How Lee Kuan Yew Thinks by Graham Allison and Robert D Blackwill with Ali Wyne

How Lee Kuan Yew Thinks by Graham Allison and Robert D Blackwill with Ali Wyne

The future of China, the rise of Asia and the implications for global balance of power based on Lee Kuan Yew’s assessment    60 min

              All the passages below are taken from the book by Graham Allison and Robert D Blackwill with Ali Wyne, ” Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World” published in 2012.

What are your most fundamental strategic principles? How do you approach strategic thinking and policymaking? What personal and professional experiences have shaped that approach? What strategic paradigms have shaped that approach? What role should history play in strategic thinking and policymaking? What role should clarity play in strategic thinking and policymaking? How has your view of why society’s progress affected your strategic thinking? How has your view of why societies stagnate or regress affected your strategic thinking? What qualities define a successful leader? What are the most common public policy mistakes that leaders make? Which leaders do you admire and why? How do you wish to be remembered? Lee Kuan Yew’s answers to these questions reveal much about the principles and worldview that have shaped his political choices. 

What are your most fundamental strategic principles?

Human beings, regrettable though it may be, are inherently vicious and have to be restrained from their viciousness.1

We may have conquered space, but we have not learned to conquer our own primeval instincts and emotions that were necessary for our survival in the Stone Age, not in the space age.2

 One of the most tragic personal events was when Mr. Nehru faced the agony of disillusionment in his basic, fundamental belief. That, in fact, power politics in Asia is as old as the first tribes that emerged, and that, whether we like it or not, if we are to survive and maintain our separate identities, it is necessary that we should learn what is in the joint interest at any single time of a group of nations.3

I have always thought that humanity was animal-like, while Confucian theory says that it can be improved. I am not sure it can be, but it can be trained, it can be disciplined…. You can make a left-hander write with his or her right hand, but you cannot really change his or her natural-born instinct.4

It is assumed that all men and women are equal or should be equal…. But is equality realistic? If it is not, to insist on equality must lead to regression.5

One of the facts of life is that no two things are ever equal, either in smallness or in bigness. Living things are never equal. Even in the case of identical twins, one comes out before the other and takes precedence over the other. So it is with human beings, so it is with tribes, and so it is with nations.6

Human beings are not born equal. They are highly competitive. Systems like Soviet and Chinese communism have failed, because they tried to equalize benefits. Then nobody works hard enough, but everyone wants to get as much as, if not more than, the other person.7

I started off believing all men and women are equal…. I now know that is the most unlikely thing ever to have been because millions of years have passed over evolution, people have scattered across the face of this earth, been isolated from each other, developed independently, had different intermixtures between races, peoples, climates, soils…. This is something which I have read, and I tested against my observations. We read many things. The fact that it is in print and repeated by three, four authors does not make it true. They may all be wrong. But through my own experience … I concluded: yes, there is a difference.8

In any given society, of the 1,000 babies born, there are so many percent near-geniuses, so many percent average, so many percent morons…. It is the near-geniuses and the above-average who ultimately decide the shape of things to come…. We want an equal society. We want to give everybody equal opportunities. But, in the back of our minds, we never deceive ourselves that two human beings are ever equal in their stamina, in their drive, in their dedication, in their innate ability.9

Fredrich Hayek’s book The Fatal Conceit: Errors of Socialism expressed with clarity and authority what I had long felt but was unable to express, namely the unwisdom of powerful intellects, including Albert Einstein, when they believed that a powerful brain can devise a better system and bring about more “social justice” than what historical evolution, or economic Darwinism, has been able to work out over the centuries.10 

No single power, no single religion, no single ideology can conquer the world, or remake it in its own image. The world is too diverse. Different races, cultures, religions, languages, and histories require different paths to democracy and the free market. Societies in a globalized world—interconnected by satellite, television, Internet, and travel—will influence and affect each other. What social system best meets the needs of a people at a particular stage in their development will be settled by social Darwinism.11

How do you approach strategic thinking and policymaking?

