here that you have people of integrity, including himself, in government, in Cabinet and they are prepared to defend the integrity”.

He also detailed the exhaustive way in which Mr Lee prepared his case before bringing them before the courts to debunk the myth among some that it was because he felt the judiciary would always rule in his favour.

In his speech earlier, Prof Jayakumar also said that Mr Lee’s approach to the rule of law in ensuring order in society leaned towards protecting the interests of society at large rather than that of individuals.

Prof Koh cited some Singaporeans’ view of the ISA — which allows for detention without trial of individuals whose acts threaten national security — as example that Singapore had “rule by law, rather than rule of law”.

Rejecting the contention, Mr Chan said that the standard definition of rule by law was that the government is subject to the law and accepts so.

In that case, there would be rule of law, and the government is not “ruling by law”, he reiterated.

“If the government does not rule by law, in the technical sense, what else can it rule by? That’s the only legitimate way by which it can rule,” he added.

In his speech, Mr Chan also pointed out that the crux of criticisms of the ISA was that it allowed for arbitrary arrests and indefinite detention of the government’s political opponents and critics, and that the courts are powerless to intervene.

Such criticism was “not justified” in his view, said Mr Chan, because the ISA allows detention without trial only on the grounds of national security and detainees are entitled to challenge allegations on fact.

Mr Chan said that those who cite the ISA as intimidation for speaking up are likely doing so out of “self-induced fear”.

He added that the President cannot authorise an individual to be locked up “ipse dixit” — Latin for an unsupported statement that rests only on the authority of the person making it — and detentions expire as soon as the threat posed by the individual ceases.

Nevertheless, he noted that the Constitution was amended in 1988 such that the President’s satisfaction for an individual to be detained cannot be questioned and that judges had to follow the law.

LKY’s diplomacy ‘not about being nice’
By Amir Hussain, TODAY, 17 Sep 2013

Former Permanent Secretary (Foreign Affairs) Bilahari Kausikan yesterday shared a “less well known” anecdote to show Mr Lee’s approach to diplomacy — that it is “not about being nice, polite or agreeable” and was more fundamentally about protecting and promoting the country’s interests, “preferably by being nice but if necessary by other appropriate means”.

In 1981, at the International Conference on Kampuchea held at the United Nations, the US was “poised to sell out Singapore’s and ASEAN’s interests in favour of China’s interest to see a return of the Khmer Rouge regime,” Mr Kausikan recounted.

“The then-Assistant Secretary of State in charge of China policy even threatened our Foreign Minister that there would be ‘blood on the floor’ if we did not relent. We held firm,” he said. “The next year, Mr Lee travelled to Washington DC and, in a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described America’s China policy as ‘amateurish’.”

Mr Kausikan, who took notes for the meeting, said he was “bemused by the spectacle of the Assistant Secretary frantically scrambling to find out what exactly Mr Lee had said”.

“I don’t know if it was coincidental, but the very next year the Assistant Secretary in question was appointed Ambassador to Indonesia; an important position, but one in which he no longer held sway over China policy,” he said. “And when his new appointment was announced, the gentleman anxiously enquired through an intermediary if Mr Lee had told then-President Soeharto anything about him. He was reassured and served honourably in Indonesia.”

Foreign policy cannot be ‘tool of partisan politics’
Former Perm Sec says some questions in Parliament on the topic had ‘political agenda’
By Amir Hussain, TODAY, 17 Sep 2013

Expecting Singaporeans to one day be debating about the country’s foreign policy, former Permanent Secretary (Foreign Affairs) and career diplomat Bilahari Kausikan yesterday warned against the use of foreign policy as “a tool of partisan politics”.

Foreign policy will sooner or later be the subject of domestic debates,” said Mr Kausikan, now an Ambassador-at-Large. “This is not necessarily a bad thing, provided — and this is a crucial condition — foreign policy debates occur within nationally agreed parameters of what is and is not possible or desirable for a small country.”

Speaking at a conference to mark former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s 90th birthday, he noted that “already and all too often, I see the irrelevant or the impossible being held up as worthy of emulation”.

He added: “I see our vulnerabilities being dismissed or downplayed; and I see only a superficial understanding of how the real world really works in civil society and other groups who aspire to prescribe alternate foreign policies.”

