Singapore in Transition by Han Fook Kwang (Part 1)

Hope, anxiety and question marks

Introduction. He was the editor of the Straits Times from 2002 to 2012. Fook Kwang writes regularly columns in The Sunday Times. We are a more rounded society now. Singapore is thriving for more civic participation and diversity of views. How can the economy continue to grow He has learnt to take feedback in his stride.

Politics. In 1989, he joined the Straits Times as a journalist. Technology and social media changed how people viewed society and politics. The public is more outspoken nowadays. Are the leaders out of touch with what is happening on the ground? The public is becoming more demanding nowadays. GE 2011 showed what happens if the government doesn’t change fast enough. Fear is always still present. It is important to read and think about the articles.

The trouble with $2,200 bikes and $600 chairs. Why were Singaporeans so upset with these purchases? The bidding period for quotations would increase from 4 to 7 days. The issue was not unfair evaluation but also the sheer cost of the bikes. Spending $2,200 on a bike wasn’t typical household spending in Singapore. Does all government need to be analyzed using cost benefit analysis? Can they incorporate assessment methods like using common sense and instincts to decide? Can an organization develop a culture and values system to do the right thing? Is there a widening gap in expectations between the general public and public sector leadership? We all need to agree on what the future Singapore should look like.

The real fear: Being pushed out of home. At the root of disquiet over foreigners is basic human anxiety of being displaced. The number of foreign workers are a concern. Immigration is a hot topic everywhere. The issue is the dilution of our culture and values. Are the foreigners integrating into our society? Mr Lee Kuan Yew had great foresight and could foresee this problem many years ago. Nobody wants to be displaced from their own back-yard. There has been a strain on infrastructure in recent years. However, infrastructure can be continually improved. People have different views on immigration. The common man is worried about their job security and foreigners stealing their jobs. Nowadays, there is also high skilled labour entering Singapore’s shores. The government needs to recognize concerns from Singaporeans and yet do what it takes to continue having a vibrant workforce and economy.

Singapore the real winner in Punggol East by-election. The by-election was conducted fairly. The Workers Party are also a party which is not out to upend the status quo. They certainly do not have plans to become the next government straight away. WP often agrees with the positions of the PAP. WP needs to work on their policies to rival PAP’s. The electorate is more educated and sensible now. It is important to field the best candidate.

Government needs to regain people’s trust. White Paper debate shows people must be persuaded plans are in their interest. Many Singaporeans were unhappy at the White Paper. Is there a lack of public confidence in the government? People need to know that policies are in their best interest. Trust has to be earned and re-earned. There is certainly a measured approach which needs to be adopted when it comes to population growth. The government needs to explain how the increase in foreigners will benefit Singaporeans. This is crucial. The public must feel that the government is acting in their interest and is doing what is best for the country.

Who’s out of touch – our leaders or people?  While some feel the Government has become elitist, others say citizens are unrealistic. The public seems to be getting unhappier at major issues. Has the government gone soft? The first theme blames the government. If the policy makers lost touch with the ground, things might be difficult. Or are the people to blame for having unrealistic expectations of the government? Are they are grateful enough Policy makers need to deal with municipal issues as well.

50 and celebrating the spirit of questioning. People who bought property in the past were able to benefit from them. Many people have taken advantage of the real estate boom. This was one of Singapore’s icons of success. However, are resale flats too expensive? Are we a too materialistic society? Are we better off living in houses with inflated values? There are grave concerns over the Singapore economy. Are Singaporean companies losing their competitiveness? Is our economy in need of structural change? The public also wants a stronger opposition. Our government is never stagnant and is trying their best to rejuvenate the economy. As we turn 50, it is the best time to ask such questions.

What dark secret is in the Singapore basement? There are things every society is not proud to be associated with, but which still exist. What is the cost of economic growth?  Is there exploitation of cheap labour? 3 groups have sacrificed themselves for the sake of economic growth. One is the low-wage workers. However, programmes like Workfare are helping this group. Politicians who were opponents of the ruling party have suffered in the past. Some movies have also been banned in Singapore. There are also many low-wage foreign workers doing the jobs that Singaporeans do not want to pick up. These are the some of the trade-offs in our society.

Fear for Singapore propelled vote swing. Voters feared that the ruling party might be voted out. It would be the unthinkable. The opposition’s campaigns seemed to gain a lot of traction online. There was a fear the ruling party would lose seats and weaken it. Voters didn’t want to see 1 more GRC move to the opposition. Many voters could have been influenced by SG50. The WP kept emphasizing on checks and balances to improve governance. The opponent will have to thread carefully after this bad result. The WP will have to re-strategize and fight again.

Lee Kuan Yew. LKY was a fast worker. Back then, everything was handwritten and he would mail his comments to me. He would always ask reporters and editors on how his speech could be improved. LKY has a tremendous persistence and determination. Many of his initial ideas for Singapore were revolutionary at that time. Indeed, he still continues to loom large.

His conviction and personality shaped Singapore. LKY can look back at Singapore as his achievement. The country has progressed much since independence. Does the younger generation lack the understanding of what made Singapore succeed? His conviction was outstanding and he was relentless about his pursuit of success. Values were very important to him. Thankfully, PAP is never on autopilot and a lot of fine-tuning of policies need to be carried out. He can take pride on our new generation and the effort younger Singaporeans are putting in.

The original big-idea leader. His enduring legacy was that he had powerful ideas for Singapore and the courage and commitment to turn them into reality. Mr Lee was not concerned with winning his critics. The good thing about him was that he was not afraid of implementing new policies. He chose to bring in MNCs, have compulsory NS for males, introduced English as the common language and multi-culturialism. He had a great deputy, Dr Goh Keng Swee. The big institutions were under government control. Mr Lee is an extreme pragmatist. He believed in minimal public welfare and home ownership. Can Singapore sustain its growth? It remains to be seen.

I’m very determined. If I decide that something is worth doing, then I’ll put my heart and soul to it. The whole ground can be against me but if I know it is right, I’ll do it. – Lee Kuan Yew

What’s next for Singapore after Lee Kuan Yew. Passing of larger-than-life leader will bring inevitable change, but key question is what this entails. What will life be like? The current leadership will certainly feel his absence. Lee Kuan Yew also commanded a lot of respect from international leaders and Singapore’s reputation might be affected. Mr Lee had many views on rising China in the past and he built a strong relationship with global leaders. No current leader should try to emulate him though.

He wasn’t afraid to show his true colours. Open display of grief shows Mr Lee’s qualities mattered more than his actions. Mr Lee never sought adulation. He was a very serious leader. He was a very frugal man and wasn’t interested in wealth. This made him more relatable to ordinary Singaporeans. Singapore was his lifelong project. He was never afraid of public examination and he wasn’t afraid to be harsh, when necessary.

Singapore’s future according to LKY. He still thought that Singapore would be safe for 10 years. But beyond that, it depends on the other members of the team. There will be a time when the public wants to try the other side. Nobody can settle the future of a country beyond more than 10 years of his life.

Economy. Hope it isn’t the kiss of death for me. Stagnating wages have been an issue for a while now. Does the average Singaporean worker deserve higher pay than his neighbouring counterpart? How do we make workers in Singapore more competitive? People need to do their job well and display initiative in whatever they do. I was impressed by service staff overseas. Singaporeans have not developed this sense of taking pride in their work. We do not possess the deep skills and knowledge required to make our products/services world-class.

Who do you think owns your company? It’s hard to improve productivity unless employees feel a sense of ownership. Labour productivity growth rates haven’t been growing. The government has been investing a lot into the National Productivity Fund. There is a lot of financial support for start-ups. Will companies be over-reliant on government help? We need home-grown innovators. Productivity is crucial. Management’s problems should also be worker’s problems. If you ask the Japanese who owns their company, they will say that their companies belong to them too.

Do workers here believe that the company they work for belongs to them? If the answer to the question is no, if workers’ hearts are not in their companies, the company doesn’t deserve to be given taxpayers’ money. – Han Fook Kwang

The $6 billion question: Will government funds help SMEs to do better? How do you grow the pie each year so that everyone can benefit? Transformation of the SME industry was the strategy. We want to send workers’ for training and rely less on foreign labour. Singapore is known for the excellent infrastructure and tax incentives. The going will continue to get tougher. However, we have to be accountable for the amount spent in the budget. We need to review whether programmes have the desired effect.

When wages fail to grow along with economy? Stagnating incomes need to be tackled in earnest. Income rose from the 1965s to the 1990s. The median monthly rate increased tremendously. Starting salaries for fresh graduates haven’t been increasing much. Why is there economic growth but no wage increase? This issue is also not uniquely Singapore. Do we need a new growth model? These are important questions which need to be answered. Inflation rates have been rising. Will stagnating incomes affect the quality of living? If the ruling party can’t deliver good jobs and incomes, they might lose votes. Ultimately, they still need to care about the economy.

Do Singaporean workers deserve their wages? Why do our workers deserve a premium when they are not so productive? We do not fare well in case interviews too. Are our workers comparable with engineering firms in Germany? Many say workers in Singapore lack drive. We should be hungrier and more hardworking. Our workers need better skills and ability. The Swiss has managed to reinvent themselves. Let’s hope stagnating wages are not here to stay.

Is Singapore too business friendly for local firms? There are basically no entry barriers. We face the brunt of global competition. It is too easy to set up a business here than many want to try. Toyota and Nissan thrived at the start because of protectionist measures. Once they were bigger, Japan opened up their economy to trade etc. It can notorious for foreign firms to succeed in China. Japanese companies usually favour sub-contractors they know for a long time. Can the system be more nuanced? Can a more protectionist approach yield the new global Singapore firm?

