My legacy? I’ve never thought about it

Dear Mr Lee,

I refer to your comments at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum as reported by Straits Times on 20 Oct 2009.

You said that Mao Zedong liberated China while Deng Xiaoping built China by opening the country’s doors to the world. In a similar way, you helped liberate Singapore while Dr Goh Keng Swee quietly built up our economy with help from Dr Albert Winsemius.

You said Deng opened China’s doors in December 1978, a month after he visited Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and that the three-day Singapore visit was a turning point for him which seem to suggest that Deng got to see the light only after witnessing the prosperity of Singapore. But Deng’s reforms were in fact a continuation of the work started by Zhou Enlai in 1975. Many of the reforms were in fact not launched by Deng himself but by local leaders and then introduced to the rest of the country when proven successful. Therefore, the building of China wasn’t entirely top down from Deng but involved many initiatives from bottom up too.

Deng didn’t just call for the Chinese provinces to learn from Singapore during his Southern tour in 1992, he also called for them to learn from South Korea. He asked them to catch up with the four dragons and to build several Hong Kongs along the coast. So it was evident that when it came to the economy, Deng didn’t just have Singapore in mind. He knew as everyone else did that success wasn’t a distinctly Singaporean phenomenon, it was an East Asian phenomenon. He was especially enamoured by Singapore, not for its economic success which wasn’t exceptionally better than the other three dragons but for the fact that Singapore remained a one party state which was exactly what he wanted for China.

The Suzhou Industrial Park came fifteen years after special economic zones like Shen Zhen and Xiamen which prospered with the help of businessmen from Hong Kong and Taiwan respectively.

Hence, there is a lot more than just he (Deng) built China. After a decade of calamitous cultural revolution, the nation was ready to move on. Zhou Enlai started the reforms and Deng continued with them with key inputs from the ground. It was a national effort indeed.

But having said that, if Mao and his gang of four hadn’t been removed, it would have been difficult to imagine China taking the road to prosperity. This succintly demonstrates the danger and harm an autocrat poses to the nation. As long as there is no one person above all to wreak havoc on the country so that the people can have the peace and freedom to pursue their own individual success and happiness, the nation as a whole will rise to a level limited only by the people’s own capabilities.

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