Rebutting Lawrence Wong

I refer to the 18 Oct 2014 Straits Times report of Minister Lawrence Wong’s speech “Long-term policy issues must be studied objectively”.

Wong claim 1: Lee Kuan Yew had tremendous courage in the face of great adversity

Lee cried and cried at our independence and ended up convalescing at Changi chalet for six weeks. He also worked for the enemy during the Japanese Occupation. If those are examples of courage then crying, running away from problems and working for the enemy are the hallmarks of the courageous.

Wong claim 2: Military, Garden City, Singapore River were breathtaking works of audacity by PAP founders

Our military was trained by the Israelis who also provided our military doctrine. Like so many other things, the key job was always performed by foreign contractors or consultants. Let us not praise PAP so much that we forget that they merely brought in foreign contractors or consultants to do the job.

Our Garden City is essentially built upon what our former British colonial masters bequeathed us that includes our most famous Botanical Gardens which is also our best hope for a UNESCO listing. Let us not praise PAP so much that we forget that they inherited a solid foundation that virtually guaranteed their success.

There are so many beautiful rivers in First World cities. What’s so breathtaking about ours compared to so many others? It takes a person with Third World mentality to have his breath taken away by our Singapore River.

How can our 50th independence anniversary be our Golden Jubilee? We may have been independent for 50 years only, but we have been around for far longer than that.

Wong claim 3: Small states vulnerable

Small states are no longer as vulnerable today as their survival is now underwritten by the US.

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.

The Brookings Institution, Southeast Asia and the United States: remarks by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Singapore foreign minister K. Shanmugam, 22 Sept 2014

Wong claim 4: Communist war in Malaysia and region was our war too

Porous borders of the ISIL / ISIS conflict in the Middle East doesn’t mean that the ISIL / ISIS are at war with Singapore. Similarly, porous borders of the Malaysian jungles, doesn’t mean the Malayan communists were at war with Singapore.

Some Singaporeans joining the fight in Syria doesn’t mean that ISIL / ISIS are at war with Singapore. Similarly, some Singaporeans joining the communists’ fight in Malaysia doesn’t mean the communists were at war with Singapore.

Foreign interests being targeted by ISIL / ISIS doesn’t mean that ISIL / ISL are at war with Singapore. The Malayan communists on the other hand, operated strictly in the jungles of Malaysia and never once touched Singapore after being ousted by our Special Branch.

Lee Kuan Yew’s counter actions on home ground weren’t against communists but were against innocent people like Tan Lark Sye, Lim Chin Siong and his Barisan colleagues who weren’t communists.

Wong claim 5: Government means deciding together as one people

When the government ignored the people and bulldozed through the Population White Paper, did that mean deciding things together as one people? When the government ignored the people and went ahead to build two casinos, did that mean deciding things together as one people? Mr Wong must have puffer fish cheeks to be able to say that.

Wong claim 6: Singaporeans must try for themselves and trust the system

Picking cardboard pieces off the streets or cleaning tables at food courts in old age is the system that Mr Wong wants us to put our trust in?

Singaporeans contribute money to the central pot only to find it wasted in poor government investment decisions.

Singapore already had interracial and inter-faith harmony prior to PAP’s existence.

Wong claim 7: Lee Kuan Yew believed in equal opportunity for all regardless of wealth and status

Lee Kuan Yew’s Graduate Mothers Scheme is a clear example that Lee Kuan Yew did not believe in equal opportunity for all.

He also admitted and sought our acceptance that our primary school admission system isn’t meritocratic but is based on the social class of parents.

Asiaone Education, MM Lee acknowledges admission to primary school is unfair, 14 Nov 14 2010

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has acknowledged that primary school admission is ‘not meritocratic’, but is ‘inevitable in any society.’

‘At the primary stage, the choice is not made in a uniform way. You have a brother there or sister there, your father or mother is an alumnus, and so on,’ he said.

‘So it’s not meritocratic; it’s based on the social class of your parents, whether they went into better schools.’

Wong claim 8: Widespread social discontent, nationalism, xenophobia

Social discontent: Mr Wong can only blame himself and his government for not taking care of people’s welfare

Nationalism: What is wrong with nationalism? Does Mr Wong prefer widespread sellout of our country?

Xenophobia: Another one of Mr Wong’s attempts at painting white as black. Given current sentiments on the ground, xenomania is the black, rejecting xenomania is the white. Rejecting xenomania isn’t xenophobia.

