Lee Kuan Yew: The Man Who Championed China Onto The World Stage

March 27, 2015 – Chinese media and public forums were alive with discussion on how Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew helped the world, especially the West, better understand China.

But a more focused discussion in China centres around Mr Lee as a strategic visionary for arguing that China should be given its place in the sun and then helping that goal through unparalleled access to five generations of Chinese leaders.

“Singaporeans contributed in helping the Chinese bring the world to China,” said Francesco Sisci, Center for European Studies, Renmin University. “They are very skilful players in this, helping China in the world and thus enhancing Singapore’s international role.”

The Singapore development model pursued by Mr Lee was also part of the attraction. “He successfully married Confucian values with Western concepts such as openness, transparency and the rule of law,” Xu Qinduo, China Radio International (CRI) current affairs commentator. “This led many scholars and even the public to discuss if we should learn from the Singapore model.”

Mr Lee’s reputation as a pragmatist also left a deep impression. “A small country like Singapore cannot make mistakes; it is not like China, the US or Russia where we can make mistakes,” Jin Canrong, Associate Dean, School of International Studies, Renmin University. “A mistake made by Singapore would’ve been devastating. Hence Mr Lee had to be extremely rational and realistic.”

CRI’s Mr Xu said it was Mr Lee’s foresight that made him stand apart from other world leaders. “Back in 2003 Mr Lee had said China was a major power and will emerge as a superpower,” he said. “China, he predicted, will not be just a major world player, but the biggest participant on the world stage – one which cannot be ignored. Such penetrating insight was years and even decades ahead of others.”

On the business side, Mr Lee’s efforts to spearhead the Suzhou Industrial Park were also appreciated.

“Through Sino-Singapore collaboration, the Suzhou Industrial Park has emerged as one of the industrial parks with the highest standards in China,” said Mr Jin. “It couldn’t have done so without the infusion of ideas and concepts from Singapore. The park’s success can be seen in the fact that the GDP of Suzhou is one-third that of Jiangsu province.”

Some of the commentary has focused on Mr Lee’s ability to thread the policy needle between China and the United States. On the one hand, Mr Lee made it clear that China’s rise cannot be stopped. But he argued that the US should check and balance China in the region, a move which angered some Chinese citizens.

Given Mr Lee’s practical outlook however it was usually seen as a form of realpolitik designed to safeguard Singapore’s interests.

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