During a question-and-answer session which followed his speech, Mr Kausikan was asked to elaborate on his observations. He cited “the last few parliamentary sessions” where Members of Parliament raised questions on the haze and the situation in the Middle East “that to my mind very clearly had a political agenda”.

He added: “We have to be nimble in order to take advantage of opportunities or get out of harm’s way. If we do not have a basic consensus on fundamentals — which I don’t see because there’s a different generation now — if we cannot resist the temptation to use foreign policy as a partisan political tool, you will lose that nimbleness with great dangers.”

Mr Kausikan did not refer to specific questions tabled by the MPs. Nevertheless, earlier this year, Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh, for instance, had filed a question in Parliament to ask if Singapore’s abstention on the United Nations vote, which elevated Palestine to a non-member observer state, increases its vulnerability to terrorists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

In his speech, Mr Kausikan said that “inevitably”, there is the question of whether Singapore can continue to be “internationally effective and relevant in a post-Lee Kuan Yew era”. He revealed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had commissioned a study “on how Singapore could continue to have a close relationship with China after Mr Lee’s network of personal contacts with Chinese leaders was no longer available”.

Mr Kausikan said: “The conclusion was — have more Lee Kuan Yews! This was not exactly very helpful.”

However, he said that he was “not entirely pessimistic”. Noting that Mr Lee had relinquished executive authority more than 20 years ago, he said that Singapore will remain internationally relevant so long as it is successful “and we do not lose the habits of mind — supple, pragmatic, disciplined and unsentimental long-term thinking focused on the national interest”.

These were the “core principles and the clarity of expression that Mr Lee instilled in what is today a far more institutionalised foreign policy system”, he said.

Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, who was Ambassador to the United States from 1996 to last year, noted how Mr Lee sees Singapore’s role as a “moderator” between US and China. “He sees his role as balancing the two powers to keep them on an even keel. Mr Lee was sometimes speaking up for one side and, at other times, for the other.”

Citing a speech Mr Lee made at the University of Singapore in October 1966, Prof Chan said Singapore’s foreign policy must encourage “major powers in the world to, if not help us, then at least not harm us”.

Also, the Republic must always offer the rest of the world “a continuing interest in the type of society that we project” and it must “always have overwhelming power on our side”, she said.

Mr Lee had said that Singapore should “seek the maximum number of friends with the maximum capacity to uphold what our friends and ourselves have decided to uphold”, she recalled.

Don't use foreign policy as tool of partisan politics
By Bilahari Kausikan, Published The Straits Tmes, 18 Sep 2013

DIPLOMACY is not about being nice, polite or agreeable. It is more fundamentally about protecting and promoting the country's interests, preferably by being nice but if necessary, by other appropriate means.

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew once told an Israeli general who had helped start the Singapore Armed Forces that Singapore had learnt two things from Israel: how to be strong, and how not to use our strength; meaning that it was necessary to get along with neighbours and that no country can live in perpetual conflict with its neighbours.

But Mr Lee had no illusions about the challenges facing a Chinese-majority Singapore permanently situated in a South-east Asia in which the Chinese are typically a less than fully welcomed minority.

His greatest mistake was perhaps, during the period when Singapore was part of Malaysia, to underestimate the lengths to which the Malaysian leadership would go to defend Malay dominance and privileges and led to what was politely termed "Separation". But it turned out well for Singapore, better in all probability than if we had remained in Malaysia. At any rate, it was not a mistake that he would ever make again.

The basic issue in Singapore's relations with our neighbours is existential: the implicit challenge a successful Chinese-majority Singapore organised on the basis of multiracial meritocracy by its very existence poses to contiguous systems organised on different and irreconcilable principles.

This is sometimes dismissed as "historical baggage" that will fade with time. But it is really about the dynamic between two different types of political systems which once shared a common history but have since evolved in very different directions.

It is not easy to envisage the fundamental differences ever fading away, even if time blunts their sharpest edges.

Still, even when differences were at their keenest, it did not prevent Mr Lee from working with Malaysia (and Indonesia) based on the pragmatic pursuit of common interests. It is no secret that the relationship between Mr Lee and Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia, was often testy and fraught with history. Less well known is the fact that until the 2010 agreement on railway land, the most significant Singapore-Malaysia agreement since Singapore's independence was the 1990 Water Agreement concluded between Dr Mahathir and Mr Lee, then still prime minister. Among other things, it provided for the construction of Linggiu Dam.