Understanding productivity: Why we haven’t got it still. BCA has been encouraging construction firms to use technology. Our economy is struggling to achieve 2 to 4% of productivity growth. It is not so easy to get workers to produce more. Is the worker even doing the right job? Should he be doing something else? What is Singapore really good at producing? Restructuring of the economy comes into the picture, not just about productivity gains. There is also excessive focus on technology. We need to understand the human relationships in organizations and how employers/ employees interact

If workers do not believe that bosses are fair, that the company belongs to them as much as it does to shareholders, and that they have a future in it, no amount of skill or technology will help them excel. – Han Fook Kwang

Sake, windmills and the art of craftsmanship. Both how Japanese brew and the Dutch harness wind for energy is intriguing. There is a common pursuit of excellence. Be the best you can be. The master craftsman often hands down the skills to the younger ones. They are constantly thinking of new ways to improve the brew. They treat their job with utmost respect and care. The Dutch needed to be good at harnessing energy from windmills as they needed to clear waterlogged lands. The country sits on low-lying land. It is a deep Dutch tradition.

What it takes to get the economy buzzing. Singapore relies on trade and connections with neighbours. We lack enough dynamic individuals to take us forward. We need to develop a culture of entrepreneurship. We need to do our jobs well. People in Japan, Netherlands are very resourceful.

Singapore In Transition

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Lee Kuan Yew – The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World by Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill (Part 2)

For Part 1, click here.

The Future of National Economic Growth. LKY is very open to talent as he believes it is an American concept. ‘We accept that whoever joins us is part of us.’ Singapore is not corrupt, with good infrastructure and language ability of the English language. Make haste slowly. The gradual introduction of English was a hallmark of Singapore’s success. He allowed parents to choose English or Chinese. It is very important to have the rule of law and not abide by Socialism. The workforce matters a lot, as it determines national competitiveness. Three attributes are vital: they are entrepreneurship, innovation and management. The rule of law is crucial to facilitate trade between many countries. Singapore’s talent pool is too small. Good values are also important. There is this fear that people will hate you if you do their job well. This negative mindset has to be eradicated. Singapore has learnt the value of industrialism from the West and Japan. A modern worker should be enterprising and innovative.

You can keep your name, Brzezinski, Berlusconi, whatever it is, you have come, join me, you are American. We need talent, we accept them. That must be our defining attribute. – Lee Kuan Yew

A people’s standard of living depends on a number of basic factors: 1) the resources it has in relation to its population; 2) Level of technology and industrial development; 3) educational and training standards; 4) culture, discipline and drive in the workforce. – Lee Kuan Yew

Those with good minds to be scholars should also become inventors, innovators, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs; they must bring new products and services to the market to enrich the lives of people everywhere. – Lee Kuan Yew

Societies that will succeed are those which easily assimilate foreigners. Silicon Valley is such a place. Not only is it ‘color blind’ and uniquely meritocratic, it has a culture that draws newcomers in. – Lee Kuan Yew

We must continue to attract as many able and talented people from China, India, the region, and from developed countries, to add to our team. Without this input of foreign talent, even the U.S. could not have been so successful. – Lee Kuan Yew

Singaporeans must take to heart one simple fact: unless we improve ourselves through education and training and through developing the will to be productive, our future cannot be assured. – Lee Kuan Yew

There is a dearth of entrepreneurial talent in Singapore… We have to start experimenting. The easy things – just getting a blank mind to take in knowledge and become trainable – we have done. Now comes the difficult part. To get literate and numerate minds to be more innovative, to be more productive, is not easy. It requires a mindset change, a different set of values. – Lee Kuan Yew

Workers now have to manage their own control systems, supervise themselves, and take upon themselves the responsibility to upgrade. They must be disciplined enough to think on their own and to seek to excel without someone breathing down their neck…They must be enterprising and innovative, always seeking new ways of doing the job, to create the extra value, the extra edge. – Lee Kuan Yew

The Future of Geopolitics and Globalization. Some of the problems of the Eurozone are the financial crisis and rising debt of some of the nations. North Korea is another problem. Kim Hong-un. Japan’s economic stagnation is also a problem. Iran’s nuclear program. The major nations need to stop them from acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia is declining as they are able to generate wealth apart from exporting natural resources. More Chinese from China are also moving there. Russians have a pessimistic view of the world. BRIC will not combine to form a global force. ASEAN countries need to combine their markets to fight China. However, ASEAN countries are pegged back with low growth and problems of the past. The financial crisis was due to the lack of regulation of derivatives. Global warming and climate change are a big threat to globalization. Even with medical advances in technology, global warming cannot be eradicated. Information transfer is now very fast with the advent of the Internet. LKY believes it is much harder to groom national champions by incubating them due to globalization. Technology has changed the world. Upgrading skills, level of education. ‘Lifelong learning is a must for everyone in this knowledge economy, with rapidly changing technology.’ The early Singapore brought in many MNCs. History has shown that countries with the largest number of start-ups win in the end. There is no viable alternative to global integration.

But when your life is so harsh, and from time to time it gets better when the oil price goes up, but that is momentary, you have a different view of the future. – Lee Kuan Yew

The business of a person in a financial institution is to make the biggest profit for himself, so just condemning the bankers and the profit takers does not make sense. You have allowed these rules, and they work within these rules. – Lee Kuan Yew

Recession must come from time to time. It is in the nature of the free market of the western world…People and systems tend to be carried away by exuberance. Investors get greedy and rush in to buy, believing that prices will only go up. Despair and depression then set in. – Lee Kuan Yew

A negative result of globalization is the widening of the inequality between the highly educated and the less educated, between urban and rural incomes, and between coastal and inland provinces. The highly educated can move between countries seeking the high rewards in the developed countries, especially in sectors like IT and the Internet. The less educated are not mobile and cannot get into the developed countries, where wages are higher. This is unavoidable in a world driven by market forces. – Lee Kuan Yew

There has to be a fundamental change in cultural attitudes before Japanese and other East Asians can compete with the Americans who, because of their different history, easily absorbs people of different cultures and religions into their corporate teams. – Lee Kuan Yew

There will not be any global leader who will say this ‘We are going to forgo growth. We are going to consume less. Travel less. Live a more Spartan life, and we will save the Earth. – Lee Kuan Yew

Democracy. Efficient and an effective government must provide the framework for the people to succeed. Reward people based on their contribution to society. Job creation and wealth generations are key drivers. They must also listen to the ground’s views and act on them. Leaders must know how to chart the course. Formulate solutions for the greater and common good. You either have it in you, or you don’t. LKY believes in doing what is right, not always doing the most popular thing for its people. Indonesia, Burma are examples where democracy has not worked. A democratic society must allow for choice and there must be an interested and vilgante electorate. Everyone must take a stand. The people must have disciplined to agree with the objectives of the government. Government must maximize opportunities. Is 1 person, 1 vote the best system? We adopted this from the British. LKY wanted a system where someone above 40 will be granted 2 votes, but those below 40 and above 65 will have 1 vote. Order and justice between person and person, and between person and the state is the key. You need give people the incentive to strive better. This is why the communist society collapsed.

The business of a government is to…make firm decisions so that there can be certainty and stability in the affairs of the people. The art of government is utilizing to the maximum the limited resources at the country’s disposal. – Lee Kuan Yew

Your job as a leader is to inspire and to galvanize, not to share your distraught thoughts. You make your people dispirited if you do so. – Lee Kuan Yew

A national is great not by its size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people, and the quality of their leaders which ensures it an honorable place in history. – Lee Kuan Yew

I have never been over-concerned or obsessed with opinion or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind…you will go where the wind is blowing. – Lee Kuan Yew

One person, one vote is a most difficult form of government. From time to time, the results can be erratic. People are sometimes fickle. They get bored with stable, steady improvements in life, and in a reckless moment, they vote for a change for change’s sake. – Lee Kuan Yew

The rule of law talks of habeas corpus, freedom, the right of association and expression, of assembly, of peaceful demonstration. – Lee Kuan Yew

To be successful, society must maintain a balance between nurturing excellence and encouraging the average to improve. There must be both cooperation and competition between people in the same society. – Lee Kuan Yew

There is a continual need to balance between a successful, competitive society, and a cohesive, compassionate one. That requires judgment, to strike a bargain or social contract.  Each society must arrive at that optimum point for itself. Between the two ends, the highly competitive and the excessively equal, lies a golden mean. This point will move with time and changing values. – Lee Kuan Yew

How Lee Kuan Yew Thinks. Human beings are naturally vicious. Human beings are naturally very competitive and want to achieve more than the person beside them. After many generations have scattered across the whole, there are many genetic differences. LKY wants to give people equal opportunities to succeed. He experienced WWII and the Japanese occupation. That changed him. He saw how humans behave. He learned from both the British and the Japanese. LKY believes in adopting theories to suit reality. History does not repeat itself in the same way each time, but certain trends and consequences are constants. If you do not know history, you think short term. If you know history, you think medium Have the convictions to stick up and stand up for what you believe in. Humans cannot be overly challenged. He does not believe in the welfare system adopted by UK. America has a strong entrepreneurial culture, where people are not afraid of failure. His admired leaders are De Gaulle, Deng Xiaoping and Winston Churchill. Goh Keng Swee was also a very driven man who aided LKY on many decisions over the years.