I would describe myself, in perhaps European terms, as between socialist and conservative. I would put myself as a liberal. As someone who believes in equal opportunities so that everybody gets an equal chance to do his best, and with a certain compassion to ensure that the failures do not fall through the floor…. I want to run the system as efficiently as possible, but make allowances for those who will not be doing well because nature did not give them enough, or they cannot make that extra effort…. I am a liberal in the classical sense of that word, in that I am not fixated on a particular theory of the world or of society. I am pragmatic. I am prepared to look at the problem and say, all right, what is the best way to solve it that will produce the maximum happiness and well-being for the maximum number of people?12

My upbringing in a three-generation family made me an unconscious Confucianist. It seeps into you, the Confucianist belief that society works best where every man aims to be a gentleman. The ideal is a junzi, a gentleman…. That means he does not do evil, he tries to do good, he is loyal to his father and mother, faithful to his wife, brings up his children well, treats his friends properly, and he is a good, loyal citizen of his emperor…. The underlying philosophy is that for a society to work well, you must have the interests of the mass of the people, that society takes priority over the interests of the individual. This is the primary difference with the American principle, the primary rights of the individual.13

When I travel … I am watching how a society, an administration, is functioning. Why are they good? … And the ideas come from not just reading. You can read about it, but it is irrelevant if you do not relate it to yourself … which I constantly do…. You must not overlook the importance of discussions with knowledgeable people. I would say that is much more productive than absorbing or running through masses of documents. Because in a short exchange, you can abstract from somebody who has immense knowledge and experience the essence of what he had gained.14

It is not by accident that we got here. Every possible thing that could have gone wrong, we tried to preempt. That is how we got here, that is why we have substantial reserves. Because if we do not have reserves, the moment we run into trouble … we have got nothing. All we have is this functioning organism which requires brains, specialized skills put together in a very intricate form, with inputs from many nations and their experts in financial services, manufacturing, tourism, all sorts of economic activities put together. It is not easy to replicate. I consider this to be the best contribution I can make, the most worthwhile thing to do.15

What personal and professional experiences have shaped that approach? 

My thinking comes from my character… I also have my life experiences. One meets a series of unforeseeable and unpredictable situations when your whole world collapses. Anyway, mine did. The British Empire was supposed to last another 1,000 years in Southeast Asia, but collapsed when the Japanese army came in 1942. I never thought they could conquer Singapore and push the British out. They did, and brutalized us, including me…. I learned about power long before Mao Zedong wrote that power came from the barrel of the gun. The Japanese demonstrated this; the British did not. They were at the tail end of empire when they did not have to use brute force. The British had superiority in technology, commerce, and knowledge. They built this big government house on a hill with Indian convict labor in 1868 to dominate the populations…. I learned how to govern, how you dominate the people, as the British did, and how the Japanese used their power.16

The Japanese invasion of Singapore was the single biggest political education of my life because, for three and a half years, I saw the meaning of power and how power and politics and government went together, and I also understood how people trapped in a power situation responded because they had to live. One day, the British were there, immovable, complete masters; next day, the Japanese, whom we had derided, mocked as short, stunted people with shortsighted squint eyes.17

When my senior Cabinet colleagues and I look back at our early hectic years of governing Singapore, we realize how much we have benefited from having gone through a very hard school. We met street thugs. Had we not become streetwise, we would have been clobbered. Like dogs which are closeted in a bungalow behind fences, we would have been run over when exposed to treacherous traffic…. A whole generation of Singaporeans, now all over 40 years old, was educated in a harsh political school…. Our children have no memories of troubled times from reckless opposition. A younger generation of ministers also missed this experience. Fierce combat made the older ministers what they are. Those amongst us who were weak, slow, or nervous became early casualties. Those present are the survivors of a Darwinian process of natural selection. We have keen survival instincts.18

