Times magazine – Lee Kuan Yew is not the father of Singapore

I refer to the 22 Mar 2015 Times magazine report “‘Father of Singapore’ Lee Kuan Yew Dies at 91”.

Lee Kuan Yew is not the father of Singapore and will never be fit to be called one because he never fought for Singapore’s independence like America’s founding father George Washington did.

Instead, Lee came to power in 1959 only after others have fought and won complete internal self-government from Britain (decision made in 1958).

Lee’s swopping of British sovereignty for Malaysian sovereignty in 1963 cannot be an act of independence in any sense of the word. If George Washington had swapped British sovereignty for Mexican sovereignty, would Americans hail George Washington as founding father?

Above all, Lee had worked for the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation. If Mexico successfully invaded America and George Washington ended up working for Mexico, would Americans hail George Washington as founding father?

Times magazine wrote:

Singapore’s first and longest-serving Prime Minister was the architect of a remarkable transformation

Lee Kuan Yew wasn’t the architect of Singapore’s remarkable transformation. The architect should be someone who comes up with the plans. Since it was Dr Albert Winsemius who came up with Singapore’s industrialization plans in the report entitled “The United Nations Proposed Industrialization Programme for the State of Singapore”, it should be Dr Winsemius, not Lee Kuan Yew, who was the architect of our remarkable transformation.

Times magazine wrote:

… Lee, who was Singapore’s Prime Minister … of the city-state that he molded into one of the most sophisticated places on the planet.

Singapore was already quite sophisticated during colonial times. We were already the 5th most important port in the world in the 1930s, Asia’s most important communications centre in the 1950s, the third richest in Asia in 1960 (Penn World Tables) and in Mr Lee’s own words a metropolis already in 1968. We were already very well molded when Lee took over.

Moreover, our molding was based on Dr Winsemius’ formula, not Mr Lee’s so it’s probably more accurate to say that Singapore was molded in accordance to Dr Winsemius’ plan rather than by Mr Lee.

Times magazine wrote:

… foreign political and business leaders have long praised him: “legendary” (Barack Obama); “brilliant” (Rupert Murdoch); “never wrong” (Margaret Thatcher), to cite a few of countless such tributes.

It would be interesting to ask Obama and Rupert Murdoch if they know of a person called Dr Albert Winsemius. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it would suggest that their knowledge of Singapore is only skin deep that doesn’t go far beyond the legends of Lee Kuan Yew which are not unlike the legends of King Arthur. Similarly, Thatcher’s policies had been questioned and if Thatcher could have been wrong, perhaps “never wrong” was also wrong?

Times magazine wrote:

At home, Lee was above all the man in charge.

Lee being the man in charge doesn’t mean Lee gave Singapore success, just as Stalin being the man in charge doesn’t mean Stalin gave Russia victory in World War II.

Times magazine wrote:

… Economic development needed to precede democracy

How much more precedence does Singapore economic development need after having preceded democracy by 50 years already?

Times magazine wrote:

The community trumped the individual. “Asian values” is what Lee and his ilk called their credo.

Lee and his ilk built two casinos against the wishes of the community and bulldozed through the widely disliked Population White Paper, two clear examples showing it is the other way around in Singapore, that individual trumps community.

Times magazine quoted Lee saying:

… [Democracy’s] exuberance leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development,” he said. “The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps … improve the standard of living for the majority of its people.”

Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea are obvious examples why Mr Lee had been wrong, that democracy isn’t necessarily inimical to development.

China and Vietnam experienced both dire poverty and rapid improvement to living standards under the same communist political system. There has to be something more than just political system that improvement to standard of living needs.

Times magazine wrote:

… Singapore’s officials would run the city state (largely) effectively and cleanly — making it an oasis in Southeast Asia …

Singapore was already the oasis in Southeast Asia during colonial times. The King of Siam sent his sons to study in colonial Singapore. We had the most number of cars per capita in Asia during colonial times. We were already a magnet for talent from Southeast Asia and beyond during colonial times.

Times magazine wrote:

— and, in return, its citizens would toe the line.

Citizens foolishly toe the line not knowing that our success lay with Dr Winsemius’ plans, not Lee Kuan Yew’s.

Times magazine wrote:

… Lee’s critics had to admit: he knew his mind. “I always tried to be correct,” he once said, “not politically correct.”