I have always thought that humanity was animal-like, while Confucian theory says that it can be improved. I am not sure it can be, but it can be trained, it can be disciplined…You can make a left-hander write with his or her right hand, but you cannot really change his or her natural-born instinct. – Lee Kuan Yew

One of the facts of life is that no two things are ever equal, either in smallness or in bigness. Living things are never equal. Even in the case of identical twins, one comes out before the other and takes precedence over the other. So it is with human beings, so it is with tribes, and so it is with nations. – Lee Kuan Yew

In any given society, of the 1000 babies born, there are so many percent near-geniuses, so many percent average, so many percent morons. It is the near-geniuses and the above-average who ultimately decide the shape of things to come. We want an equal society. We want to give everybody equal opportunities. But, in the back of our minds, we never deceive ourselves that two human beings are ever equal in their stamina, in their drive, in their dedication, in their innate ability. – Lee Kuan Yew

The underlying philosophy is that for a society to work well, you must have the interests of the mass of the people, that society takes priority over the interests of the individual. This is the primary difference with the American principle, the primary rights of the individual. – Lee Kuan Yew

You must not overlook the importance of discussions with knowledgeable people. I would say that is much more productive than absorbing or running through masses of documents. Because in a short exchange, you can abstract from somebody who has immense knowledge and experience the essence of what he had gained. – Lee Kuan Yew

I may not have changed in my physical, mental and emotional make-up, the hardware side. But the software side, my responses to God, glory, or gold, has been conditioned by my experiences. In other words, however capacious the hardware (nature), without the software (nurture), not much can be made of the hardware. – Lee Kuan Yew

I do not believe that because a theory sounds good, looks logical on paper, or is presented logically, therefore that is the way it will work out. The final test is life. What happens in real life, what happens with people working in a society. – Lee Kuan Yew

The personal experience of a person determines whether he likes or hates certain things, welcomes them or fears them when they recur. So it is with nations: it is the collective memory of a people, the composite learning from past events which led to successes or disasters that makes a people welcome or fear new events, because they recognize parts in new events which have similarities with past experience. – Lee Kuan Yew

There are three basic essentials for successful transformation of any society. First, a determined leadership…two, an administration which is efficient; and three, social discipline. – Lee Kuan Yew

If you treat human beings just like animals, you just feed them, keep them sleek, well-exercised, healthy like dogs or cats, I do not think that it will work. Nations have gone through tremendous privations and hardships in order to achieve specific goals which have inspired and fired their imagination. – Lee Kuan Yew

You must want. That is the crucial thing. Before you have, you must want to have. And to want to have means to be able, first, to perceive what it is you want; secondly, how to discipline and organize yourself in order to possess the things you want; and thirdly, the grit and the stamina.- Lee Kuan Yew

Revolutionary situations throw up great leaders who demand blood, sweat and tears; comfortable circumstances produce leaders who promise people an even easier life. – Lee Kuan Yew

From my empirical observation of people and leaders, I believe 70-80% of a person’s capability, proclivities, temperament is genetic. The day you are conceived, at least 70% has already been fixed in the womb. If you are bound to be a capable person, you will grow into a capable person. If you are bound to be slow, you will be slow. – Lee Kuan Yew

I think you are a born leader or you are not a leader. You can teach a person to be a manager, but not a leader. They must have the extra drive, intellectual verve, an extra tenacity, and the will to overcome. – Lee Kuan Yew

I do not want to be remembered as a statesman. First of all, I do not classify myself as a statesman. I put myself down as determined, consistent and persistent. I set out to do something. I keep chasing it until it succeeds. That is all. – Lee Kuan Yew

I do not think I can decide how I will be remembered. I live my life in accordance to what I think is worth doing. I never wanted to be in politics. I wanted to be a lawyer and make a good living, to be a good advocate, but I was thrown into it as a result of all these political earthquakes that took place. – Lee Kuan Yew

I am not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial. Close the coffin, then decide. Then you assess me. I may still do something foolish before the lid is closed on me. – Lee Kuan Yew

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Lee Kuan Yew – The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World by Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill (Part 1)

I have had the privilege of meeting many world leaders over the past half century; none, however, has taught me more than Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first premier and its guiding spirit ever since. – Henry Kissinger

He has sound judgment and intelligence. Without his vision, Singapore might not become so economically powerful. Per capita income rose from $400 a year to about $50,000 now. Singapore is now a major hub and a force to be reckoned with. He has shared his profound knowledge and experiences with many politicians across the World.

When Lee Kuan Talks, Who Listens? (Selected quotes), Xi Jinping, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Jacques Chirac, F. W. de Klerk, Xi Jinping, Tony Blair, John Major, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Schmidt, Rupert Murdoch, John Chambers, Sam Palmisano, Rex Tillerson, Robert Zoellick, James Wolfensohn, Muhtar Kent, David Rothkopf, Hillary Clinton, George Shultz, Madeleine Albright, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, Joseph Nye, Nicholas Kristof, David Ignatius, Fareed Zakaria

In my long life in public service, I have encountered many bright, able people. None is more impressive than Lee Kuan Yew. – George W. Bush

Hallmarks of Singapore’s success: focus on education, work and saving, meritocracy, democracy, protectionism in the past but liberation and global engagement now etc. Lee was a smart, thoughtful, blunt and provocative man.

There are two equalizers in life: the Internet and education. Lee Kuan Yew is a world leader who understands this and is using the power of the Internet to position Singapore for survival and success in the Internet economy. – John Chambers

He has the most modern and most strategic view of anyone I have met for a long time. – Madeleine Albright

Today, Singapore is a rich and prosperous country. If the rest of the world could accomplish what Singapore has accomplished, the world would be a better and more prosperous place. He is a man who never stops thinking, never stops looking ahead with larger visions. His views are sought by respected senior statesmen on all continents. – Joseph Nye

Lee is the smartest leader I think I ever met. – Tony Blair

Towering genius disdains a beaten path. – Abraham Lincoln

Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore into a modern and prosperous nation. He is the ‘sage of Singapore’. Many world leaders have been inspired by him. This book focuses on the future of the world economy.

Of course. This reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force. It is China’s intention to be the greatest power in the world – and to be accepted as China, not as an honorary member of the West. – Lee Kuan Yew

The Future of China. Is China aiming to be number 1? How does China see the US? China is going to be the world’s biggest economy in the next 20 years and want to be number 1. They are the fastest developing nation. This reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force. Their policies are gearing them to be number 1. No one should offend them as they could easily impose economic sanctions. Will China want to impose their imperial status when they are number 1? They tell others to be more respectful of them. China believes in tapping on their skilled and educated workforce. They will practice diplomacy. Although not as strong in terms of military strength as the US, they are deter any aggression by trading heavily with them. They are moving towards the market system of economy. China has to avoid wars like Germany and Japan and not be obsessed with power. Also, they have to avoid being like Russia, which spent too much money on military. The younger generation needs to learn about the rich Chinese history and how they have overcome difficulties in the past. To Asia: ‘come grow with me’, ‘choose to be my friend’. They are more concerned using diplomacy rather than force. Governance problems, as well as culture; language might affect their success. Chinese language is very difficult to master. Their culture allows less expression of creativity and exchange of ideas. It is hard to change culture due to their illustrious history. Also, some of the structures that were recommended by Stalin are still in place. There is also the rich poor divide to worry about. It is hard to monitor so many people, once they move into the cities. They depend on other nations for resources as well. Currently, China wants to grow with the US and tap on their expertise. LKY expects double digit growth to happen in the near future. However, China won’t turn into a liberal democracy. They still believe in the power of communism. Now, they realize the need for the rule of law. Clear laws strengthens the economy. If it is peaceful, China won’t lose. Their chance of being number 1 is 80%. Xi Jinping had a tougher life than Hu Jintao. LKY thinks that he is impressive, just like Nelson Mandela.

Theirs is a culture 4000 years old with 1.3 billion people, many of great talent – a huge and very talented pool to draw from. How could they not aspire to be number 1 in Asia, and in time the world? – Lee Kuan Yew

The chief challenges are culture, language, an inability to attract and integrate talent from other countries, and, in time, governance. – Lee Kuan Yew

While I once advised a Chinese leader to make English the first language of China, clearly that is not realistic for such a great, confident country and culture. But it is a serious handicap. – Lee Kuan Yew

He is reserved – not in the sense that he will not talk to you, but in the sense that he will not betray his likes and dislikes. There is always a pleasant smile on his face, whether or not you have said something that annoyed him. He has iron in his soul, more than Hu Jintao, who ascended the ranks without experiencing the trials and tribulations that Xi endured. – Lee Kuan Yew

China is sucking the Southeast Asian countries into its economic system because of its vast market and growing purchasing power. Japan and South Korea will inevitably be sucked in as well. It just absorbs countries without having to use force. – Lee Kuan Yew

The Future of the United States. LKY believes USA has the ability to rebound well. It has an illustrious history and track record. For the next 20 to 30 years, they will remain the sole superpower. They are very powerful economically and in terms of their military. They have a say in almost every international issue. Also, they have a culture of embracing talented foreigners. USA has a rich entrepreneurial culture, where people are not afraid of failure. English language is also easier to learn. USA has great and noble ideals. The US government has the problem of each succeeding president refusing to take unpopular measures in the fear that they will lose votes. As a result, budget deficits often carry over to the next administration. The presidential system is also flawed, as compared to the parliamentary system. For the parliamentary system, the citizens will know you for a period of time at least. Whereas for the presidential system, anyone can run for it. Media can make a person seem very attractive/popular. LKY believes more in discipline, rather than democracy. The American system is very difficult to run. The problem with US is that social problems like guns, violent crime etc, disrupts society. You cannot let people do their own thing all the time. Individual supremacy cannot be carried to an extreme. Individual rights at the expense of the community. Multiculturalism will destroy the US, esp from immigrants as they will dilute their culture. A mediocre system of government with top people at the top is better than an excellent system of government with poor people at the top. USA needs to control their fiscal deficit properly. They cannot to have other countries withdrawing their assets from the USA.