What have I learned since 1973? Some more basic unchangeables about human beings and human societies, the ways in which they can be made to do better, and the ever-present danger of regression and even collapse…. I realize how very fragile a civilized society is…. I have also come to understand the insignificance of personal achievements. For at 60, more than at 50, comes the realization of the transient nature of all earthly glories and successes, and the ephemeral quality of sensory joys and pleasures, when compared to intellectual, moral, or spiritual satisfactions. . . . I have wondered how much of what I am is nature and how much was nurture? Would I have been a different person if I had not been tempered through the crucible of struggle? … Having taken life-and-death decisions and gone through one acute crisis after anothermy perspectives, ambitions, and priorities have undergone a fundamental and, I believe, permanent, transformation. I may not have changed in my physical, mental, and emotional make-up, the hardware side. But the software side, my responses to God, glory, or gold, has been conditioned by my experiences. In other words, however capacious the hardware (nature), without the software (nurture), not much can be made of the hardware.19

What strategic paradigms have shaped that approach? 

The final corroboration of logic and reasoning comes when they become practical realities. 20

The acid test is in performance, not promises. The millions of dispossessed in Asia care not and know not of theory. They want a better life. They want a more equal, just society.21

Good sense and good economics require that we must always find practical, not doctrinaire, solutions to our problems of growth and development.22

My life is not guided by philosophy or theories. I get things done and leave others to extract the principles from my successful solutions. I do not work on a theory. Instead, I ask: what will make this work? If, after a series of solutions, I find that a certain approach worked, then I try to find out what was the principle behind the solution. So Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, I am not guided by them…. I am interested in what works…. Presented with the difficulty or major problem or an assortment of conflicting facts, I review what alternatives I have if my proposed solution does not work. I choose a solution which offers a higher probability of success, but if it fails, I have some other way. Never a dead end.23

We were not ideologues. We did not believe in theories as such. A theory is an attractive proposition intellectually. What we faced was a real problem of human beings looking for work, to be paid, to buy their food, their clothes, their homes, and to bring their children up…. I had read the theories and maybe half believed in them. But we were sufficiently practical and pragmatic enough not to be cluttered up and inhibited by theories. If a thing works, let us work it, and that eventually evolved into the kind of economy that we have today. Our test was: does it work? Does it bring benefits to the people? … The prevailing theory then was that multinationals were exploiters of cheap labor and cheap raw materials and would suck a country dry…. Nobody else wanted to exploit the labor. So why not, if they want to exploit our labor? They are welcome to it…. We were learning how to do a job from them, which we would never have learnt…. We were part of the process that disproved the theory of the development economics school, that this was exploitation. We were in no position to be fussy about high-minded principles.24

Kim Dae-jung wrote in Foreign Affairs that “democracy is our destiny.” They got him to write a counter article to my conversation with Fareed Zakaria, and they want me to reply. I do not think it is necessary. He makes assertive statements. Where are the concrete examples that these things are going to happen? If it is going to happen, why are they so excited about it? … The very fact that they are so vexed about it and try to demolish me shows a lack of faith in the inevitable outcome they predict…. If history is on their side, that liberal democracy is inevitable, then just ignore me. Do not give me publicity. Right? I do not believe that because a theory sounds good, looks logical on paper, or is presented logically, therefore that is the way it will work out. The final test is life. What happens in real life, what happens with people working in a society.25

I do not believe the American system is either desirable or affordable. I notice the British are trying to copy the Americans…. Because American officials release secrets, that is supposed to be the “in” thing. It shows that yours is a free society where if any ministers or courts suppress the truth, you feel it is your duty to leak it to the opposition. That is something new, and it is not proven. So when you tamper around with the fundamentals of society … the effects are in the next, and often after the next, generation… . Perhaps because I am conservative, because one is a proven tested system, the other is not proven, why not let the other chap prove it first? If … all the contentiousness leads to a great flourishing of scientific and technological discoveries and … great happiness and absence of real social problems, it would be stupid not to look into those possibilities for ourselves…. The final proof is what happens to the society.26

What role should history play in strategic thinking and policymaking? 