If Lee knew his mind, why did he fight so hard to marry Singapore into Malaysia only for us to divorce two years down the road? Why did he cry so much on our separation from Malaysia? Why did he suppress our birth rate so much only to end up trying to reverse it instead?

Times magazine wrote:

And astute, especially when maintaining an equidistance between China and the U.S., East Asia’s top two rivals. Beijing and Washington both trusted him as a friend who enhanced their understanding of each other. Even as Lee invested sovereign funds in China, he provided safe harbor for U.S. warships. In fact, he was an open proponent of a robust U.S. military presence in Asia to help keep the peace. By pinning down North Vietnam during the 1960s and ’70s, he said, the U.S. bought much of the rest of Southeast Asia time to develop and ward off communism.

The fact that Lee sought US but not Chinese military presence shows quite clearly that politically and militarily, Lee preferred US to China.

Times magazine wrote:

Till the end, he remained an admirer of American entrepreneurship and ingenuity.

Such was the irony of Lee that he would scorn American democracy for its undisciplined and disorderly conditions yet fail to see that American entrepreneurship and ingenuity are born out of such undisciplined and disorderly conditions.

Times magazine wrote:

Lee’s … prodigious ability to look beyond the horizon. Today, chiefly because of the foundations he laid, Singapore, tiny and surrounded by hostile neighbors when it was born, has not only survived but flourished — a widely-admired banking, tech and educational hub whose GDP per capita is among the highest in the world; a place that constantly innovates and experiments; the Little City That Could.

Times magazine misunderstood Lee’s adoption of Dr Winsemius’ economic policies as being Lee’s ability to look beyond the horizon. When Singapore separated from Malaysia, Lee could look no further than the crashed world in front of him, crying and crying until he had to convalesce for six weeks at Changi chalet. With his only idea of import substitution for the Malayan Common Market ruined, Lee had nothing left except to turn to Dr Winsemius who in turn was the man who could see beyond the horizon and guided Singapore in the right direction.

Singapore’s flourishing today is chiefly the result of the strong foundations laid by our ex-British colonial government which the ablest man in Lee’s cabinet, Dr Goh Keng Swee, termed as our priceless British inheritances and Dr Winsemius’ economic plans. That Lee happened to sit on the throne was incidental and not instrumental to our flourishing.

Singapore’s per capita GDP is much less sterling when stripped of those accruable to foreigners and foreign owned companies.

Times magazine wrote:

After the war … Lee … was determined to free Singapore from colonial rule … Lee entered the unruly politics of a country still reeling from World War II … The island’s unions were riddled with communists, many Chinese-educated, inspired by Mao Zedong’s rise to power and eager to stage a similar revolution in Singapore. By offering his legal services for free to unions, Lee built up a grassroots electoral base and became a rival to the communists, who were officially banned. In 1954 he formed the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the basement of his house.

Examples of persons labeled communist or pro-communist were philanthropists Tan Kah Kee and Tan Lark Sye. Tan Kah Kee gave nearly all his fortune to set up schools and universities in Singapore and China while Tan Lark Sye set up Singapore’s only Chinese medium university. Yet, Tan Kah Kee was banned from ever returning to Singapore while Tan Lark Sye was stripped of his citizenship for the purported crime of communism or pro-communism. But today, both gentlemen are being lauded for who they really were – philanthropists passionate about Chinese education. There’s even a Tan Kah Kee Hall at the University Of Berkeley, California. That even philanthropists like Tan Kah Kee and Tan Lark Sye have been branded communist and persecuted as such goes to show how frivolous the communism charge was. It was a charge without trial that gave Lee and his predecessors the power to conveniently fix all those who opposed them.

Many of those Lee gave legal services to were eventually locked up by Lee himself after having outlived their usefulness when Lee came to power.

Times magazine wrote:

Singapore … became part of the Malaysian federation in 1963. Two years later it was kicked out of Malaysia because of racial tension … and the antagonism of many senior politicians in Kuala Lumpur toward Lee …

When Singapore was part of Malaysia, Lee’s belief in an egalitarian society had aroused the suspicions of Malay politicians who believed Lee spoke loftily about multiracialism even as he canvassed for Chinese votes.

