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16 August 2004
Singapore’s veteran statesman Lee Kuan Yew says China would not be better off today had the 1989 Tiananmen Square protesters been successful and toppled the communist authorities, a report said Tuesday.
In an address at a leadership seminar, Lee asked whether China would be more prosperous and stable now had the students succeeded in building a thriving democracy, the Straits Times reported.
Answering his own question, Lee said: “I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now,” the report quoted Lee, 80, as saying.
Referring to China’s then-leader Deng Xiaoping -who ordered the protests be suppressed -Lee said: “He took over and he said: ‘If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it.’ “
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people were killed when Chinese troops broke up the demonstrations centred on Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.
The protest movement – and the state’s lethal reaction to it – are still possibly the most sensitive political issue in China, which has seen rapid economic growth over the past 15 years.
Lee ran Singapore as prime minister from independence in 1965 to 1990 and now carries the title of minister mentor. He enjoys strong ties with China’s leadership, and often visits the mainland.
The sharp-tongued leader has long argued that democracy is not a necessary precondition for economic progress, and may even retard the creation of wealth.
Now read the Straits Times version of the story below. Note the end of the report where someone tries to compare Lee Kuan Yew to Mahatma Gandhi (among other world leaders) and Lee doesn’t deny it!
Let’s compare the two: Gandhi was the champion of non-violence and was loved and respected by not only his fellow Indians but by the world over. Lee, on the other hand, is feared by Singaporeans whom he rules with an iron-fist. Lee admitted: “Between being loved and being feared, I believe Machiavelli was right. If nobody fears me, I am meaningless.”
Isn’t it tragic and hollow when one feels that to be meaningful in life, one has to be feared? More importantly, would Gandhi have supported a dictator who mowed down thousands of unarmed civilians wanting to rid their country of corrupt and undemocratic rulers?
Lee is like Gandhi? Gives one the goose-bumps just listening to it.
17 August 2004
THE question of which matters more – political or economic reform – might be the stuff of scholarly debate but for Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, the answer is clear.
Political reform need not go hand in hand with economic liberalisation, he said during a question-and-answer session at the Global Brand Forum yesterday.
‘I hold unconventional views about this,’ he said at the business conference, ‘therefore I am not a great favourite of the Western media.
I do not believe that if you are libertarian, full of diverse opinions, full of competing ideas in the market place, full of sound and fury, therefore you will succeed.
‘If that were so, many countries that I know of, that would qualify on those counts, would be marvellously successful and prosperous.’
He was speaking to about 1,000 business leaders from all over the world at the Raffles City Convention Centre, and wasted no time to drive home his point.
Using China as an example, he asked rhetorically if the world’s rising economic power would be better off today, if the students at Tiananmen Square in 1989 had overthrown the government and built a thriving democracy.
‘I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now,’ he replied.
Commenting on Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s decision then, he added: ‘He took over and he said, ‘If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it’.’
Mr Deng had gone through hardship in his life to know that China could not afford to let the dangerous situation get out of hand. He chose economic reform first and openness later.
Four participants asked questions during the half-hour session and Mr Lee gave them in-depth answers covering the region and the world.
Asked how to be a leader of a small state that did not get pushed around by big countries, he replied: ‘I don’t think we can change the balance of bargaining or the tussle between the interest of a big developed party and a small underdeveloped party. It will always be like that.
‘You try to gather more weight by combining it together so we have the non-aligned nations… and so on.’
He added that that was possible during the Cold War, when the smaller countries could play off the Soviet bloc against America and the West. But with the United States as the sole superpower now, that strategy is not applicable any more.
‘So, quite simply,’ he said, ‘Singapore takes the position that we are price-takers; we are not price-makers.’
‘Our strategy simply is to make ourselves relevant to all the countries that matter to us.’
Not all questions were on global or domestic issues though.
One participant gushed: ‘The world’s most influential leaders were Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Gandhi. In my opinion, you are one of them. Do you agree with me?’
Mr Lee broke out in a guffaw before replying: ‘How can I say yes? If I say yes, I’m big-headed. If I say no, I’m a fool.’
The crowd roared.