Wong claim 9: First World democracies have become fractured, chaotic and unpredictable

Contrary to what Mr Wong said, the following table shows that the best run countries in the world are First World democracies.

Country 2013 WGI Government Effectiveness
JAPAN 1.59

Wong claim 10: Some groups called for zero foreign worker growth

Contrary to what Mr Wong said, those groups called for growth in resident workforce before turning off the foreign worker tap.

Straits Times, MPs spar over WP plan to grow local workforce, cap foreign labour, 6 Feb 2013

The WP plan envisions growing the resident workforce at a rate of 1 per cent a year through attracting more locals back to work. If this is achieved, the WP wants the tap on additional foreign labour turned off, and for the size of the foreign workforce to remain at the current level.

Don’t always quote Mr Rajaratnam

It is not always wise to quote from Mr Rajaratnam who said many stupid things including changing the one-man-one-vote system:

The Straits Times, 24 Dec 1986, page 1
Raja’s views are his own – Chok Tong
Govt has no intention of changing one-man-one-vote system, he says

The First Deputy Prime Minister yesterday made it clear Mr S. Rajaratnam’s remarks about remodeling Singapore’s democratic system were the Senior Minister’s personal views. Mr Goh Chok Tong also said that the Government had no intention of changing the one-man-one-vote system.

Mr Rajaratnam’s remarks were off-the-cuff … He had spoken freely, under the impression that the session was off the record.

Wong claim 11: Easy to win attention by disagreeing with government

Contrary to what Mr Wong said, it’s much easier to win attention by agreeing with the government rather than by disagreeing with it because state controlled television and newspapers give attention to those who agree with the government rather than those who disagree with it. Those who paint white as black and black as white are more often than not those who agree with the government. It is they who revel in their own “originality” in cocktail parties without realizing that they’ve become the laughing stock beyond the confines of their immediate circle. How can such stupid ideas as earthquakes in Singapore help solve real and vital problems affecting Singapore?

Wong rhetoric: Go beyond partisan politics

How can a School of Public Policy named after the biggest and baddest of Singapore partisan politics be expected to go beyond partisan politics? Going beyond partisan politics will require the thorough cleansing of the School of Public Policy to rid it of political elements. Renaming the school as the Albert Winsemius School of Public Policy will also help establish its new non partisan mission as Dr Winsemius was never involved in Singapore politics but had contributed immensely to Singapore public policies.

Any detailed exposition of policies will required similarly detailed critique of those policies in order that the democracy of deeds doesn’t become the autocracy of misdeeds. No matter how persuasive the arguments of professional oppositionists, they will never get as much publicity in state controlled media or press as mumbling state stooges.

Straits Times, Long-term policy issues must be studied objectively, 18 Oct 2014
This is an excerpt of a speech by Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s 10th anniversary conference yesterday where the book, The Big Ideas Of Lee Kuan Yew, was also launched.

LOOKING back, one cannot help but be struck by the tremendous courage that former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues showed in the face of great adversity.

The sheer audacity of what they did was breathtaking – from deciding it was possible to have a formidable military, to creating a Garden City and cleaning up the Singapore River; from deciding to make Singapore self-sufficient in water, to deciding to take on the communists when they were in their 30s.

Mr Lee holds firm convictions, but he is also a pragmatist who sees the world as it is.

He had “big ideas” but he also knew when to adapt to realities.

As we move into Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence, our Golden Jubilee, it is timely to look at some of his important ideas.


ONE “Big Idea” is that small states are inherently vulnerable and require a strategy to survive. Mr Lee himself reminded us that “small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world. A small country must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation”.

In the era of the Cold War, Mr Lee and his colleagues practised this principle decisively in securing multilateral alliances, building ties with major powers and countering the communist threat on home ground. The struggle waged against the communists is an important reminder that there is no clean line dividing foreign and domestic order. This remains the case today.

The world is in flux and borders are more porous than ever. Events and conflicts far away can affect us. Take the situation in the Middle East, and the expansion of the ISIL threat (ISIL is also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS).

Even if Singapore is not a direct target, foreign interests may be targeted. And we know that a handful of Singaporeans have journeyed to Syria to join the conflict there. So while the events and conflicts abroad may seem far removed from the daily lives of Singaporeans, they can easily fray the fabric of our society, and pose domestic threats to our national security. As a small country, we must always stay vigilant and keep looking outwards, because the changes in the external environment can have a big impact on us.