That antagonism wasn’t one sided and Lee was one of the star contributors to it. Lee’s so-called belief in an egalitarian society in Malaysia was hypocritical at best because Lee had implicitly accepted Malaysia’s Bumiputra policy when he merged Singapore into Malaysia in 1963 because Malaysia’s Bumiputra policy had already been enshrined in Malaya’s constitution before that. As a trained lawyer, Lee couldn’t have claimed that he didn’t know that the Bumiputra policy was already codified in the Malaysian constitution that Lee had subjugated all Singaporeans to.

Even Lee’s good comrades Dr Toh Chin Chye and Mr Lim Kim San felt that Lee’s remarks had been anti-Malay or overboard rather than about multiculturalism.

The events of 1963-1965 appear to be substantially a clash of temperaments and world views, with consequent misunderstandings among the key players. Lee’s own colleagues tell a story of Lee Kuan Yew in overdrive, aggressively engaging in brinkmanship and pushing the Malaysian experiment to the precipice. Lee found it difficult to exercise self-control in front of a microphone and developed a pattern of making outrageous and inflammatory speeches, which Toh Chin Chye later characterised as anti-Malay. When Lim Kim San, a key cabinet minister during the period was asked by Melanie Chew whether he counseled Lee to tone down his speeches, he replied “Oh yes! We did! But once he got onto the podium in front of the crowd, paah, everything would come out. Exactly what we told him not to say, he would say!” Lee at this time was driving himself to the brink of a breakdown, and his judgment was impaired by a regime of prescription drugs designed to help him cope with the stress. He was not at his best and all his prejudices about Malays and his fears about the future were given a free rein, just at the time when he needed to keep them under strict guard

[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethinicity and the Nation-building Project, Michael D Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš, page 29-30]

Times magazine wrote:

By late 1965, Lee’s vision for Singapore was formed … instead of trying to piggyback on the commodity-driven trade of its neighbors, Lee would seek investment from outside Southeast Asia, appealing directly to multinationals in the U.S. and Europe. “We had to create a new kind of economy,” he wrote, “try new methods and schemes never tried before anywhere else in the world because there was no other country like Singapore.”

The vision that Lee supposedly had for Singapore wasn’t in fact Lee’s but that of Dr Albert Winsemius’ as Singapore’s industrialization followed Dr Winsemius’ recommendations to a ‘T’. Lee’s vision had always been the conventional wisdom of import substitution for the Malayan Common Market. When that was rendered useless by our expulsion from Malaysia, Lee had no other choice but to follow the unconventional path set by Dr Winsemius. Lee was only good at claiming the credit of what others have done or devised.

Times magazine wrote:

Nevertheless, it would be enshrined in independent Singapore. The population today is about 5.5. million, of whom nearly 40% are foreigners. Of the locals, about three-fourths are ethnic Chinese. But Lee took steps to ensure that the majority couldn’t impose its culture on the country’s minorities. English became the medium of education and administration, while three national languages were also recognized: Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. To prevent ethnic ghettoes, Lee made sure neighborhoods had proportionate numbers of Chinese, Indian and Malay residents. The religious holidays of all ethnic groups were celebrated, and even small local-language newspapers and TV channels were financially supported by the state. Lee’s aim was to forge a Singaporean identity that would override ties to the old country.

Singapore’s multiculturalism wasn’t enshrined by Lee but had already taken roots during colonial years.

• Racial Harmony In Malaya
To those who know their Malaya from one end to the other, no less than to the casual visitor, it is a constant source of wonder how so many different races and communities live and work together in the utmost harmony … we repeat, that the different communities live and work in harmony because the British system of justice and administration enables them to obtain fair play. There are no discriminatory or repressive laws, there are few, if any race prejudices in the bazaars and counting houses, there is nothing to prevent the humblest coolie from rising to great wealth – many indeed have done so …
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 26 July 1935, Page 8]

“It is a pleasing feature of life in Malaya that there is not merely a complete absence of friction but much cordiality in the relations between the different races inhabiting it. It is quite common to find Malays, Chinese and Indian all living the same street in perfect harmony and apparently, with some degree of intimacy.” The Mui-Tsai Commission Report Chapter VIII.
[The Straits Times, 1 March 1937, Page 13]

It makes me happy to see the Chinese and other peoples here co-operating so well with each other.
[The Straits Times, 15 November 1940, Page 11]

