25 March 2015
Lee Kuan Yew’s mark on Singapore’s foreign policy is that of applying counterintuitive strategies to improve the island state’s international standing. In retrospect, this has ensured Singapore’s long term viability as a sovereign nation-state.
As Singapore’s first Prime Minister and the point man in negotiating decolonisation from Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lee Kuan Yew carries an aura of being one of the pioneers of the island state’s foreign policy. His political personality appears to have been directly mapped onto his steerage of foreign policy: cold unflinching appraisal of one’s circumstances, and self-reliance in designing one’s survival strategies, but only up to the point that external parties can be persuaded that it is in their conjoined interests to partner Singapore in pursuing win-win collaborations.
Lee’s autobiography reveals the profile of an energetic, enterprising young man who was confronted with a series of personal challenges in adapting to material scarcity and political brutality, especially during the Japanese Occupation. This was a key formative influence for foreign policy born of dire geopolitical and geoeconomic circumstances.
…Alan Chong is Associate Professor of International Relations at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. He has just published a study in an academic journal comparing Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad as exemplars of authoritative decision makers in foreign policy. This is the third in the series on the Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew.
GPO / IDSS / Online
Last updated on 23/11/2015