Sunday 27 October 2013

Brookings post named after Mr Lee Kuan Yew

By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2013

THE Brookings Institution has launched a new academic position named after former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, as the Washington- based think-tank seeks to raise awareness of South-east Asian issues in the United States capital.

The wraps were taken off the "Lee Kuan Yew chair in South-east Asia Studies" last night in a ceremony at the Fullerton Hotel.

The position, funded with an initial US$3 million (S$3.7 million), will be rotated among academics chosen from the different ASEAN countries, starting with Singapore. The plan is for each academic to have a two-year tenure.

The scholar will conduct research on South-east Asia out of Washington and also give talks and workshops to US lawmakers and their staff.

Speaking at the launch, Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said Brookings, through this chair, could play an influential role in helping formulate US policy in Asia.

"What you really don't want is a questioning of American intention, question of whether it is involved in the region or whether it is capable of being involved in the region due to domestic issues," he said.

It was a point reiterated by former Singapore ambassador to the US Chan Heng Chee. "We need to keep South-east Asia on the minds of American policymakers. When they think of Asia now, they think of North-east Asia. Nowadays, it's more focused on China so we need to get more mindshare," she said.

Ambassador Chan said yesterday was the first time anything in the US has been named after Mr Lee, even though the former PM is considered by Americans to be a great friend and an advocate of US presence in the region.

Dr Richard Bush, director of the newly renamed Brookings Institution Centre for East Asia Policy Studies (CEAP) - previously a centre for North- east Asia policy - put it this way. He said that having a team of scholars looking at Asia but without one specialising in South-east Asia "would be like playing basketball without a guard or a forward, with just four players".

Work to launch the new academic position first began in 2010. Brookings Institution vice-president Martin Indyk had approached Mr Lee then to ask for his permission.

Mr Lee reportedly consented to lending his name to the position but said he would not be raising any funds. The bulk of that task was ultimately taken up by Ambassador Chan, who was then Singapore's envoy to the US.

Over the next three years, some US$3 million was raised, evenly split among 13 donors based in the US and Singapore.

Brookings president Strobe Talbott said the post is especially unique because it is the first time the 97-year-old institution has named a chair to honour the achievements of a leader, as opposed to "honouring somebody for giving us the money for the chair".

"I am in favour of both kinds but I think it very appropriate that Lee Kuan Yew is the first person we would honour in this way," he said.

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