If people have lost faith completely in their democratic institutions because they cannot find people of calibre to run them, however good that system, it perishes. Ultimately, it is the people who run the system who make it come to life. – Lee Kuan Yew

America’s strengths include no grooved thinking but rather an ability to range widely, imaginatively, and pragmatically; a diversity of centers of excellence that compete in inventing and embracing new ideas and new technologies. – Lee Kuan Yew

Americans have a can-do approach to life: everything can be broken up, analyzed and redefined. Whether it can or it cannot, Americans believe it can be solved, given enough money, research, and effort. – Lee Kuan Yew

The American culture…is that we start from scratch and beat you. – Lee Kuan Yew

They went into an empty continent and made the best of it – killed the Red Indians and took over the land and the buffaloes. So this is how they ended up – you build a town here, you be the sheriff, I am the judge, you are the policeman, and you are the banker, let us start. And this culture has carried on until today. There is the belief that you can make it happen. – Lee Kuan Yew

When you have popular democracy, to win votes you have to give more and more. And to beat your opponent in the next election, you have to promise to give more away. So it is a never-ending process of auctions – and the cost, the debt being paid for by the next generation. – Lee Kuan Yew

Your presidents, I mean, like Jimmy Carter…my name is Jimmy Carter, I am a peanut farmer, I am running for president. The next thing you know, he was the president. – Lee Kuan Yew

I do not believe that if you are libertarian, full of diverse opinions, full of competing ideas in the marketplace, full of sound and fury, therefore you will succeed. – Lee Kuan Yew

They say people can think for themselves? Do you honestly believe that the chap who cannot pass elementary school knows the consequences of his choice when he answers a question viscerally, on language, culture, and religion? But we knew the consequences. We would starve, we would have race riots. We would disintegrate. – Lee Kuan Yew

If you follow the ideological direction of Europe, you are done for. There will always be a tussle within societies, as underachievers want more support, but addressing their needs must be done in a way that does not kill incentive. – Lee Kuan Yew

The Future of US – China Relations. China is just acting on its own national interests and not interested in taking over the world. China can tap on US technology so having conflict is not ideal. Many feel that a US military presence should be maintained. The world will be very different if the US is experiencing conflict. The US must always support Japan. Many Asians still thank the US for their involvement in WWII that allowed them to prosper afterwards. Many countries are now on US’s side after how President Nixon befriended them. The US must try to build as many FTAs as possible. The US should not try to change China into a democratic society. Neither should the US try to threaten China. China has been through a lot, like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. They now want lasting peace. It is important that the younger generation are not hostile but instead, accepting and understanding.

American society was so successful for so long not because of these ideas and principles, but because of a certain geopolitical good fortune, an abundance of resources and immigrant energy, a generous flow of capital and technology from Europe, and two wide oceans that kept conflicts of the world away from American shores. – Lee Kuan Yew

The US cannot stop China’s rise. It just has to live with a bigger China, which will be completely novel for the US as no country has ever been big enough to challenge its position. China will be able to do so in 20 to 30 years. – Lee Kuan Yew

So if I were an American, I would speak well of China, acknowledge it as a great power, applaud its return to its position of respect and restoration of its glorious past, and propose specific concrete ways to work together. – Lee Kuan Yew

…To engage or to isolate China. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say you will engage China on some issues and isolate her over others. You cannot mix your signals. – Lee Kuan Yew

Make them feel that they are stakeholder, and if this earth goes warm, they will be in as much trouble as anyone else. – Bob Zoellick

The Future of India. There is too much bureaucracy that makes it hard to grow economically. There is also excessive corruption that destroys state planning. There are many layers of review before laws can be passed and the constitution changed. In addition, infrastructure is poor and it is running large deficits. Their government has not been able to follow Infosys’ model. The British took over them. There are too many dialects in India. The Brahmins are smart. However, if you marry a non-Brahmin, you go down in caste. Many of their businessman are also corrupt, who just want to make money at the expense of the society. India’s capital markets are stronger than China’s. So are their legal and banking systems. Their average age is also younger than China. To succeed, they have to build better infrastructure and move to the urban areas. India was going the slow path after LKY failed to convince Indira Gandhi to change things. They need to focus more on their manufacturing sector. Major nations all need to start off from an industrial state. They need to cut down on corruption levels and bring in FDIs. Also, the level of education is not sufficient as many drop out of primary school. The unions do not want to be privatized as if the workforce is more efficient, many would lose their jobs. They were too self-reliant on their past. India is much bigger than the whole ASEAN put together. China’s GDP is 3.5 times more than India. India is getting involved economically but building international ties. LKY wanted India to play a guardian in the political stability and economic development in South East Asia.

The caste system has been the enemy of meritocracy…India is a nation of unfulfilled greatness. – Lee Kuan Yew

Indians will go at a tempo which is decided by their constitution, by their ethnic mix, by their voting patterns, and the resulting coalition governments, which makes for very difficult decision-making. – Lee Kuan Yew

India is not a real country. Instead, it is 32 separate nations that happen to be arrayed along the British rail line. – Lee Kuan Yew

Nehru and Gandhi had a chance to do for India what I did for Singapore because of their enormous prestige, but they could not break the caste system. – Lee Kuan Yew

Political systems that yield inferior economic performance will ultimately be discarded for those that are more protective. – Lee Kuan Yew

I have a selfish motive in wanting India to emerge as early as possible as a major possible economic power in world politics. If India does not emerge, Asia will be submerged. – Lee Kuan Yew

The Future of Islamic Extremism. The divide is between Muslim terrorist and the US, Israel, and their supporters. This is the fight for Islam. It is hard to clamp down on terrorists. In addition, they possess weapons of mass destruction. Radical Islam is the problem. They feel that the West has hindered their growth. Americans are usually their target. Arabs have been taught to hate Jews and Israelis. US has a role to play in eradicating this. Muslims in SEA have changed because of the fact that many participated in the Jihad in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia was also rich from oil and spread their teachings. Those radicals are also known as jihadists. In the past, SEA muslims were calm. However, in the past 30 years, some have learnt about Wahhabism. The plan is to drive the US out of Iraq. Jihadists are willing to sacrifice themselves. The US cannot afford to leave Iraq as it will give the Taliban regime strength. With NATO support, the moderate Muslims can fight off Islamic extremism. Moderate Muslims must have the courage to speak out against these radicals. There is a battle between extremist Muslims and the rationalist Muslims. Force alone is not sufficient. You need to tackle the queen bees (preachers too).

But the Muslims believe that if they master the Qu’ran and they are prepared to do all that Muhammad has prescribed, they will succeed. So, we can expect trouble from them and so, it happened. – Lee Kuan Yew

I do not see the Islamic extremists winning, and by that I mean able to impose their extremist system. I can see them inducing fear and insecurity, and causing fear, but they do not have the technology and the organization to overwhelm any government. – Lee Kuan Yew

With the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Islamic extremist movement has been franchised out, and each group works on its own. It is accordingly more diverse and difficult to pin down. – Lee Kuan Yew

The objective must be to reassure and persuade moderate Muslims…that they are not going to lose, that they have the weight, the resources of the world behind them. They must have the courage to go into the mosques and madrassa and switch off the radicals. – Lee Kuan Yew

You must use force. But force will only deal with the tip of the problem. In killing the terrorists, you will only kill the worker bees. The queen bees are the preachers, who teach a deviant form of Islam in schools and Islamic centers, who capture and twist the minds of the young. – Lee Kuan Yew

For Part 2, click here.

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The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew (Part 2)

On Language

  • ‘It would be stupid for us not to recognize that language and culture is a stronger force that motivates human beings than political or ideological ideals.’
  • ‘If we try and seek a common language; and through that common language ultimately we will become a common nation with one cultural milieu to bind its peoples through history and a common experience.’
  • ‘If you lose that Chinese education and you go completely English-educated, you will lose that drive, that self-confidence. That is what is wrong. The danger is, if you are Chinese –educated and only Chinese-educated, you are monolingual, then your source of literature will be communist.’
  • ‘The mono-linguist is more likely to be a language chauvinist and a bigot. He only sees the world through one eye. He does not have binocular vision to see the world in depth, to realize that there are as rich, if not richer, worlds of human experience and knowledge, all expressed in beautiful words, elegantly, vividly and fluently in other languages.’
  • ‘We need a common language. We solved this by making everybody learn not one but two languages, English and the mother tongue. English is not any group’s mother tongue, so no advantage is gained or lost by any one group.’
  • ‘What is the responsibility of the government? It is, first and foremost, to give everyone enough English language skills to make a living. Because if he cannot make a living, nothing else is important. However, we also need to teach him his mother tongue, because that is what gives him his identity and makes our society vigorous and distinctive.’

On Race

  • ‘’I think we can safely predict that in two decades, either there [will be] a tolerant multiracial society comprising us in this region, or this will be an area of constant strife, very much like what the Balkan States were before and after the First World War.’ 1965
  • ‘I had a friend who was a Sikh. He threw his past away: he shaved his beard; he threw away his turban; he had a haircut. No harm at all. But something happened to him and in next to no time, he was doing foolish things. He lost his anchorage. You know, it gets very difficult for a ship without an anchor in a harbour when it gets stormy. I want you therefore, to have your anchorage.’
  • ‘We have made considerable progress in integrating our difference races into living in the same housing blocks and going to the same schools and serving in the same SAF units. Now we must aim at more socialising between them, whether in private or community-organised activities. Progress will depend on how comfortable our young feel about each other. The more they socialise, the stronger our mosaic of national cohesion. It is not easy, but it can be done.’