History does not repeat itself in the same way each time, but certain trends and consequences are constants. If you do not know history, you think short term. If you know history, you think medium and long term.27

To understand the present and anticipate the future, one must know enough of the past, enough to have a sense of the history of a people. One must appreciate not merely what took place, but, more especially, why it took place and in that particular way. This is true of individuals, as it is for nations. The personal experience of a person determines whether he likes or hates certain things, welcomes them or fears them when they recur. So it is with nations: it is the collective memory of a people, the composite learning from past events which led to successes or disasters, that makes a people welcome or fear new events, because they recognize parts in new events which have similarities with past experience. Young people learn best from personal experience. The lessons their elders have learned at great pain and expense can add to the knowledge of the young and help them to cope with problems and dangers they had not faced before; but such learning, second hand, is never as vivid, as deep, or as durable as that which was personally experienced.28

During the Vietnam War, the Americans found that their lack of historical depth of understanding of the people and the country was a serious disadvantage. American universities like Yale, Cornell, Stanford, and think tanks like the RAND Corporation quickly assembled top minds in cognate disciplines to develop this expertise. Had they done this before they were drawn into the Vietnam War, they might well have chosen not to draw the battle line in Vietnam, but in Cambodia.29

What role should clarity play in strategic thinking and policymaking? 

What I want to discuss is the importance of simple, clear, written English. This is not simple…. Arthur Koestler rightly pointed out that if Hitler’s speeches had been written, not spoken, the Germans would never have gone to war…. When you send me or send your minister a minute or a memo, or a draft that has to be published like the president’s address, do not try to impress by big words. Impress by the clarity of your ideas…. I speak as a practitioner. If I had not been able to reduce complex ideas into simple words and project them vividly for mass understanding, I would not be here today.30

Many of my propositions may be controversial, but where it is a choice between platitudes and personal convictions, I feel it is my duty to state my convictions vigorously, for one great obstacle to a rapid and orderly political development of Malaya has been, and still is, the Malayan habit of ignoring unpalatable facts and avoiding unpleasant controversy.31

Only those count and matter who have the strength and courage of their convictions to stick up and stand up for what they believe in, for their people, for their country, regardless of what happens to them.32

How has your view of why societies progress affected your strategic thinking? 

Civilizations emerge because human societies in a given condition respond to the challenge. Where the challenge is just about right … the human being flourishes.33

There are three basic essentials for [the] successful transformation of any society. First, a determined leadership . . . two, an administration which is efficient; and three, social discipline.34

You have got to believe in something. You are not just building houses in order that people can procreate and fill these houses up…. You do these things because you believe that, in the end, you will create a happy and healthy nation, a society in which people find fulfillment…. If you treat human beings just like animals, you just feed them, keep them sleek, well-exercised, healthy like dogs or cats, I do not think that it will work. Nations have gone through tremendous privations and hardships in order to achieve specific goals which have inspired and fired their imagination.35

One of the reasons why a privileged society based on the privilege of property and rank must give way to a society where people are rewarded according to their ability and their contribution to society is that it is only when people are encouraged to give their best that society progresses. No society has existed in history where all people were equal and obtained equal rewards. If that were to be practiced, and the lazy and the incompetent were paid as much as the industrious and the intelligent, it would end up by all the good people giving as little of themselves so as not to give more than their weaker brethren. But it is possible to create a society in which everybody is given not equal rewards, but equal opportunities, and where rewards vary not in accordance with the ownership of property, but with the worth of a person’s contribution to that society. In other words, society should make it worth people’s while to give their best to the country. This is the way to progress.36

I did not understand what a cosseted life would do to the spirit of enterprise of a people, diminishing their desire to achieve and succeed. I believed that wealth came naturally from wheat growing in the fields, orchards bearing fruit every summer, and factories turning out all that was needed to maintain a comfortable life. Only two decades later, when I had to make an outdated entrepot economy feed a people, did I realize we needed to create the wealth before we can share it. And to create wealth, high motivation and incentives are crucial to drive a people to achieve, to take risks for profit, or there will be nothing to share.37