The incongruity of Singapore in South-east Asia is the central geopolitical reality from which flowed the constants in Mr Lee's approach towards geopolitics and key decisions.

These include, among other things: the early investment in Asean as a stabilising mechanism at a time when it was still uncertain whether Asean would survive; his emphasis on balance and the imperative of involving all major powers in regional affairs rather than acquiesce in "regional solutions to regional problems"; the necessity of anchoring the United States' presence in South-east Asia, including the offer of the use of our facilities after US forces were no longer welcome in Subic Bay and Clark Airbase in the Philippines; the decision to look forward in relations with Japan and to forgive if not forget, despite his own bitter experiences during the Japanese Occupation; never giving up on India despite his continuing scepticism about its governance; a non-ideological approach to working with the former Soviet Union whenever possible, despite his anti-communism; and the decision to be the last South-east Asian country to establish formal diplomatic relations with China, despite his early recognition of the inevitable growth of China's influence and the close personal relations he enjoyed with many Chinese leaders.

No leader, however personally brilliant an individual, can be internationally influential if he only leads a barren rock. Mr Lee was influential because Singapore is successful.

The core operating principles Mr Lee established still form the basis of our foreign policy, although of course their application is continually adjusted to changing circumstances. This should not be surprising since we cannot choose our geopolitical situation and small countries have limited options. But the question inevitably arises: Can we continue to be internationally effective and relevant in a post-Lee Kuan Yew era?

Many years ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned a study on how Singapore could continue to have a close relationship with China after Mr Lee's network of personal contacts with Chinese leaders was no longer available. After lengthy consideration, the conclusion was - have more Lee Kuan Yews! This was not exactly very helpful.

But I am not entirely pessimistic. Mr Lee relinquished executive authority more than 20 years ago; we have, in effect, already been in a post-Lee Kuan Yew era for quite some time. There will never be another Lee Kuan Yew. But we are still and can remain internationally relevant so long as Singapore is successful and we do not lose the habits of mind - supple, pragmatic, disciplined and unsentimental long-term thinking focused on the national interest - the core principles and the clarity of expression that Mr Lee instilled in what is today a far more institutionalised foreign policy system.

It is, however, not to be taken for granted that we can, in fact, retain this edge. Domestic politics in Singapore is becoming more complicated. Foreign policy will sooner or later be the subject of domestic debates. This is not necessarily a bad thing provided - and this is a crucial condition - foreign policy debates occur within nationally agreed parameters of what is and is not possible or desirable for a small country.

Already and all too often I see the irrelevant or the impossible being held up as worthy of emulation; I see our vulnerabilities being dismissed or downplayed; and I see only a superficial understanding of how the world really works in civil society and other groups who aspire to prescribe alternate foreign policies. Most dangerously of all, I see the first signs, as yet still faint but alas, unmistakable, of failure by some to resist the temptation to use foreign policy as a tool of partisan politics.

Whatever the dissatisfaction with the Government, however great the desire for change, Singaporeans should not lose sight of the old adage, somewhat cliched but not invalid: Domestic politics should stop at the water's edge. Even the biggest and most powerful of countries disregard this to their cost and chagrin; for small countries, disregard could prove fatal. Fortunately the situation is not yet irreversible.

The writer, now ambassador-at-large, retired in June as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

New 9-volume Chinese series on Mr Lee launched
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2013

SINGAPORE has not yet reached the limits of its development, but is at a turning point, said former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew to the team behind a new publication on his life launched yesterday.

"Singapore can develop further or it can go on a downward spiral," he said, when asked whether Singapore has exhausted its growth potential.

The interview with Mr Lee on his thoughts as he turns 90 is one highlight of the new Chinese publication, titled Singapore Chose Lee Kuan Yew - 新加坡选择了李光耀.

The nine-volume series, produced by Cengage Learning Asia and the National Archives of Singapore, is a selection of his speeches, interviews and dialogues on themes such as nation- building, international affairs, and his family and colleagues.

The publication was put together by a team of veteran Chinese journalists led by Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who is a former deputy chief editor of Lianhe Zaobao. In his interview with them, Mr Lee reveals that at 90, he does not worry too much about Singapore. The nation is in the good hands of a younger generation of leaders, he said.

Asked for his biggest wish for Singapore, he hopes it will continue to have peace, stability and advancement. As for himself, he said: "I never thought I would live to be 90. I do not know how many more years I have to live."

