Singapore founder Lee Kuan Yew justified the city-state’s defence spending as necessary to resist any possible pressure from its larger neighbours.
‘Without a strong defence, there will be no Singapore,’ Lee said in an interview published by the Sunday Times newspaper. ‘It will become a satellite, cowed and intimidated by its neighbours.’
Lee, 87, now serves as a minister mentor in the cabinet of his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and still is a powerful figure.
‘If we do not have this strong SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), we are vulnerable to all kinds of pressures from both Malaysia and Indonesia,’ he said.
Since Singapore gained independence in 1965 after being kicked out the Malayan Federation, relations to its neighbours have been strained again and again over issues like, for example, the supply of water or sand.
The outspoken Lee rebuffed a journalist’s question suggesting that the island state was not as vulnerable as he claimed.
‘We are not vulnerable? They can besiege you. You’ll be dead,’ he said, adding that Singapore’s business would come to halt if its neighbours cut the sea lanes.
‘If we are not vulnerable, why do we spend 5 to 6 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) year after year on defence,’ he said. ‘Are we mad? This is a frugal government.’
Singapore, which has one of Asia’s best-equipped militaries and ranks high internationally in defence spending, allocated 11.46 billion Singapore dollars (8.9 billion US dollars) in 2010, according to last year’s budget.
Having been criticized as an authoritarian leader intolerant of dissent, Lee said the Singapore government was not preventing political competition.
‘What we are preventing is duds getting into parliament and government. Any person of quality, we welcome him, but we don’t want duds,’ he said.
‘We don’t want Chee Soon Juan and JB Jeyaretnam,’ Lee said, disgrading two prominent opposition politicians.
Both Chee and the late Jeyaretnam, who was the first opposition party candidate to be elected into Singapore’s parliament, have repeatedly been sued by the city-state’s leaders for defamation and other supposed offences, hindering their political activities.
Lee’s People’s Action Party has ruled Singapore ever since 1965 with opposition parties currently holding two of 84 seats in parliament.