You must want. That is the crucial thing. Before you have, you must want to have. And to want to have means to be able, first, to perceive what it is you want; secondly, how to discipline and organize yourself in order to possess the things you want—the industrial sinews of our modern economic base; and thirdly, the grit and the stamina, which means cultural mutations in the way of life in large parts of the tropical areas of the world where the human being has never found it necessary to work in the summer, harvest before autumn, and save up for the winter. In large areas of the world, a cultural pattern is determined…. As long as that persists, nothing will ever emerge. And for it to emerge, there must be this desire between contending factions of the “have” nations to try and mold the “have-not” nations after their own selves.38

Let me put in a positive way what we want. First, a striving, acquisitive community. You cannot have people just striving for a nebulous ideal. They must have that desire to improve…. You must equate rewards to performance, because no two persons want to be the same. They want equal chances in order that they can show how one is better than the other…. Next, we want forward-looking good management. The old family business is one of the problems in Singapore…. And third, easy social mobility. One of the reasons contributing to Japanese and German recovery was that their defeated capitalists, managers, executives, engineers, and workers … were fired by a singleness of purpose: to put their country back on its feet.39

To optimize our opportunities, we must retain the vigor of our multi-racial-lingual-cultural-religious society. We have the advantage of all being educated in English in an age when English is the common language of the world and the Internet. However, we must not lose our basic strengths, the vitality of our original cultures and languages…. Realism and pragmatism are necessary to overcome new problems. Only those basics that have proved sound in the past should not be changed unless absolutely necessary. Amongst them are honesty and integrity, multi-racialism, equality of opportunities, meritocracy, fairness in rewards in accordance with one’s contribution to society, avoidance of the buffet syndrome where, for a fixed price, you can take or eat as much as you want. That is why welfare and subsidies destroy the motivation to perform and succeed.40

In an established national society, one of the fundamental qualifications for joining that national society is an adequate knowledge of the unifying language of that society. It was this language qualification that ensured for the Americans that basic unifying force. Racially, the immigrants started as Germans, Italians, Spaniards, and even Japanese. But the fact that the American state insisted on an adequate command of the American version of English before accepting the immigrants as citizens of the state ensured the unifying force of one common language in the people.41

Why did China’s technological advance slow down and halt, just when the Renaissance was beginning in Europe? China’s stagnation was caused by its arrogance and complacencyIt refused to learn from the West. When the British emissary Lord Macartney arrived in Beijing in 1793, bringing with him the marvels of the industrial revolution, the Emperor Qian Long was not impressed. The great emperor told the English nobleman, “There is nothing we lack nor do we need any of your country’s manufactures.” The price China paid for this arrogance was 200 years of decline and decay, while Europe and America forged ahead. Two hundred years later, another Chinese leader, more thoughtful and practical, set out to undo the damage. Deng Xiaoping opened up China to the world in 1978.42

The Israelis are very smart. I asked a Bank of America president … why are the Jews so smart? … He emphasized how the good genes multiplied. He said the rabbi in any Jewish society was often the most intelligent and well-read, most learned of all because he has got to know Hebrew, he has got to know the Talmud, he has got to know various languages and so on. So the rabbi’s children are much sought-after by successful Jews to bring the good genes into the family. That is how they multiply, the bright ones multiply. That sums it up.43

How has your view of why societies stagnate or regress affected your strategic thinking? 