On Religion

  • ‘However different the various religions, this government is in favour of a man believing in something [rather] than believing in nothing. I would rather have a Muslim, a devout Hindu, than a permissive atheist. And it is because of the problem of atheism in the West that they are in trouble.’
  • ‘The values and traditions of Christian charity, Islamic brotherhood, Confucian ethics, and the Buddhist’s search for enlightenment, are all part of Singapore’s spiritual milieu. Everyone knows that virtue is not exclusive to any religion. As long as we preach and practise tolerance and harmony and freedom of religion, we shall continue to be at peace with ourselves and to make progress.’
  • ‘Religion must not get mixed up in politics, otherwise a clash of political views can easily turn into a clash of religious beliefs. Then there will be deep enmity between our different religious communities and our society will come to grief.’ In 1987

On International Relations

  • ‘If it is unjust and economically backward and old-fashioned to allow a man through his possession of property or status to exploit his less fortunate or status to exploit his less fortunate fellow men, then by the same token no nation or group of nations should be allowed through their possession of industrial capital and technological skills and scientific knowledge to exploit other groups of nations, who, through the accidents of history, have not got these essential for development.’
  • ‘We want the maximum number of friends and the minimum number of enemies, and naming anybody as an enemy is the surest way of making him your enemy.’ In 1968
  • ‘Satellite pictures transmitted into our living rooms vividly and nightly remind us of the troubled world we live in. The gap between the rich and the poor remains vast. The Commonwealth is probably one of the few settings in which rich and poor countries can meet and talk to each other candidly.’
  • ‘If the Ramos Administration can make ordinary Filipinos understand that politics is not simply elections with singing, fiestas, and giveaways, but that it is about their lives, jobs and wages, homes, schools and hospitals, the situation can change dramatically.’ In 1992
  • ‘I do not believe that Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Singapore could have succeeded as they have done if they had to work under such a US constitution, where gridlock on every major issue is a way of life.
  • ‘And you will notice that since the Vietnam War and the Great Society some 28 years ago, the US system has not functioned even for the United States.’
  • ‘Every Chinese knows from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms that in ancient China. The time-honoured method for a more dynamic and vigorous people to achieve greater wealth and prosperity was to incorporate chunks of neighbouring territories and peoples into their kingdom.’
  • ‘What happens in China, Japan and the rest of East Asia will decide the kind of world we live in. It’s best for the world not to repeat the errors of imperial preferences and beggar-thy-neighbour policies of currency devaluations that led to WWII.’ In 1994
  • ‘This generation of Asians, especially the leaders, have learned their lesson: whatever your quarrels, if you go to war, you will be pauperized. By all means, let’s argue, but at the end of the day let’s work together. Let’s trade. Let’s get on with it. You grow, I grow. That’s the best.’
  • ‘However, I am convinced the axiom is true: that central planning and state-owned or nationalised enterprises lead to inefficiency and poor returns, whether the government is authoritarian or democratic.’
  • ‘I now believe that, besides the standard economic yardsticks for productivity and competitiveness, there are intangible factors like culture, religion and other ethnic characteristics and national ethos that affect the outcome.’

On Security

  • ‘It is difficult to rob a weaker man if he has strong friends prepared and able to give the robber a hiding.’ Year 1956
  • ‘We do not want to make a man more embittered and frustrated with society than he need be. If he as youthful inclinations towards extreme political views, well, by all means, let him go through that phase; let him mature. But when we know a man is already committed to the destruction of the democratic State, it is not our business to spend money on him to equip him to carry out his purposes better.’ 1964
  • ‘We will defend ourselves. Whoever else wants to defend us, I will say to them “Thank you very much. But please remember I can defend myself and make no mistake about it.” In year 1968
  • ‘Whether we are shirkers or quitters, or stayers and fighters, will determine whether we live in peace or not. If people believe that we are stayers and fighters, we are more likely to live peacefully. Next year, I hope to see my own son in uniform present on such an occasion. Nobody who is fit and able-bodied can shirk what is a responsibility and an honour, to see that Singapore thrives and prosper, and is left undisturbed and at peace.’
  • ‘New weapons must be bought, younger men must be better educated to handle more advanced weapons. More important, they must have able and resolute leaders. Security is like electricity. It can be stored but not for long.’
  • ‘If I am sure that if I belong to a pack that’s got a big dog, I would consider a nip. If we are all small dogs, it may be wiser just to bark.’ In 1995

On Communism

  • ‘I cannot in all honesty say that communism is a diabolical evil, because I can imagine certain human societies where it was a great relief to have the communists displace a ruling power. That is another of the very difficult problems we face in this country. To some 600 million Chinese, that philosophy was the answer and is the answer to a decadent, a corrupt and an evil society which has become evil because men have lost their self-respect and lost their values.’
  • ’70 years in the Soviet Union of the egalitarian society, have they banished beggary, prostitution, misery, hunger? Is that the way, to suppress the individual instinct to perform, to excel, to be better than the other, to get better rewards, bigger prizes, to increase his family’s chances in life, so that they can have a better kick-off? All that was stifled with the objective of an equal egalitarian society.’
  • ’45 years of competition against the West has broken the Soviet Union and her cluster of Marxist states. They cannot match the productive abundance, the comforts and technological excellence of the capitalist economies of the West. Suddenly, they have decided to disclose their industrial backwardness. Never has there been so propitious a moment in history.’
  • ‘The communist ideology no longer holds the Chinese people in thrall. No Chinese in China any longer believes that communism is the wave of the future. They know of the Chinese in Taiwan and Hong Kong and want to be as prosperous as them.’

On China

  • ‘In China the laws are incomplete and rules and procedures not transparent. A “level playing field” is not part of Chinese culture; guanxi or personal links is’ in 1992
  • ‘The difficulty arises from America’s expressed desire to make China more democratic. China resents and resists this as an interference in its domestic matters. Outside powers cannot re-fashion China into their own image. Let us not forget that even China’s conquerors like the Mongols in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the Manchus in the 17th to 19th centuries, could not change Chinese culture. Instead China changed them and they were absorbed and assimilated.’
  • ‘China’s history of over 4,000 years was one of dynastic rulers, interspersed with anarchy, foreign conquerors, warlords and dictators. The Chinese people had never experienced a government based on counting heads instead of chopping off heads. Any evolution towards representative government would be gradual.’

On Economics and Development

  • ‘There is a hallmark of whether a country is developed or underdeveloped. If the people do not understand why they are poor and they believe that either you have a messiah who makes a speech or an army general with a gun, who looks efficient, military-like, business-like and that he can cure problems of poverty, unemployment and development, then I say you are underdeveloped, because it is only in an underdeveloped situation that such a thing can happen.’
  • ‘For Singapore only just getting industrialised, it will be disastrous if we think we can get more and more pay for less and less work. No one owes us a living. Nothing is for free.’
  • ‘Did I ever contemplate nationalisation, socialist planning for industrialisation and economic transformation? Frankly, no…Further, I had before me, by 1965, the salutary lessons of U Nu’s Burma, Bandaranaike’s Ceylon, and Sukarno’s Indonesia.’
  • ‘And in the developed countries, the person who is out of a job has got the benefits of unemployment relief almost as good as if he were in the job. He only suffers the inconvenience or the stigma of not being at work and not having pleasure of the company of his workmates. But in developing countries being out of a job means being hungry.’
  • ‘Like Nehru, I had been influenced by the ideas of the British Fabian Society. But I soon realised that before distributing the pie I had first to bake it. So I departed from welfarism because it sapped a people’s self-reliance and their desire to excel and succeed. I also abandoned the model of industrialisation through import substitution. When most of the Third World was deeply suspicious of exploitation by western MNCs, Singapore invited them in.’
  • ‘If we cannot increase the productivity or the output of our citizens, our economy will slow down. Then Singaporeans will discover that instead of many job opportunities and rising asset values, including prices for resale HDB flats, the reverse will happen across the board. It will be worse for most people, fewer jobs, lower salaries, lower asset prices including HDB home values and resale prices. Young Singaporeans will face more difficulties finding jobs to support themselves and their families. So although more new flats will be available, they cannot afford to buy these flats when they are not earning good incomes. Opportunities will diminish for Singapore citizens. We will have a deflating economy, with a series of knock-on effects as prices of all assets including flats will go down, demand will lessen, pay will fall and so will the number of jobs and promotions. When this happens, many of our own talents will leave for greener pastures, which will exacerbate the downward spiral and eventually lead to Singapore’s decline.’

On Prosperity

  • ‘Wealth and poverty are relative things. You have acute tensions, either within a society or internationally within an international community, not so much because you are too poor as against another person or you are too rich, in the absolute sense, but whether you are relatively too much better off than the other to cause the other fellow dissatisfaction.’
  • ‘The poor know that you don’t get your mana falling from heaven, not in Singapore anyway.’
  • ‘Singapore is a society based on effort and merit, not wealth and privilege depending on birth. There is nothing in the lifestyle of the employer which is not open to the worker. If executives play squash, tennis or golf, so can workers. If executives go on holidays abroad, so do workers.’
  • ‘Our young should prepare to seek their fortunes in this golden age. It is silly to moan that properties and cars are going out of their reach. They will never be out of reach of those who seize their opportunities. Of course, those on profit-sharing schemes and stock options will do better than those on salaries. But even those on salaries will have their salaries double in the next 10 years of high growth.’
  • ‘For over 30 years we have aimed for an egalitarian society. If we want to have successful entrepreneurs, Singaporeans have to accept a greater income disparity between the successful and the not so successful.’
  • ‘If you have not borrowed excessively to buy assets and have sufficient cash to service your loans, you can hold on to your investments until the market turns up and prices recover. Singaporeans need not despair or be depressed. We will have to endure some hardship. But nobody will be destitute, depending on soup kitchens or begging in the streets.’
  • ‘Whatever your job, you are better off in Singapore than if you are in a similar job in any other Asian country, including China and India. The only country where job for job you can be better off, is Japan.’

On Entrepreneurship and Innovation

  • ‘I wish you well. How well you do depends on how enterprising you are. That is what private enterprise means.’
  • ‘We cannot predict which of our younger managers, engineers and professionals will have the entrepreneurial flair. It has to be by trial and error, tossing them in the deep end of the pool.’
  • ‘By history, our young have always taken the safer course of joining a big corporation, usually an MNC or local corporation, and climbing up within their ranks. Hong Kongers, after joining a company, leave as soon as they have learned the ropes to start up their own. Not everybody has got the inventiveness and shrewdness to go for such ventures. We must encourage and support those who have.’
  • ‘The dream of wealth attracts everyone. But it is those who innovate in creating new products or services, who will be the new rich. Few are born entrepreneurs, and not many will succeed. To succeed as an entrepreneur one has to have some extraordinary qualities as high energy levels, a cut of mind that sees opportunities where others see problems, and a keen sense of what products or service will be profitable.’