• The Malayan Melting-Pot
The Sultan of Perak … “I wish to say to you that Chinese and Malay in the past eighty years before the coming of the Japanese lived side by side in absolute peace. The Chinese lived in the midst of Malays without any trace of fear, and the Chinese also fearlessly and peacefully pursued his vocation in any Malay settlement … Here in Singapore we are constantly impressed by the easy, natural and friendly relationships existing between Eurasians, Straits Chinese, Straits-born Indians and others who went to school together and now meet each other in adult life … Boys – and girls – of the local-born communities who sit side by side in the classrooms of Raffles Institution and St. Joseph’s and St. Andrew’s and the A.C.S., learn to become unconscious of racial differences, to meet on common ground, and to accept each other simply as Singaporeans – not as members of this racial community or that. Naturally this process is more penetrating in the secondary schools than in the elementary ones, because the influence of the school is exerted for a longer period and in years of higher mental awakening …
[The Straits Times, 25 May 1946, Page 4]

• S’pore an ‘example’ of race harmony
Singapore has set an example to the world of racial harmony, said Mr. T. P. F. McNeice, President, in reply to Mr. C. F. J. Ess, at the meeting of the City Council yesterday.
[The Straits Times, 29 September 1951, Page 5]

• Duchess praises ‘one people’ idea
The Duchess of Kent, the first Royal Freeman of the City of Singapore, said yesterday that its people were engaged upon a project of far-reaching significance – the casting into one mould of elements derived from many different cultures. “This plan in itself testifies to the good will and good sense so characteristic of the people of this island,’ she said.
[The Straits Times, 2 October 1952, Page 1]

• Police help island troop to learn sailing
Singapore’s 84th Pulau Tekong Sea-Scout Troop is certainly helping to strengthen the bonds of friendship among Malays and Chinese on the island. It is undoubtedly a Sino-Malay affair for half of its 20 members are drawn from each race. Even the four patrol leaders in the troop are equally divided on a communal basis. Members of each patrol, however, are mixed.
[The Singapore Free Press, 17 July 1953, Page 12]

• Our racial harmony inspiration to bishop
An American Negro bishop said in Singapore yesterday that complete racial harmony among students and teachers in Colony schools was an inspiration to him. He said it proved his theory that if you get people of all races close enough together for them to smile at each other racial pride and prejudices will vanish quickly
[The Straits Times, 30 September 1954, Page 4]

• ‘See yourselves as just one people’ Governor’s advice to teachers
The people of Singapore must not think of themselves in terms of their racial and language loyalties, but as Singaporeans, the Governor, Sir William Goode, said yesterday. Schools must be Singapore schools, not English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil schools … In 1953, he said, English was the only medium of instruction at the college, but today they worked in English, Malay and Chinese. “In this way too the different races in the Colony can be welded into a united people with a common loyalty and a common pride in Singapore and a united determination to work for the good of Singapore.”
[The Straits Times, 12 October 1958, Page 7]

Eighteen American teachers (above) from 11 states left for Bangkok by CPA this morning after a four-day stay here … Prof. Mulder said they were impressed by the racial harmony they had observed in Singapore and had come to know the state much better.
[The Singapore Free Press, 16 July 1959, Page 10]

So many races, but one nation
If a world list were compiled of countries enjoying high degree of inter-racial harmony Singapore would undoubtedly occupy a leading position. Here people of various races work, play and live together happily as one nation. They help each other in time of difficulty. They rejoice in each other’s happiness. And they share each other’s grief. Such is the respect, understanding and goodwill between the Malay, Chinese, Indian, European and other races living here that visitors in Singapore have often praised the State as an example for the rest of the world to follow. The latest visitor to express this view is Mrs. A. Qugley, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, who passed through the State during a tour of the Far East. She said that “the people here must be extremely proud of themselves for the “really great” racial harmony that was evident
[The Singapore Free Press, 6 July 1961, Page 6]

Times magazine wrote:

A key strategy to give people a sense of belonging as stakeholders in society was to provide affordable homes — today, ownership stands at 90% of the local population. “Citizenship is essentially a question of loyalty,” Lee said … Lee widened roads, dug canals, cleared slums, erected high-quality public housing estates

The provision of affordable homes had already started during colonial years; Lee merely took over the good work and expanded on it (https://trulysingapore.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/unfair-comparison-between-sit-and-hdb/).