Britain did not have the critical mass numbers of people and size of country to remain among the first rank of nations with America and the Soviet Union. But it was not inevitable that the enterprise and the drive of Britons to achieve would be hobbled by welfarism, introduced in 1945 with the noblest of motives by the British Labor Party. Cradle-to-grave welfarism blunted the ambition of many budding entrepreneurs. Worse, high personal taxes dampened the desire of many to achieve wealth and success.44 

The British used to make the great discoveries—steam engines, textile machines, and electric motors. They won many Nobel Prizes for science. However, they did not commercialize their discoveries…. Why this lack of capacity to commercialize their innovations? I believe it is because of their culture. Long years of empire over two centuries developed a society where old wealth and the landed gentry were held in high esteem. The new rich were regarded with some disdain. The bright aspired to be successful and admired for their intellectual skills as lawyers, doctors, professionals, people who used their brains and kept clean hands, not like engineers or people who worked hard and had to dirty their hands…. The new rich were not embraced in the upper reaches of society. Only their children could aspire to be welcomed after going through the necessary public schools and universities, and their new wealth had matured and become old wealth…. Circumstances and culture decide how entrepreneurial a people or a sub-group of them becomes…. These are the four salient features of America’s entrepreneurial culture: (1) a national emphasis on personal independence and self-reliance, (2) respect for those starting new businesses, (3) acceptance of failure in entrepreneurial and innovation efforts, and (4) tolerance for a high degree of income disparity.45

What qualities define a successful leader? 

Revolutionary situations throw up great leaders who demand blood, sweat, and tears; comfortable circumstances produce leaders who promise people an even easier life.46

From my empirical observation of people and leaders, I believe 70-80% of a person’s capability, proclivities, temperament is genetic. The day you are conceived, at least 70% has already been fixed in the womb. If you are bound to be a capable person, you will grow into a capable person. If you are bound to be slow, you will be slow. Nothing can change that…. I do not believe, contrary to what American books say, that you can teach people to be leaders. I think you are a born leader or you are not a leader. You can teach a person to be a manager, but not a leader. They must have the extra drive, intellectual verve, an extra tenacity, and the will to overcome.47

It is a very tough job, especially in political leadership. Being a CEO or the general of an army is different. You do not have to persuade people who can say “boo” to you to get them on your side. When campaigning, no one has to listen to you at all. And when the campaign is over, people have to believe that you have got something for them that you can do that will make them cast their vote for you. It requires a totally different set of skills. Those skills can only be developed if you have a natural urge, a natural interest in people, in wanting to do something for them, which they can sense and feel. If you have not got that and you just want to be a great leader, try some other profession.48

I have spent 40 years trying to select people for big jobs…. I have gone through many systems, spoken to many CEOs….I decided that Shell had the best system of them all, and the government switched from 40 attributes to three, which they called “helicopter qualities”. . . .What are they? Power of analysis; logical grasp of the facts; concentration on the basic points, extracting the principles. You score high marks in mathematics, you have got it. But that is not enough. . . .They must have a sense of reality of what is possible. But if you are just realistic, you become pedestrian, plebeian, you will fail. Therefore, you must be able to soar above the reality and say, “This is also possible”—a sense of imagination.49

Unless you want long period of anarchy and chaos, you have to create a self-continuing power structure. Human beings should be equal. But they never are. Some can do more; some can give more of themselves than others. How do we anticipate that? Why is it that often we cannot?. . . The problem is that the human being is unable yet to assess this thing called “character”. . . It is amazing how many highly intelligent persons in the world make no contribution at all to the well being of their fellow people. And it is this as yet unascertainable or, rather, as yet immeasurable, quality called “character,” which, plus your mental capacity or knowledge of discipline, makes for leadership. . . In the established societies. . . all their leadership comes from a broad stratum of people who have gone to universities. It is so much better if. . . a person also goes through a systematic course of discipline, learn all the basic norms, what history has to offer and human experience has to offer, and then takes over the leadership.50

What are the most common public policy mistakes that leaders make?

            Sometimes they succumb to hubris and overconfidence, and other times they miss a transformative opportunity when it arrives.51

Which leaders do you admire and why?

