There are few leaders of the contemporary world that I admire more than former Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Actually, strike that. I admire Lee Kuan Yew more than any other living world leader.
I have written quite a bit in admiration of Mr Lee Kuan Yew on this blog. Now here’s a bit more from a speech of his that he gave at the US-ASEAN Business Council’s 25th Anniversary event in Washington DC on October 27 2009.
He began by saying, “Small countries have little influence on international trends. Singapore has always taken the world as it is. We analyse the world clinically, take advantage of opportunities that come our way or get out of harm’s way. This evening, I hope to share with you some of my views on some major international trends.”
He is a genius of realism. “Taking the world as it is.” But doing what is most rational in the given context. Take advantage of opportunities and don’t get into trouble. It reminds me of the Buddhist injunction: “First do no harm. Then try to do good.” He’s a realist. He knows that being a small country, Singapore cannot change the world. All it can do is to be the change that it wants to see in the world. Many people parrot that advice reportedly given by MK Gandhi, the Indian political leader of the mid-20th century, but Lee Kuan Yew is one of the few who followed that strategy. I don’t know for sure but it sounds very much like what Confucius may have said.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a Confucian genius.
Here’s part of what he said about China in his speech:
It faces enormous domestic problems. No one knows their seriousness better than China’s own leaders. But in a pragmatic way, they have coped with their problems. This leadership is not in denial of the weaknesses and flaws in their system: among them, widespread corruption and increasing numbers of mass protests in rural areas where Communist Party officials collude with property developers to evict farmers from their land without adequate compensation. Beijing’s response has been flexible, using the carrot or stick, or both. It has survived traumas that would have cracked a rigid system. While there are imponderables in its development, the course it has set out on will result in high growth rates for the next two decades. High growth will bring major social and political changes. China’s present political structures will come under acute stress. Governing a people with over 70% living in urban areas with access to worldwide information through “Blackberries”, cell-phones and the Internet will require a restructuring of their political structures and governance of this huge nation.
He sees China’s rise as part of the continuation a reformation that began with Japan’s Meiji Revolution in 1868.
China’s rise is one facet of East Asia’s modernization growth story. It began with Japan and the Meiji Revolution in 1868. In China, it began in December 1978 with the open-door policy of Deng Xiaoping. India opened up to the world in 1991. China and India can and will catch up with the West in science and technology. They will restore Asia to its leading position before European colonialism enveloped them. The world order will be re-balanced.
It was a short speech but as always, full of insight and practical advice. Go read the transcript.
[This was previously published on another site on Nov 5th 2009.]
Related Post: Lee Kuan Yew on India — Dec 2005. This post is worth reading, even if I say so myself.