On the Workplace

  • ‘I know that change is sometimes unpleasant, particularly when, if you have been working at a leisurely pace and somebody comes along to put the heat on you.’
  • ‘Employers must understand that good personnel relations are an asset. If you have supervisors who are rude and crude to Singaporeans, our self-respect demands that we put a stop to this. We can make our workers strive harder. But we will not allow them to be humiliated or browbeaten.’
  • ‘There are jobs that must be done. And whether they are in air-conditioned offices or factories or out in the sun and rain, the work has to be done, and done well. That is our way forward.’
  • ‘The Singaporean’s attention is confined to his own job and his promotion prospects. He is not keen to widen his responsibilities. That together he and his fellow workers can make the company more efficient and productive, and therefore make more profits, bringing more wages for everyone – that is too vague a vision and does not move him. Too many workers have not identified themselves with companies like the Japanese workers do.’
  • ‘The Japanese worker can be a model. A Japanese worker is proud to be an excellent waiter and goes about his work efficiently, with grace and style. A Japanese cook is proud of his excellent training. When he appears at your table in a hotel or restaurant to present his dishes, he is clean, smart and cheerful, and he slices the sashimi or fruit and serves his guests with panache.’
  • ‘Troublesome employers will soon run into trouble with their profits, because if they don’t get the cooperation of their workers, their competitors who does the cooperation of his workers will beat them.’

On the Welfare State

  • ‘When people get equal handouts, whether or not they work harder or better, everybody then works less hard. The country must go down. It is when people are encouraged to excel by being able to keep a large part of the extra reward earned by their extra efforts that the society as a whole becomes wealthier and everybody thrives and prospers.’
  • ‘I will be very unhappy if I went around Singapore and in spite of our prosperity, I saw a few hundred people living on the streets, begging, playing a violin, or pretending to play a violin to collect money. That means something has gone wrong with the society. They have not been given the proper chance.’
  • ‘More can and will be done for the elderly, the young and the needy, provided we can find the men and women to give their time. The government will provide the buildings and facilities. What the government cannot provide is the personal touch and the direct contact of voluntary social workers. Their altruistic and charitable feelings can motivate people to help themselves.’
  • ‘Welfares and subsidies destroy the motivation to perform and succeed. Where we must help, give cash or assets and leave it to the individual to decide how he will spend it. When people become dependent on subsidies, and the government can no longer afford and has to cut subsidies, people riot.’

On Life

  • ‘As you solve a set of problems, new ones appear. That is part of the nature of life.’
  • ‘If there is a touchstone for success, it is confidence. A people must have confidence in themselves. If they lack it, if they feel they are unequal to the challenge, then they will never make the grade.’
  • ‘I believe the human being wants an equal chance with his fellow human being, regardless of his father’s wealth or status in order that he can do his best, in order that he can compete and climb to the top. And that is so, whether you are in Moscow, whether you are in Peking, whether you are in Washington or London. And you can’t reverse human nature.’
  • ‘I believe that life is a process of continuous change and a constant struggle to make that change one for the better.’
  • ‘Every generation has a quota of those who feel that society does not give them the status, the position, the influence, the rewards, that they deserve. They want to overturn the order of things.’

On Asian Values

  • ‘What Asian value may not be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural background, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient in protecting its people and allowing opportunities for all to advance themselves in a stable and orderly society where they can live a good life and raise their children to do better than themselves.’
  • ‘My experience in governing Singapore, especially the difficult early years from 1959 to 1969, convinced me that we would not have surmounted our difficulties and setbacks if a large part of the population of Singapore were not imbued with Confucian values.’
  • ‘I think the Americans seem to be willing to spend now and to mortgage the future, whereas no society in East Asia is mortgaging its future and letting their children pay for it. They are saving up their children a better start.’

On the Family

  • ‘Quite apart from religious principles, by and large, Chinese and Indian families believe that the more children a man has the greater is his good fortune. In the old days the more wives a man had, the higher his status. Just like motor cars, wives and children were a status symbol. All this proliferating made sense in an age where periodic plagues, droughts, floods and famine regularly decimated the population.’
  • ‘When the less educated who are also in the lower income groups have large families, the problems they create for their children are compounded.’
  • ‘Every person, genius or moron, has the right to reproduce himself. So we assume that a married pair will want to be allowed two children to replace them. This is already the average size family of the skilled worker in industrial Europe.’
  • ‘Our strong family structure has been a great strength for continuity in bringing up the next generation. The family has transmitted social values, more by osmosis than by formal instruction. We must preserve this precious family structure if our society is to regenerate itself without loss of cultural vigour, compassion and wisdom.’
  • ‘We cannot measure our happiness just by our GDP growth. It is how our families and friends care for each other, how we look after our old and nurture our young, they are what make for a closely knit society, one which we can be proud to belong to.’

On the Generations

  • ‘Our young are ambitious and energetic. They must also acquire those qualities which enabled their parents to make Singapore what it is today – the grit and determination to stay the course, the strength and stamina to ride over rough patches.’
  • ‘Younger Singaporeans are better educated. They have more knowledge, though that does not make them wiser. But being better educated, they can easily gain information; they are able to read and acquire information in newspapers, magazines, radio, television and through travel. They want more consultation and participation in the major decisions which affect their lives.’
  • ‘I’m of a different generation. I’m not interested in changing either my suit or my car or whatever with every change in fashion. That’s irrelevant. I don’t judge myself or my friends by their fashions. Of course, I don’t approve of people who are sloppy and unnecessarily shabby or dishevelled. You don’t have to be like that. But I’m not impressed by a $5,000 or $10,000 Armani suit.’
  • ‘You are better placed than your fathers: better educated, able to use English, and your mother tongue. Singapore is now a brand name for integrity, efficiency, transparency, consistency and resourcefulness. But what my generation has is that fire in the belly. We knew war and enemy occupation. We have experienced fear, hunger and hardship, the terrors of communist insurgency, of communal riots and bloodshed. These trials and tribulations have steeled us for life.’

On Education

  • ‘If I have to choose one profession in which you give the most for the least it is probably teaching – if you take it seriously. You have to have the temperament for it to coax, to stimulate, to cajole, to discipline a young mind into good habits. You must have an aptitude.’
  • ‘Performance in examinations depends upon two factors: nature and nurture – nature being the natural intelligence of the child, nurture being the training and education…The fact is, individuals are born with different capacities. What we must set out to do, therefore, is to help students achieve the maximum potential of whatever nature has endowed them with. In other words, to nurture them, to give them the software, to encourage, support and help them to achieve their fullest.’
  • ‘A person learns most vividly and remembers longest and best when his lessons are accompanied by sharp pain or great joy. After he has enjoyed his first encounter with the durian, he will never forget how to identify the fragrance. Some can learn by watching others scald themselves. Few or none can learn to sniff out a good durian without having eaten both good and bad ones.’
  • ‘If your option was, I want a condo, I want a Mercedes, then you aim for those professions which will bring you those results. But you have chosen English Literature. If you were my granddaughter, I would tell her (and she also likes writing and she’s in this tutor programme and she writes little stories) there’s no money in it unless you are really good.’
  • ‘Imparting knowledge to pass examinations and later to do a job, these are important. However, the litmus test of a good education is whether it nurtures citizens who can live, work, contend and cooperate in a civilized way. Is he loyal and patriotic? Is he, when the need arises, a good soldier, ready to defend his country, and so protect his wife and children, and his fellow citizens?’

On Discipline

  • ‘Quite a number of countries, after gaining independence, have failed economically and collapsed socially. They lacked one essential quality: self-discipline, either in their leaders, or more often both in their leaders and their people. It requires self-discipline to budget and live within your means, when you can just print more money.’
  • ‘When morale is down, people become apologetic and the place is in a shambles. Singapore will not be allowed to go thus. We will keep it trim, clean and green. Flowers will bloom and ferns will grow where there was dirt and tarmac. Other governments can give you fountains or stadiums or monuments. But they can’t give you the capacity to organize and discipline yourselves.’
  • ‘I have never understood why Western educationists are so much against corporal punishment. It did my fellow students and me no harm.’

On Himself and the Family

  • ‘I have been accused of many things in my life, but not even my worst enemy has ever accused me of being afraid of being afraid to speak my mind.’
  • ‘Rest on laurels? I wish I could do that. No, you rest when you’re dead.’
  • ‘And even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me in the grave and I feel that something is going wrong…I will get up!’
  • ‘The three and a half years of Japanese occupation were the most important of my life. They gave me vivid insights into the behaviour of human beings and human societies, their motivations and impulses. My appreciation of governments, my understanding of power as the vehicle for revolutionary change, would not have been gained without this experience.’
  • ‘I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.’
  • ‘I was never the prisoner of any theory. What guided me were reason and reality. The acid test I applied to every theory or scheme was, would it work?’

For Part 1, click here

lee kuan yew in his own words bw

The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew (Part 1)

The book contains more than 600 quotes. Lee Kuan Yew was always guided by reason and reality. His opinions are still widely sought after by world leaders. Quotes are extracted from his public speeches and statements.