            De Gaulle, Deng Xiaoping, Winston Churchill. De Gaulle because he had tremendous guts. His country was occupied. He was a one-star general and he represented France. . . .When the British and the Americans recaptured North Africa, he went to Algeria and Algiers, and he saw a French general there, a four-star general. He said, “Giraud, you are a general of France. What is the American soldier doing outside protecting you?” He was a very tough minded fellow. . . .He had guts and gumption. Deng was a great man because he changed China from a broken-backed state, which would have imploded like the Soviet Union, into what it is today, on the way to becoming the world’s largest economy. Churchill, because any other person would have given up. But he said. . .”We will fight on the beaches. We will fight in the fields and in the streets. We will never surrender.” To say that when your troops have been defeated. . . required and enormous amount of will and verve and determination not to yield to the Germans. . . If you ask the Americans who they admire, they will say Roosevelt. But Roosevelt had power and the industrial might of America.52

            Of all my Cabinet colleagues, it was Goh Keng Swee who made the greatest difference to the outcome for Singapore. He had a capacious mind and a strong character. When he held a contrary view, he would challenge my decisions and make me reexamine the premises on which they were made. As a result, we reach better decisions for Singapore. In the middle of a crisis, his analysis was always sharp, with an academic detachment and objectivity that reassured me. His robust approach to problems encouraged me to press on against seemingly impossible odds. . . He was my troubleshooter. I settled the political conditions so that his tough policies we together formulated could be executed. .  . He mastered defense matters, read up the classics on strategy, Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Liddell Hart. He subscribed to military journals to know the latest weaponry. He sent me books and articles and flagged, insisting that I must know enough to decide what I had to approve.53

How do you want to be remembered?

            I do not want to be remembered as a statesman. First of all, I do not classify myself as a statesman. I put myself down as determined, consistent, persistent. I set out to do something. I keep on chasing it until it succeeds. That is all. . . .Anybody who thinks he is a statesman needs to see a psychiatrist.54

            I do not think I can decide how I will be remembered. I live my life in accordance to what I think is worth doing. I never wanted to be in politics. I wanted to be a lawyer and make a good living, to be a good advocate, but I was thrown into it as a result of all these political earthquakes that took place. So I was saddled with the responsibility and I just have to be responsible to get the place going. . . .All I can do is to make sure that when I leave, the institutions are good, sound, clean, efficient, and there is a government in place which knows what it has got to do and is looking for a successive government of quality.55

            I am not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial. Close the coffin, then decide. Then you assess me. I may still do something foolish before the lid is closed on me.56


1. Han Took Kwang, Warren Fernandez, and Sumiko Tan, Lee Kuan YewThe Man and His Ideas (Singapore: Straits Times, 1998), p. 194. 

2. Lee Kuan Yew, New Year’s message, January 1, 1958. 

3. Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew’s Mission India (Singapore: ISEAS, 2009), p. 177. 

4. Lee Kuan Yew, interview with Mark Jacobson, July 6, 2009. 

5. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the Create 21 Asahi Forum, Tokyo, November 20, 1992.

6. Lee Kuan Yew, “Big and Small Fishes in Asian Waters,” speech given at a meeting of the University of Singapore Democratic Socialist Club, Singapore, June 15, 1966.

7. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the Tanjong Pagar 41st National Day Celebration Dinner, Singapore, August 18, 2006. 

8. Kwang et al., Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, p. 175. 

9. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the University of Singapore Business Administration Society’s Inaugural Dinner, Singapore, August 27, 1996. 

10. Kwang et al., Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, p. 159. 

11. Lee Kuan Yew, “U.S.: Opportunities in Asia; Challenges in the Middle East,” speech given at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, October 19, 2006. 

12. Kwang et al., Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, p. 130. 

13. Tom Plate, Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew: Citizen Singapore: How to Build a Nation (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2010), p. 177. 

14. Kwang et al., Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, pp. 230, 233. 

15. Ibid., p. 245. 

16. Plate, Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew, pp. 49-50. 

17. Kwang et al., Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, p. 22. 

18. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given on the second reading of “The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill” before the Singaporean parliament, Singapore, July 24, 1984. 

19. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at his 60th birthday dinner, Singapore, September 16, 1983. 