Sustainable development

A SECOND “Big Idea” is related to the first principle of security, and that is success, not just in the short term, but on a sustained, long-term basis. To survive as a small state, Singapore must make ourselves relevant; and to be relevant as a small state, we must make ourselves exceptional. So the success of Singapore is not a good-to-have, but an existential question. The world is far more competitive today than before. The rate of change has accelerated vastly. We need courage and fresh ideas to stay ahead of the curve.

The point is that we’ve not reached the limits of our potential as a nation. There is still much more to be done and new ground to conquer.

All this must be done with a view to maintaining a fair and just society, with equal opportunities for every Singaporean. Singapore was founded on democratic socialist ideals.

Mr Lee was against welfarism as a blunt instrument of redistributing wealth, and rightly so. But he recognised, and, indeed, passionately believed in, the necessity of a society in which “regardless of wealth and status, everyone has an equal opportunity to make the best of his potential”.

In Singapore today, the Government is increasing social transfers, spending more, and strengthening our safety nets. So it’s no longer an issue of whether the Government should or shouldn’t spend more. We will be doing more.

The real issue is how best to spend the revenue that we get from taxes, in a fair and sustained manner. It’s not so useful to think of the Government as a separate entity from the people, with its own source of funds, as we sometimes tend to do. Rather, government is about the things we decide to do together as a people. Through fiscal policy, we contribute money into a central pot through taxes and we spend that money to give expression to the shared values we wish to promote as a society.

Singaporeans must always have this motivation to try for themselves, with the promise of a better life, and with trust in a system that recognises the necessity and dignity of work and personal responsibility. This is the only sustainable and responsible way forward for Singapore.


THE third “Big Idea” is the need for an orderly society that functions in the best interests for all. Many countries aspire towards interracial and inter-faith harmony. But in Singapore this commitment to secular multiculturalism runs so deeply that it forms a part of our core national identity. We have always emphasised a common national identity, within which there are protected havens for different groups to live and practise their identities.

This rich diversity coupled with strong social cohesion is something precious that we must always cherish. It will not take very much to tear apart the trust and mutual respect that we have developed over the years.

This challenge has become greater for several reasons: the impact of globalisation and technological innovation, which is putting tremendous strain on the workplace; the ease in which radical propaganda and inflammatory remarks can circulate online; and the need for us to socialise new residents and migrants who have come to our shores.

These challenges are not unique to Singapore. Countries around the world are confronting very similar issues.

This is at least partly why we see the rise of populist movements everywhere, tapping on widespread social discontent, as well as nationalist and xenophobic sentiments, to mobilise the masses.

As a result, politics in many mature First World democracies is now more fractured, chaotic and unpredictable than it was just two or three decades ago.

We are not immune from these pressures in Singapore. In our population debate, for example, we had groups that called for “zero foreign worker growth” – it made for a good slogan, never mind the consequences it would have on the economy, local businesses, and more importantly Singaporean jobs. But opposition for the sake of opposition will not promote or strengthen our democracy.

Mr S. Rajaratnam once noted that it’s easy to win attention by disagreeing with the Government. If the Government says “white”, and you write letters or articles in the newspapers advocating “black”, then your column will be read and you will be hailed at the next cocktail reception as an original and bold thinker. This was many years ago, but perhaps it still rings true today. But how does this sort of discourse help us in solving the real and vital problems affecting our nation?

This goes beyond partisan politics. It’s about the kind of democracy we want to be, and that I hope we can be – a democracy of integrity, and a democracy of deeds, made up of an active citizenry who get involved in developing solutions for a better society.

As men and women of our academic and intellectual community, all of you play an important role in this effort. I appreciate your commentaries, including the ones where you disagree with the Government.

May I also strongly urge you to present the full complexities and trade-offs of the challenges that lie ahead for Singapore. There are many difficult long-term policy issues that need to be thoroughly and objectively explored: population, on immigration, on the income gap, or on social programmes.

A detailed exposition of the policy options needed to address these issues may not get as much publicity as arguments made by professional oppositionists. But it will go much further in strengthening our democracy of deeds.


One Response to “Rebutting Lawrence Wong”

  1. jay sim Says:

    Was Mr Wong’s ideas original? no. Above all, those are the wrong ideas for a different era. enough said.

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