90% ‘home ownership’ is only in name and not in deed as public home title deeds refer to dwellers as “lessees” not “owners” (http://therealsingapore.com/content/hdb-lessees-should-not-be-called-homeowners-clarification-needed-govt).

Times magazine wrote:

Foreign investment, much of it from U.S. tech companies, did pour into Singapore. Texas Instruments set up a semiconductor plant in 1968, to be quickly followed by multimillion-dollar investments from National Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard and General Electric.

Dr Goh Keng Swee believed there was an element of luck that resulted in US companies investing heavily in Singapore in the late 1960s. According to Dr Goh:

It is a matter for speculation whether in the absence of the upheavals caused by the Cultural Revolution in the mid and late 1960s, the large American multinationals – among them, National Semiconductors and Texas Instruments – would have sited their offshore facilities in countries more familiar to them, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. These resources had skills superior to Singapore’s. My own judgment remains that these three areas were too close to the scene of trouble, the nature of which could not but cause alarm to multinational investors.

[Wealth of East Asian Nations, Goh Keng Swee, page 256]

Times magazine wrote:

In U.S.-dollar terms, Singapore’s gross domestic product grew more than tenfold from 1965 to 1980.

That growth was well matched by those of the other three East Asian Tiger economies of Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Would anyone hail Hong Kong’s British governor for its equally impressive progress? Does anyone even know who Hong Kong’s British governor was then?

Times magazine wrote:

It became the world’s busiest port.

Singapore was already the estimated 5th most important port in the world in the 1930s and Asia’s most important communications centre in the 1950s. Our ascent to Number 1 was from only a few places away.

Singapore was already the estimated 5th or 6th most important port in the world by the early 1930s and the key port in the Straits region by the late 19th century.

[Goh Kim Chuan, Environment and development in the Straits of Malacca, pages 107, 114]

Singapore was the most important communications centre in the Far East, not just for shipping but a focal point for airlines, telecommunications and mail distribution at the beginning of the 1950s.

[The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33]

Times magazine wrote:

The dilapidated godowns of the old waterfront were razed to build skyscrapers.

Singapore already had skyscrapers long before Lee Kuan Yew came to power. When Cathay Building was completed in 1939, it was the tallest building in Southeast Asia. The Asia Insurance Building, Bank of China Building and the Shaw Centre were similarly completed in 1954, 1954 and1958 respectively.

Times magazine wrote:

Singapore Airlines, the flagship air carrier Lee started in 1972, encapsulated the city-state’s story of success: small, with scant resources and dwarfed by larger rivals, it aimed to be among the world’s best from the outset and quickly became so. As Henry Kissinger, the onetime U.S. Secretary of State, said: “Lee’s vision was of a state that would … prevail by excelling.”

Singapore isn’t the only success story, so why is Singapore alone lauded but not similarly successful places like Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea that have scant resources (assumed to be oil or minerals) too? The bulk of successful nations today like Switzerland and the Netherlands have scant resources (oil or minerals).

Does Henry Kissinger even know who Dr Albert Winsemius is? Does he know that even Lee Kuan Yew himself expressed gratitude to Dr Winsemius?

Most of all, he (Dr Winsemius) was wise and canny. I (Lee Kuan Yew) learnt much about Western business and businessmen from him. He gave me practical lessons on how … Singapore could plug into the global economic system of trade and investments by using their desire for profits … It was Singapore’s good fortune that he took a deep and personal interest in Singapore’s development. Singapore and I personally, are indebted to him for the time, energy and devotion he gave to Singapore.

[Straits Times, Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM, 10 Dec 1996]

Times magazine wrote:

Characteristically, Lee bluntly defended such measures … he said, “Freedom of the news media must be subordinated to the overriding needs of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.” Because the foreign press wasn’t subject to local printing laws, newspapers or magazines whose articles were viewed as defamatory were either sued or their Singapore circulation cut …

What Lee referred to as the needs of Singapore that media freedom has to be subordinated to are more like his needs and those of his party. The banning of Tan Pin Pin’s film “To Singapore, With Love” and the refusal to publish Dr Chee Soon Juan’s letters hardly served the needs of anyone other than Lee’s and his PAP’s.


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