Brookings Lee Kuan Yew Chair for Southeast Asian Studies – letter to Susan Rice

Dear Ms Susan Rice,

I refer to your 22 Sept 2014 remarks at Brookings Institution’s formal announcement of the creation of the Lee Kuan Yew Chair for Southeast Asian Studies.

Founding father

You said:

it’s fitting that Brookings’ new Chair in Southeast Asian Studies is named for Singapore’s founding father, a man who has played such a key role in shaping the region’s growth, Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore’s founding father is not Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. There has been no re-founding of Singapore ever since. Lee Kuan Yew studied at a school named after Raffles.

In Lee Kuan Yew’s own words, Singapore was already ¾ independent in 1959 when he came to power. That ¾ independence wasn’t won by Lee Kuan Yew but won by Singapore’s independence fighters who were generally regarded as the Leftists, Lee’s most hated enemies.

Lee Kuan Yew didn’t build on this hard won ¾ independence but married us off instead into Malaysia. We would have ended up with eternal Malaysian servitude had Malaysian Prime Minister Tungku Abdul Rahman not kicked us out. Our last ¼ independence was born out of the Tungku’s kick, not born out of us fighting for it. Lee Kuan Yew didn’t even want independence. He cried and cried in front of national television at our separation from Malaysia and had to convalesce at Changi chalet for 6 weeks. So do not confuse Lee Kuan Yew with America’s founding fathers please. Lee Kuan Yew is no founding father in any sense of that phrase. He never fought for Singapore’s independence, never got into harm’s way for fellow Singaporeans in the way your founding fathers did.

Shaping region’s growth, Asia’s rise

Lee Kuan Yew did not play a key role in shaping the region’s growth. Neither was

“Asia’s rise in global affairs is due in no small part to Southeast Asia’s contributions.”

May I quote Singapore law minister Mr Shanmugam’s remarks on the same occasion:

Modern East Asia, including Southeast Asia is what it is today because of the crucial role the United States played in underwriting security in Asia-Pacific. The U.S. provided security and stability that helped to stem the tide of communism, the 7th Fleet kept the ceilings open. The U.S. generously opened its markets to the region, and that sustained economic growth and prosperity of many Asian countries. In turn, that created conditions that allowed East Asia, beginning with Japan, to seize opportunity to uplift their people’s lives, and China is a most recent example of that. Success of countries in the region created a dynamism which has also created new challenges and opportunities, and let me add … the U.S. did all of it

Thus, contrary to what you have said, it was United States, not Lee Kuan Yew, not Southeast Asia that has been instrumental in shaping the region’s growth and Asia’s rise. Lee Kuan Yew never stopped bickering with his Malaysian counterpart so it’s hard to imagine Lee earnestly helping to shape Malaysia’s growth.

During Deng Xiaoping’s famous Southern tour in 1992, he called for China to learn from South Korea, to catch up with the four dragons, to build several Hong Kongs along the coast. Thus, China’s rise was due to learning from the rest of prospering East Asia and not just Singapore alone. If China’s rise was predominantly learnt from Singapore, how can they end up with so much corruption and food scandals involving gutter oil and tainted baby milk? How can they have such promising home grown technology firms as Lenovo, Xiaomi, Huawei or Baidu while we don’t (excluding the ‘has been’ Creative)? The great many Taiwanese and Hong Kong firms that have invested in China probably left a larger footprint on China’s economy than Singapore did.

Arc of development

You said:

Singapore embodies the arc of development that nations across Southeast Asia are achieving.

Please understand that this embodiment was already there even before Lee Kuan Yew took power in 1959. Singapore was already the third richest nation in Asia back in 1960 after Iran and Hong Kong and we were already top in Southeast Asia before Lee Kuan Yew took power (Penn World Tables 8.0, real per capita GDP, output).

Country 1960 real per capita GDP (output) 1960 real per capita GDP (expenditure)
Singapore $5,075 $2,413
Malaysia $2,789 $2,252
Philippines $1,647 $1,708
Indonesia $1,530 $790
Thailand $964 $986

Dictatorship and democracy

You said:

Entrenched dictatorships have given way to new democracies, and throughout the region, citizens are playing a greater role in their government and civil life. As President Obama said in Malaysia earlier this year, “perhaps no region on earth has changed so dramatically” during the past several decades.

How can you celebrate democracy and the dis-entrenching of dictatorships in Southeast Asia while at the same time exalt in the naming of an important Brookings Institution after a Singapore leader when Singapore is bottom most amongst the original five members of ASEAN in EIU’s Democracy Index 2012?

Countries EIU Democracy Index 2012
Indonesia 6.76
Thailand 6.55
Malaysia 6.41
Philippines 6.3
Singapore 5.88

Singapore is also ranked 150th in World Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders in 2014. How much truth can come out of a country ranked 150th for press freedom?

Many Singaporeans suffered years of incarceration under Lee Kuan Yew, some for longer than Nelson Mandela had been, without ever being charged in court. There were also those who were forced to run away from Singapore to escape being detained without trial. One of them, Mr Francis Seow is still in the US under political asylum. A recent movie made to highlight the plight of these Singaporean political exiles was effectively banned by our government for purportedly “undermining national security”. Does this look like democracy or dictatorship to you? Lee Kuan Yew himself is not ashamed to say that he is not an advocate of democracy.

“I’m not intellectually convinced that one-man-one-vote is the best. We practise it because that’s what the British bequeathed us.” – Lee Kuan Yew, 1994

“There are some flaws in the assumptions made for democracy. It is assumed that all men and women are equal or should be equal. Hence, one-man-one-vote. But is equality realistic? If it is not, to insist on equality must lead to regression.” – Lee Kuan Yew, Create 21 Asahi Forum Tokyo, Nov 20 1992

Putting Lee Kuan Yew on the Chair for Southeast Asian studies is to shame, tarnish and to humiliate Southeast Asian democracy and basic human decency.

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One Response to “Brookings Lee Kuan Yew Chair for Southeast Asian Studies – letter to Susan Rice”

  1. sorrowful soros Says:

    LKY started off by being a puppet of the British and later in the seventies when the British became broke, became a puppet of the US of A. Dean Rusk sealed the deal with LKY. From then on, Sinapore had to be successful. So a word of Dean Rusk and thousands of US companies flocked to Singapore, followed by the Europeans. This is how singapore became successful, not LKY’s ideas. Having big brothers, US and EU behind him, LKY became arrogant and started kicking his neighbours. He is still hated in Malaysia and Indonesia.

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