On Singapore

  • ‘Singapore is the little laboratory where the British, the nationalists and the communists first try out their tactics, because if anything goes wrong, it goes wrong on a small scale.’
  • ‘To sit on a stool is more comfortable and stable than to sit on a shooting stick. Right? Now we are on a shooting stick…We will jolly well make it a strong shooting stick. You have seen Singapore, the people here? It is a shooting stick made of steel.’
  • ‘That is what is required of this community: all the time, that push, that thrust to counter the natural sluggishness which this climate tends to build into our physical systems, and all that while, we must have an awareness of the realities of life.’
  • ‘Nobody here dies of starvation. Nobody is allowed to beg in streets. When we find someone begging, we put him into a home and feed him.’
  • ‘For once supremacy has been established, whether it is an airport, a harbor, or a dockyard, it is very difficult for any other place to dislodge us. For others have to compete against an established centre with superior facilities, higher skills and expertise, and long-standing established customers.’
  • ‘We can build up this team spirit, this esprit de corps, where every individual gives of his best for the team, for the nation, to achieve its maximum. And the team, the nation, in turn, takes care of the individual, fairly and equitably.’
  • ‘We have secured our survival although we can never banish danger. We have provided for our basic needs, homes, schools, hospitals and health services, jobs, whatever. But in no case is the standard ideal. In each case, the next generation has to improve on what we have done.’
  • ‘It does matter, for if we are not near the top in competitiveness, there is no reason why we should have a seaport, or an airport, or an airline – or indeed why there should be a separate independent Singapore. It is as simple as that.’
  • ‘The world has millions of leaner, keener and hungrier workers to compete against us. We can only win a place in this race by being better educated, with higher skills, and by maintaining a more conducive and secure environment for investments, with a government that provides efficiency, security and industrial peace…’
  • ‘What I need is enough command of Mandarin and understanding of present-day Chinese culture to work easily and comfortably with them. And with Singapore as my home, the world is my oyster, for I can afford to travel anywhere in the world for leisure or business.’

On Singaporeans

  • ‘Citizenship is essentially a question of loyalty. A man is a citizen of a state and has the right to determine the future of the state because he is part of an entity.’
  • ‘But it was a bit harder, wasn’t it? It was more like the durian. You try and squeeze it, your hand gets hurt. And so they say, “Right, throw out the durian.” But inside the durian is a very useful ingredient, high protein.’
  • ‘I do not want an inert society where people say ‘yes’ to everything I say because that means it is a society with no verve, no vitality. But, at the same time, I expect you to start thinking; not just to mouth old slogans which are no longer relevant. Start thinking.’
  • ‘For every boy, every girl here tonight, there are fathers and mothers egging them on to perform better than the other pupils in school. Not all societies have this. In many societies, they are quite happy just to sit down under the banyan tree and contemplate their navel. So when there this famine they just die quietly. Here, they will not die quietly. If there is no food, Singaporeans will do something, look for somebody, break open stores, do something, plant something, and if they have to die, they die fighting for the right to live.’
  • ‘I am trying for you. But please remember you must try for yourselves all the time. I can’t do the work for you. I can work for you, sometimes 15 hours a day. I ask you to work hard and well, for yourselves, only 8 hours of that day.’
  • ‘Imagine what would happen if we towed Singapore out and left it in the middle of the South Pacific. Instead of two million active and vigorous Singaporeans, you have South-Sea Islanders with flowers in their hair, dancing to languorous tunes…It would not feed a population of even 20,000 people. But we are not in the South Pacific, nor are we South-Sea Islanders. We do not put flowers on our ears…’
  • ‘We do not want our workers submissive, docile, toadying up to the foreman, the foreman to the supervisor and the supervisor to the boss for increments and promotions.
  • ‘No amount of tourist promotion can equal the personal verdict of people who have visited us, and found us friendly and courteous, honest and efficient.’
  • ‘The Singapore worker votes for his government and then expects his ministers to take care of his livelihood and his children’s future. On the other hand, Hong Kong people are very independent-minded. They expect little of the colonial government. This is the key to understanding Hong Kong’s dynamism.’

On Colonialism

  • ‘The day I can say, “I am a free man. This is my country’, that day I will welcome you as a friendly host would do a guest. But I will not be a guest in my own country.’ 1955
  • ‘I give one compliment to the British. They, of all the colonial powers, know how to bow out gracefully. Unlike the French and the Dutch who got their brains beaten into the dust of Hanoi and Yogyakarta, the British are past masters at this art. They bow out gracefully when the time comes.’
  • ‘I speak for one and all of you that we have had enough of being pawns and playthings of foreign powers. We have a will of our own, and a right to live in peace on our own.’
  • ‘The Dutch, the British, the French never gave us any technology. They built our universities, but they never taught us engineering. They taught us medicine, law, history, culture. They withheld the modern part of the industrial society.’

On Merger and Separation with Malaysia

  • ‘Merged with the Federation, with local autonomy in education and labour policies to suit our special circumstances, we will have a viable economic base, and the essentials of a solution of our problems of an expanding population without an equally expanding economy.’
  • ‘A nation is great not by its size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people and the quality of their leaders which ensure it is an honourable place in history.’
  • ‘I give you my word that as long as there are men like the Tunku at the helm and we are in charge in Singapore we can make Malaysia succeed, and succeed it will. Banish all doubts and fears from your minds. The future is always full of challenge and trials. We can and will surmount them’
  • ‘Singapore shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent nation, founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of her people in a more just and equal society.’
  • ‘Every time we look back on this moment when we signed this agreement which severed Singapore from Malaysia, it will be a moment of anguish. For me, it is a moment of anguish because all my life…you see, the whole of my adult life…I have believed in Malaysia, merger and the unity of these two territories. You know, it’s a people, connected by geography, economics and ties of kinship…Would you mind if we stop for a while?’ 1965
  • ‘Although our house is small, in our house, how we arrange the tables and the chairs and the beds is our own affair. Not our friends’ or our neighbours’ affairs. No one has the right to say that the bed should be moved over there, the chair should be moved over here. This is our house. Although it is small, it is our property.’
  • ‘So it is that into the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore will be built safeguards, in so far as the human mind can devise means whereby the conglomeration of numbers, of likeness, as a result of affinities of race or language or culture, shall never work to the detriment of those who, by the accident of history, find themselves in minority groups in Singapore.’

On the Future

  • ‘It is like the song that goes: ‘What will I be when I grow up? Will I be handsome, will I be rich?’ And the refrain is: ‘The future’s not ours to see.’ If we want to know what is going to happen in the future, we must know what are the forces at work. And having decided our position, we then try and work these forces in our favour.’ 1956
  • ‘To understand the present and anticipate the future, one must know enough of the past, enough to have a sense of the history of a people. One must appreciate not merely what took place but more especially why it took place and in that particular way. This is true of individuals, as it is for nations. The personal experience of a person determines whether he likes or hates certain things, welcomes them or fears them when they recur. So it is with nations: it is the collective memory of a people, the composite learning from past events which led to successes or disasters that makes a people welcome or fear new events because they recognize parts in new events which have similarities with past experience.’
  • ‘….You look at Venice. The Ottoman Empire came. The Silk Road became impassable, ships went round the Cape. Venice declined.’ 1995
  • ‘…The new divide in the world will be between those with the knowledge and those without. We must learn to be part of the knowledge-based world.’ 2000
  • ‘Our way forward is to upgrade our levels of education, skills, knowledge and technology. Life-long learning is a must for everyone in the knowledge economy with rapidly changing technology.’ 2001
  • ‘Friends tell me many young Singaporeans believe Singapore’s best years are behind us…They are pessimists and wrong. Singapore is like an aircraft flying at 30,000 ft. We have another 6,000 ft to rise to 36,000 ft, the height top US and EU airlines are flying. Furthermore we have not reached First World standards in the finer things in life, music, culture and the arts, the graces of a civilized society. The generation now in their 30s to 50s can take Singapore there in the next 15 to 20 years. The best is yet to be.’ 2004

On the Greening of Singapore

  • ‘Even in the sixties, when the government had to grapple with grave problems of unemployment, lack of housing, health and education, I pushed for the planting of trees and shrubs. I have always believed that blighted urban jungle of concrete destroys the human spirit…’ 1995
  • ‘Without the greening effort, Singapore would have been a barren, ugly city. There would have been few trees, planted haphazardly here and there, but there would have been none of the planning or the care and maintenance that sustain our greenery today.’ 2012

On Arts and Heritage

  • ‘The Chinese festivals and rituals remind us of our past and identify ourselves with the history of our ancestors. Our history did not begin when our forefathers came to Singapore. It goes back deep into the beginnings of Chinese civilization over 5000 years ago. That history is a part of us because of the tradition and culture they have bequeathed us.’
  • ‘Instead of demolishing old and quaint Singapore buildings, we undertook extensive conservation and restoration of ethnic districts such as Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam and of the civic district, with its colonel era buildings…The value of these areas in architectural, cultural and tourism terms cannot be quantified only in dollars and cents.’
  • ‘Economic growth is not the end itself. After the success of the economy, you want to translate it into high standards of living, high quality of life, with recreation, the arts, spiritual fulfilment, and intellectual fulfilment. So we are also spending considerable sums for the arts, which will create a more gracious society.’ 1995

