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The 81-year-old Lee Kuan Yew is not known to be diplomatic. Singapore’s Gandhi and Nehru rolled together, Yew has been credited with transforming the island nation from a vulnerable, resource-constrained colonial outpost to one of the most advanced nations on the planet in just around three decades.
For Yew, who shared his insights with an attentive and admiring audience at an Indo-Singaporean event in the Capital on Wednesday, India is not quite in the same league as China. He believes China has a considerable headstart in the development game that is hard for India to overtake or even match.
“Both can grow… But India’s GDP is half that of China’s. It’s growth does not exceed that of China’s,” he said, pointing out various opinion-makers believe that the two Asian neighbours should not be clubbed together at all any longer.
He pointed out that China is years ahead of India in terms of infrastructure. “China has
50,000 km of eight-laned highways, 20,000 km of high-speed trains,” he pointed out, adding that India’s lack of connectivity between its cities and villages is severely hindering the country’s development. “Better transportation can easily add another 2-3% to India’s GDP growth,” he said.
Having served at the head of Singapore government from 1959 to 1990, Yew is credited with not only bringing economic development, but also reducing corruption and forging a truly Singaporean identity.
When asked why he thought South Asia lagged behind East Asia in living standards and economic development, he pointed to the Confucian culture. Confucius, a ancient Chinese scholar and philosopher who lived before the Buddha is known for the hard-nosed practicality of his teachings. Yew pointed out that Confucian ethos placed as much emphasis on hardwork as on intelligence and ability.
“There is a great emphasis on drive. You don’t get ahead based on brains alone. You need all three of discipline, persistence and ability… There is a tremendous faith [in Confucian societies] that through education and hardwork, you will do better in life… Even the poorest Chinese make sure their children are educated,” he pointed out.
Yew, who is known for his candid and often unflattering appraisal of Western culture and values, also fielded some questions about the “end” of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and its status as the World policeman. He, however, disappointed the enquirer with a quip: “Imagine the world without a policeman!” Yew, currently serving as Singapore’s ‘Minister Mentor’ also felt all the hooplah about the demise of the dollar was misplaced. “What will you replace it with?” he asked, predicting that it will continue to be the currency of global trade for “a long time” to come.