On his political career which spans over half a century, Mr Lee said politics is a duty and a calling, not just a job.

While his digestion and energy are not what they used to be, he said he continues to head to work every day as it is important to be passionate about life. "We have to look forward to tomorrow - that's how life can go on."

In launching the collection yesterday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said Mr Lee's voice comes through clearly in it. "It is a voice not of political correctness but a voice of absolute conviction and... utter devotion to a single purpose."

'Gardeners' with guts

Institute of Policy Studies director Janadas Devan spoke about the one Big Idea at a conference called The Big Ideas Of Lee Kuan Yew at the Shangri-La Hotel on Monday, on the occasion of Mr Lee's 90th birthday

TODAY is not only Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthday. Today marks also the 50th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963. On that day, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore merged with Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia.

Mr Lee turned 40 that day, as he proclaimed on the steps of the City Hall: "Singapore (as from today, the 16th day of September, 1963) shall be forever a part of the sovereign democratic and independent State of Malaysia."

It is very difficult to see this straight, but what this means is that today marks also the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence - from British colonial rule. Aug 9, 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence - from Malaysia.

We celebrated Sept 16 as our national day on only two occasions - in 1963, when Malaysia was formed, and in 1964. By 1965 this independence day was superseded by another, Aug 9 - which of course comes before Sept 16, and always has.

It is within this fortuitous triangle formed by Mr Lee's birthday, the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's founding and Aug 9 that I will try to locate what I think is the signal quality of Mr Lee and his generation of leaders. I won't talk about Mr Lee's "Big Ideas" as such, as the title of this conference rather portentously puts it, but of a "Big Idea" behind the "Big Ideas" - or more accurately, the "big" sentiment, spirit, emotion, passion that runs through, like a bass line, Mr Lee's public life - and in the absence of which those big ideas would have accounted for nothing.

Those ideas were important, of course. Singapore did undoubtedly essay a number of unique ideas in development: from the early decision to welcome MNCs while the rest of the developing world kept them at arm's length to establishing a unique system of tripartism that built on the German and Japanese models; from CPF to HDB; from GIC to NParks; from the Presidential Council for Minority Rights to the system of Group Representation Constituencies (or GRCs) - the list is very long.

The image that occurs to one as we recall what went into creating this country is not that of the nanny or the housekeeper, let alone the East Asian autocrat of caricature. A more apt image might be that of the constant gardener whose careful husbandry - of resources, talent and values - was directed persistently at fitting everything to a whole.

And the statecraft involved here was more than a question of technique. Nation-building is quite different from assembling a Meccano set. The gardener cannot be distinguished from the garden. Statecraft, especially at the founding of nations, is indistinguishable from soul-craft.

One can, theoretically, produce a compendious bible on development based on Singapore's experience: How to plan industrial parks? How to house 80 per cent of your population in public housing? How to have people save for their own retirement? How to organise a formidable military force? How to plan a city, and make it liveable and green? How to combat corruption, maintain law and order, enforce the sanctity of contracts? And so on and so forth.

But would it be possible to build another Singapore elsewhere simply by applying all the "ideas", big and small, that might be contained in such a book? Would Singapore itself have become the Singapore of today if say the civil service of that time had possessed this book in 1965, but without the gardener? What was special about these gardeners - for there were more than one of them, and Mr Lee was the remarkable leader of an extraordinary team? What defines the soul that fashioned this unique state?

I think the answer can be found in the fortuitous triangle that I mentioned earlier formed by Mr Lee, Sept 16 and Aug 9.

"History," writes Churchill somewhere, "with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days."

It is very difficult to do this but we owe it on this occasion to at least try.

Most of us here have grown up with the same government almost all of our lives. We might be excused if we thought the PAP was always dominant, that Mr Lee was born fully grown and armed, as Athena was from the head of Zeus. But that is not how it happened. It took years for the PAP to establish its dominance; years for the legitimacy of the state to be confirmed as more than a legal entity.

In 1959, the PAP won the elections and formed the Government of self-governing Singapore with the support of the Communist Party of Malaya. There is no doubt whatsoever that the mass base then was with the detainees led by Lim Chin Siong. When the inevitable split between the pro-communist and the non-communist left came in 1961, the PAP was left with almost nothing: The party lost almost all its branches, and all but a rump of the unions went over to the other side.

It almost lost power altogether and hung on to it by just one seat in Parliament - or the Legislative Assembly as it was called then.