On Politics

  • ‘Politics is about human beings and their lives. It is an art, not a science. It is the art of the possible.’ 1955
  • ‘Those without this indomitable fighting spirit had better go and sell stocks and shares. This task [politics] is not for the faint-hearted. It is for people with deep and abiding convictions.’ 1955
  • ‘Some people believe that, having debauched themselves in one political party or front, they can, like the phoenix, arise from the ashes of the old in the feathers of a new party, front or movement as fresh as if nothing had happened.’
  • ‘In fact, there is no magic formula for longevity in political life other than the simple and the obvious: just honour your promises; do not corrupt and debauch your party.’
  • ‘It is for the minister, having been elected by the people, to decide where the driver is to go and how and by what route. It is the business of the civil service – the driver, the fitters and the rest – to keep that car in sound mechanical condition.’
  • ‘If democratic socialists are to make a contribution to the course of events, they must cease to think in terms of abstractions. They must give meaning to socialist ideals in pragmatic and realistic policies to produce changes for the better in the daily lives of their peoples.’
  • ‘Politics is a marathon, not a hundred yards spurt. With every passing speech, with every passing act, the character, the style, the strength, the weaknesses are etched in the minds of the public.’
  • ‘If you want to be popular, do not try to be popular all the time. Popular government does not mean that you do popular things all the time. We do not want to be unpopular or to do unpopular things. But when they are necessary, they will be done.’
  • ‘Fierce combat has made the older ministers what they are. For those amongst us, the older ones that were weak or slow or nervous, they became early casualties. Those present are survivors of a Darwinian process of natural selection. We have keen survival instincts, familiar with every trick, underhand or dastardly manoeuvre. We know how to deal with every scoundrel.’
  • ‘An MP must now not only be good at speaking but also at getting things done. When an estate is dirty, lifts out of order, and rubbish not regularly and properly collected, that is when residents realize that without regular maintenance, the value of their flats will drop.’ 1992
  • ‘However good the government, there will always be voters who are disappointed and dissatisfied with the government, and who want to have opposition MPs. But no opposition party has been able to assemble a team which is a credible alternative government.’ 1996
  • ‘The able and talented have not come forward to form a credible alternative team and challenge the PAP. They know the PAP is doing the right thing, and there is no alternative way. They are content to thrive and prosper with the present men in charge. Those who have come forward to be an alternative to the PAP are mostly lightweights or, worse, flawed characters.’ 1996
  • ‘When you put up an idea which I know is wrong and believe profoundly to be wrong and will do us harm, I must crush it. I don’t crush you, I crush your idea. I mean, if I’m wrong then my ideas deserve to be crushed. Maybe ‘crush’ is a harsh word, but this is a harsh world. It is a contest of whose idea is right because if it is wrong, we are going to do harm to many people.’ 1996
  • ‘Translated in real life, politics means: ‘How is my life affected by the government? Do I have a job? Do I have a home? Do I have medicine when I need it? Do I have enough recreational facilities? Is there a future for my children? Will they be educated? Will there be a chance to advance yourself?’ 2006

On Democracy

  • ‘It means giving one man, one vote, and allowing him to decide who should govern, and how they should govern for a specified number of years. It means the right at the end of that specified number of years again to pass judgment on that government and on others who may present themselves for the mandate of the people.’
  • ‘From my experience, constitutions have to be custom-made, tailored to suit the peculiarities of the person wearing the suit. Perhaps, like shoes, the older they are, the better they fit. Stretch them, soften them, resole them, repair them. They are always better than a brand new pair of shoes.’
  • ‘In new countries, democracy has worked and produced results only when there is an honest and effective government, which means a people smart enough to elect such a government. Remember, elected governments are only as good as the people who choose them.’
  • ‘The weakness of democracy is that the assumption that all men are equal and capable of equal contribution to the common good is flawed.’
  • ‘If we had a world government for this small and interdependent world, will one man, one vote lead to progress or regression? All can immediately see that the developed and educated peoples of the world will be swamped by the undeveloped and the uneducated, and that no progress will be possible.’
  • ‘The problem now is how to work the system of one man, one vote when we have to get quality leadership to the top. If we leave it to natural processes it will be a contest on television performances as in the West. And the best television performers and rally entertainers are not necessarily the best leaders who can deliver good government.’
  • ‘A free and fair election is not the best first step to nurture a democracy in a country that has no history or tradition of self-government. Without adequate preparations, elections will allow a people to vent their frustrations against the corruption and the inadequacies of the incumbents and vote in the opposition. That led to Hamas gaining power in Palestine.’

On the PAP

  • ‘In a future full of uncertainties, one factor is certain. The PAP does not run away from problems. We solve them for you and with you. We analyse our difficulties, explain them and propose practical solutions. Then, together, we set out to resolve them.’
  • ‘What would be cause for despair would be if a transient mood of disappointment among the people for some setback or mishap just before an election were to lead them to reject the PAP and vote in a motley crew of incompetents and adventurers. That could end up in tragedy for Singapore. Hence it is important to expose opportunists and incompetents before they can pass themselves off as possible replacements for the PAP.’
  • The very fact that we are not challenged is a pretty strong mandate.’

On Leadership

  • ‘I do not know yet of a man who became a leader as a result of having undergone a leadership course.’
  • ‘The acid test is in performance, not promises. The millions of dispossessed in Asia care not and know not of theory. They want a better life. They want a more equal, a more just society. He who gives them this is their saviour.’
  • ‘One of the reasons why Singapore thrived was because so many of the merchants, both British and non-British, when they gave their word, they kept to it, and the government when it gave its undertaking, invariably honoured it.’
  • ‘The moral is that if all turns out well, and a decision proves correct, even though taken for the wrong reasons, keep quiet about it. Your judgement may be the better respected.’
  • ‘There is a heavy price to pay if mediocrities and opportunists ever take control of the government of Singapore. And mediocrities and opportunists can accidentally take over if Singaporeans, in a fit of pique or a moment of madness, voted for the politics of opposition for the sake of opposition. Five years of such a government, probably a coalition, and Singapore will be down on her knees.’
  • ‘Those with the higher social conscience must come forward to give of their time to get things done for the community. This is one of the strengths of Singaporean society, the absence of class divisions. It grew from our immigrant history.’
  • ‘A good administration is essential but in a developing country, let me add, a good political leadership is critical. It is life and death. In a developed society, you can have mediocre, indifferent ministers and the country will get by.’
  • ‘As long as the leaders take care of their people, they will obey the leaders.’
  • ‘For me, they [the major personalities of the 20th century] are Churchill, de Gaulle, Mao, Deng. They changed the world. They were giants, with great ideas.’

On Corruption

  • ‘We don’t have to be lawyers to understand right, wrong, good, evil. This is basic and fundamental in the values of the people.’
  • ‘It is sad to see how in many countries, national heroes have let their country slide down the drain to filth and squalor, corruption and degradation, where the kickback and the rake-off has become a way of life, and the whole country sinks in debasement and despair.’
  • ‘If government workers are adequately paid, they deserved to be punished with severe punishments when they take bribes.’
  • ‘Once a political system has been corrupted right from the very top leaders to the lowest rung of the bureaucracy, the problem is very complicated. The cleansing and disinfecting has to start from the top and go downwards in a thorough and systematic way.’

On His Critics

  • ‘Not all who oppose the PAP are communists; some are communists, some reactionaries, some opportunists and some merely confused.’
  • ‘Men who have not got the courage to pursue their allegations publicly should desist from making sly and oblique references.’
  • ‘Supposing I had been a different person and when people throw darts at me, I smile at them. Then they will take an arrow and put arsenic on the tip and strike me, and I smile back?’

On the Media

  • ‘One value which does not fit Singapore is the theory of the press as the fourth estate. From British times, the Singapore press was never the fourth estate. And in Singapore’s experience, because of our volatile racial and religious mix, the American concept of the ‘marketplace of ideas’, instead of producing harmonious enlightenment, has time and again led to riots and bloodshed.’
  • ‘The American press is appalled that I am suing them. But if I didn’t sue them I change my relationship with my own people. They sell their newspapers in Singapore, commenting on Singapore, influencing my voters. And if I do not challenge them when they libel me, there will be no end to it. Singapore’s newspapers will do likewise. I say if you sell here, you abide by our laws.’
  • ‘Why am I so strong against the media? Because they tried to put us down, they twisted everything I said, {they said} that I was a communist. And they knew I wasn’t. So I told them, in 1959 during the election campaign as they were gunning for me, I said when I win, I will show you how you have to behave yourself.’

On Equality

  • ‘I believe in socialism because I believe it is one of the most effective ways of mobilising human resources. Give equal opportunities to all regardless of rank, race, religion, sex in a given nation and you are likely to draw from each of your nationals, the best in him.’
  • ‘We want an equal society. We want to give everybody equal opportunities. But, at the back of our minds, never deceive ourselves that two human beings are ever equal in their stamina, in their drive, in their dedication, in their innate ability. And my preoccupation is with those who can really make a contribution, who can matter, given the training and discipline.’
  • ‘Human beings are not born equal. They are highly competitive. Systems like Soviet and Chinese communism have failed, because they try to equalize benefits. Then nobody works hard enough, but everyone wants to get as much as, if not more than, the other person.’

On Immigration and Emigration

  • ‘Our progress must not falter through a shortage of skilled workers. We are bringing up to date our educational system and preparing our students with the skills required. Meanwhile, we must allow skilled workers to come in and help us take advantage of this spurt in industrial growth.’
  • ‘I frequently meet expat bankers, executives of multinationals, indeed occasionally expat officers working for the Singapore government on contract, who are paid more than I am. I have learned not to let it disturb me.’
  • ‘Unless we are able to instil patriotism and self-respect, unless we succeed in inculcating a sense of commitment to fellow Singaporeans in our talented youths, we can be creamed off. We shall become diluted like skimmed milk.’
  • ‘The Singapore pool of talent is finite and limited. Singapore has been like the American space shuttle. It has two rockets to boost it into space. We have a powerful Singapore-made rocket. For that extra zip, we had a second rocket, assembled in Singapore, but with imported components. We must try hard to continue to have that second rocket.’
  • ‘Some Singaporeans are discomforted by seeing so many strangers around them in the MRT and the buses. Please remember, we need the 900,000 foreign workers on two-year permits. They do the construction and other heavy work, jobs Singaporeans are not willing to do. Their two-year permits can be extended several times. But they will not stay here permanently.’

For Part 2, click here.

‘St Paul’s Cathedral in London was built by Sir Christopher Wren. He was the architect, and he is buried in the cathedral, which was his masterpiece, his life’s work. The Latin epitaph on his grave reads: si monumentum requiris, circumspice (If you seek his monument, look around you). Mr Lee Kuan Yew built Singapore. To those who seek Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s monument, Singaporeans can reply proudly: “look around you”.’

– Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s PM

lky pic