The Irony of Lee Kuan Yew’s “Insightful” Worldview

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My wife passed me a physical copy of an article entitled “Foreseeing Red: Lee Kuan Yew on China” published in the current issue of Time Magazine. Turns out that three researchers from Harvard University (Graham Allison, Robert Blackwill & Ali Wyne) have interviewed him on his views on China, United States and the rest of the world and will be publishing a book entitled “Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, The United States & the World“. In the article from Time, there were the printed excerpts on his views about China. 


Photo Credits: JUSTIN GUARIGLIA / CORBIS (Time Magazine)

As I read through his interview in the article, I can’t help but feeling that his perspective on the issue is strewn with irony (and surprisingly, my wife felt the same way). Despite he provided very incisive analysis on the present state of China and how it will evolve in the next 30-50 years. Particularly, this quote which emerged from a question what he saw as the major hurdles to how China will execute the strategy from becoming the number 1 superpower in the midst of a pluralistic world. 

“[China’s] Creativity may never match America’s because its culture does not permit a free exchange and contest of ideas.” – Lee Kuan Yew

Why I find it ironic, is that despite his intellectual and insightful perspectives on the world, his model of micro-management of Singapore has brought out the worst in him, and led to an earlier generation before mine that cannot have a culture of allowing free exchange and contest of ideas. In fact, the same comment he made on China is reflected on Singapore exactly if you substitute China with Singapore. 

I often debated with my peers that the lack of innovation and creativity in Singapore has an intrinsic relationship to the political climate which does not allow freedom of thought, which was suppressed with the  excuse for preserving unity to survive. That’s not the mentality of the present generation because our society has evolved and we want to move to the higher levels of the Maslow Hierarchy beyond food, shelter and security. 

That’s why reading the article made me wonder if Lee Kuan Yew is resigned to the fact that the Singapore he has engineered and created have to live beyond his politics. The recent failure of his party in the recent by-elections, the People’s Action Party demonstrated that the new normal is here to stay. Unlike my parents, my generation will not tolerate threats or silly comments from the politicians in the view of national unity. We want the space to express our creativity and innovation and the changing of the political situation in Singapore will lead to a different world for my children, who will in turn seek their own space to express themselves. 

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Bernard Leong

A Pragmatic Idealist

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