The turn really came in 1965 - July 10, 1965, to be precise. That was the day when the moral-political legitimacy of the nascent state was established. That was the day when the result of a by-election in Hong Lim, right at the centre of Chinatown, became known.

The PAP had lost the constituency twice in a row before: First, in a 1961 by-election, which Ong Eng Guan, the former mayor and minister of national development, had forced. Ong received 7,747 votes to the PAP's Jek Yuen Tong's 2,820. Second was in the 1963 GE, when Ong received about 5,000 votes and the Barisan Sosialis candidate about 2,300 - and together they got 64 per cent of the vote. The PAP candidate, Seah Mui Kok, a trade unionist, received a miserable 33 per cent of the votes.

But barely two years later, in July 1965, just a little less than a month before Separation, in a straight fight between the PAP's K.C. Lee and the Barisan's Ong Chang Sam, the PAP won with 60 per cent of the votes. How come?

Because the people understood what was at stake. Relations between the Singapore leadership and the federal government in Kuala Lumpur had broken down. There had been racial riots in Singapore in 1964, and Singapore's leaders - in particular, S. Rajaratnam and Toh Chin Chye - had organised a Malaysian Solidarity Convention, and had embarked on a campaign for a Malaysian Malaysia throughout the Federation.

The PAP had lost badly in the 1964 Malaysian GE, winning only one of the nine seats it contested in Peninsular Malaysia, but it seemed on the way to establishing itself as a power beyond Singapore.

Ong Eng Guan's sudden resignation from the Legislative Assembly in June 1965, Singapore's leaders at that time believed, had probably been engineered by Kuala Lumpur to test the PAP's strength. It had lost twice before in the same constituency. If it lost again, its hold on Singapore would have been doubted and the legitimacy of its Malaysian Malaysia campaign severely damaged. If the PAP had lost in Hong Lim again, that would have been used as a pretext to crush the party and forcibly change the leadership in Singapore.

Various Umno leaders had already openly called for Mr Lee's arrest. Even the Chinese compradors in the MCA had called for his arrest, with one of them urging the Tunku to "put Lee Kuan Yew away to sober him up".

Word of all this had reached British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who records in his memoirs that he told the Tunku that if his government ordered the arrest and detention of Lee, he (the Tunku) need not attend the next Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

Wilson writes in his memoirs: If Lee were imprisoned "there would be an accident one morning and it would be written off as suicide... Easiest thing in the world to organise".

Singapore's leaders made contingency plans. Mr Lee himself would accept arrest - as the leader of the movement, he had little choice. But others in the leadership would escape elsewhere: to Cambodia, where a Singapore government-in-exile would be established, and to London and elsewhere in the world, from where they would continue the fight.

John Drysdale reports in his book Singapore: Struggle For Success that "Dr Toh had found a 'jungle green' uniform and was preparing for the day when, rather than be arrested, he would take to the jungle as a guerilla fighter".

Fortunately, Dr Toh was saved from that fate by the PAP's victory in Hong Lim on July 10. People at the heart of Chinatown had seen Singapore's leaders, in particular Mr Lee, fight back ferociously, refusing to be cowed. Their decision to stand by Mr Lee's leadership sealed our fate. The Tunku and his senior ministers decided 10 days later that Singapore had to go. Thus Aug 9.

Ultimately, people follow leaders with fire in their bellies (to use a very old-fashioned expression). It wasn't ideas - big or small - that established the legitimacy of the state in the crucible of its founding. What established that legitimacy in the eyes of the people was the conviction that this government was on their side.

On May 27, 1965, Mr Lee addressed the Malaysian Parliament for the last time when he moved an amendment to the motion to thank the King for his Opening Address. Everyone from Singapore who was present in the Chamber that day described the event in almost identical words: You could hear a pin drop. When Mr Lee switched to Malay, you could see Umno backbenchers sit up and listen, as the front bench sank ever deeper into their seats.

A colleague of mine at PMO's Comms Group chanced upon a recording of an excerpt of this speech in the National Archives. I shall play a brief clip of it now:

There you have it: Mr Lee's and his generation's finest hour. What is that singular big idea - the big passion, emotion - behind the big ideas? Simply put: Guts, courage.

Before you can have ideas for a state, there must be a prior set of decisions: This is who we are. This is what we believe. Here is where we will make a stand.

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