20. Radio broadcast of a Lee Kuan Yew speech given on September 4, 1962. 

21. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the Socialist International Congress, Brussels, September 5, 1964. 

22. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the launching of the S. H. B. Tug “Tegoh” by H. E. the Yang Di-Pertuan Negara, Singapore, February 27, 1960.

23. Plate, Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew, pp. 46-47. 

24. Kwang et al., Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, p. 109. 

25. Ibid., p. 151. 

26. Lee Kuan Yew, discussion with five foreign correspondents, recorded at Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, Singapore, October 9, 1984. 

27. Lee Kuan Yew, interview with Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill, December 2, 2011. 

28. Lee Kuan Yew, “History Is Not Made the Way It Is Written,” speech given at the People’s Action Party’s 25th Anniversary Rally, Singapore, January 20, 1980.

29. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the Ceremony of Admission to the Degree of Doctor of Laws at Melbourne University, Melbourne, April 21, 1994.

30. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given to Singaporean ministers, ministers of state, and senior civil service officers, Singapore, February 27, 1979. 

31. Lee Kuan Yew, “`The Returned Student’: Platitudes and Controversy,” speech given at the Malayan Forum, London, January 28, 1950. 

32. Radio broadcast of a Lee Kuan Yew speech given September 15, 1961. 

33. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the launch of the Devan Nair Research and Training Endowment Fund, Singapore, September 24, 1966. 

34. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given to Singaporean civil servants, Singapore, June 14, 1962.

35. Michael D. Barr, Lee Kuan Yew: The Beliefs behind the Man (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2000), p. 77. 

36. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at a rally in Klang, Singapore, April 16, 1964. 

37. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the Imperial College Commemoration Eve Dinner, London, October 22, 2002. 

38. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at a dinner of the Foreign Correspondents Association, Tokyo, March 21, 1967. 

39. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the annual dinner of the Singapore Employers’ Federation, Singapore, May 10, 1968. 

40. Speech by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at the Tanjong Pagar Chinese New Year Dinner, Singapore, February 10, 2006. 

41. Lee Kuan Yew, “Asia, America, and Europe in the Next Millennium Towards Economic Complementarity and Convergence,” speech given at the ABN-AMRO Symposium, June 6, 1997. 

42. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Conference, Singapore, September 12, 1997. 

43. Plate, Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew, pp. 110-111. 

44. Lee Kuan Yew, “Singapore-U.K. Relations: Bringing Forward an Old Friendship,” speech given at the British Chamber of Commerce’s 50th Anniversary Dinner, Singapore, January 8, 2004. 

45. Lee Kuan Yew, “An Entrepreneurial Culture for Singapore,” Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture, Singapore, February 5, 2002. 

46. Lee Kuan Yew, “For Third World Leaders: Hope or Despair?” Collins Family International Fellowship Lecture, Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 17, 2000.

47. Summary of a conversation between Lee Kuan Yew and John Thornton at the FutureChina Global Forum, Singapore, July 11, 2011. 

48. Harvard University Leadership Roundtable with Lee Kuan Yew, “Personal Reflections on Leadership,” Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 18, 2000. 

49. Kwang et al., Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, p. 103. 

50. Lee Kuan Yew, speech given at a meeting of the Consultation Youth and Leadership Training, Singapore, April 10, 1967. 

51. Lee Kuan Yew, interview with Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill, March 28, 2012.

52. Han Took Kwang, Zuraidah Ibrahim, Chua Mui Hoong, Lydia Lim, Ignatius Low, Rachel Lin, and Robin Chan, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going (Singapore: Straits Times, 2011), pp. 389-390. 

53. Lee Kuan Yew, eulogy at the state funeral service for Goh Keng Swee, Singapore, May 23, 2010.

54. Kwang et al., Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going. p. 390

55. Lee Kuan Yew, interview with Mark Jacobson, July 6, 2009.

56. Seth Mydans, “Days of Reflection for the Man Who Defined Singapore.” New York Times, September 11, 2010.


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