30 March 2015
As the rare statesman who has engaged all five generations of Chinese leadership, Lee Kuan Yew had a deep and profound understanding of China. Policymakers and scholars would do no worse than to overlook Lee’s insights on the rising power.
Among the many abilities that made Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, such a valued and influential interlocutor to foreign leaders and governments was undoubtedly his prodigious and masterly understanding of China. Lee was, in the words of Graham Allison, ‘the world’s premier China watcher’. This is an accolade attributed to the fact that his assessments of Beijing—frank, unvarnished and sometimes contrarian—often proved to be uncannily correct or prescient.
This was a profound wisdom borne out not just from a scholastic and historical appreciation of the nuances and contradictions of China. It was one honed by Lee’s more than 30 visits to China, starting from 1976, and unique friendship and access to several of the top echelons of the Chinese leadership, both past and present. Lee remains the rare statesman who has met with all five Chinese leaders, from Mao Zedong to current President Xi Jinping. Everyone of them since Deng Xiaoping, including Xi, have described Lee as a ‘mentor’.
…Hoo Tiang Boon is Assistant Professor, China Programme and Coordinator of the MSc (Asian Studies) Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. This is part of a series on the Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew.
GPO / IDSS / Online
Last updated on 23/11/2015