WikiLeaks: S’pore Lee says Myanmar ‘stupid’

Alex Kennedy
The Associated Press

Singapore statesman Lee Kuan Yew called Myanmar’s junta leaders “stupid” and “dense” in conversations with U.S. diplomats, according to classified documents released this week by WikiLeaks.

The Singapore leader said dealing with Myanmar’s military regime was like “talking to dead people,” according to a confidential U.S. briefing on a 2007 conversation between Lee and U.S. Ambassador Patricia L. Herbold and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Christensen released by WikiLeaks.

The 87-year-old Lee is known for his outspoken and blunt assessments of world affairs, but avoids publicly insulting the leadership of foreign countries. Lee was prime minister from 1959 to 1990 and remains a senior adviser to his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

A cable released by Wikileaks a couple of weeks earlier quotes Lee calling North Korea’s leaders “psychopathic types with a ‘flabby old chap’ for a leader who prances around stadiums seeking adulation.” The reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is from a cable citing a May 2009 conversation between Lee and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

Lee has not commented on the releases, while Singapore’s government has dismissed them as “gossip” and cautioned against taking them out of context.

In the most recently released cable, Lee said China had the most influence over Myanmar’s leadership of any foreign country and that Beijing was worried the country would “blow up” and thus threaten Chinese investments there.

“Lee expressed his scorn for the regime’s leadership,” the leaked cable said. “He said he had given up on them a decade ago, called them ‘dense’ and ‘stupid’ and said they had ‘mismanaged’ the country’s great natural resources.”

Lee said a group of less ‘obtuse’ younger military officers could take control and share power with democracy activists, “although probably not with Aung San Suu Kyi, who was anathema to the military.”

After more than seven years under house arrest, pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi was released Nov. 13, a week after Myanmar’s first election in 20 years, which were won overwhelmingly by a pro-military party. Critics have slammed the polling as a sham aimed at cementing military rule.

Singapore has questioned the veracity of some documents purportedly leaked by Wikileaks and published by some Australian newspapers. The reports quote Singapore diplomats as making unflattering remarks about Malaysia, India, Japan and Thailand during meetings with U.S. diplomats.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said “what Singapore officials were alleged by WikiLeaks to have said did not tally with our own records.”

“One purported meeting (between Singapore and U.S. diplomats) did not even take place,” it said.

Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo told reporters earlier this week that, in any case, such cables were interpretations of conversations by U.S. diplomats, and therefore shouldn’t be “over-interpreted.”

“These are in the nature of cocktail talk,” Yeo said. “It’s always out of context. It’s gossip.”


Lee said India was engaging Myanmar’s leadership in a bid to minimize China’s influence, but that “India lacked China’s finer grasp of how Burma worked,” according to the cable.