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Friday, September 08, 2006


This is an interview with the former PM of Singapore. Mr lee is, or at least at his peak was the most successful & very probably the smartest political leader in the world. He lead Singapore From Third World to First (the title of his autobiography). To get your country from the standard of living of Calcutta to above the UK's is as successful as you get. Singapore has, since he quit the top job, fallen back behind the UK in per capita GDP, while Hong Kong forges ahead & I may later look into why. Nonetheless any opinion he has is worth listening to even though his style of government is less democratic than what he would call Confucian & we consider paternalistic. You should read the whole thing but here are some excerpts:
On Chinese growth
I saw it coming from the late 1980s. Deng Xiaoping started this in 1978. He visited Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in November 1978. I think that visit shocked him because he expected three backward cities. Instead he saw three modern cities and he knew that communism -- the politics of the iron rice bowl -- did not work. So, at the end of December, he announced his open door policy. He started free trade zones and from there, they extended it and extended it. Now they have joined the WTO and the whole country is a free trade zone.

I wish our leaders appreciated this. Jack McConnell & Nicol Stephen could learn a lot from this - or at least smarter versions of them could.

On Singapore's future options
We have to move to areas where they cannot move.

SPIEGEL: Such as?

Mr. Lee: Such as where the rule of law, intellectual property and security of production systems are required, because for them to establish that, it will take 20 to 30 years. We are concentrating on bio medicine, pharmaceuticals and all products requiring protection of intellectual property rights.
Meanwhile we are busily doing everything possible to help the Greens prevent the GM industry establishing itself here.

And more on the future
Look at the numbers and quality of the engineers and scientists they produce and you know that this is where the R&D will be done. The Chinese have a space programme, they're going to put a man on the Moon and nobody sold them that technology.
What he doesn't mention is that since Space Adventures moved to Singapore they also have a Space programme. Its just us who don't.

On Europe's future
When you look to Western Europe, do you see a possible collapse of the society because of the overwhelming forces of globalization?

Mr. Lee: No. I see ten bitter years. In the end, the workers, whether they like it or not, will realize, that the cosy European world which they created after the war has come to an end.

SPIEGEL: How so?

Mr. Lee: The social contract that led to workers sitting on the boards of companies and everybody being happy rested on this condition: I work hard, I restore Germany's prosperity, and you, the state, you have to look after me. I'm entitled to go to Baden Baden for spa recuperation one month every year. This old system was gone in the blink of an eye when two to three billion people joined the race -- one billion in China, one billion in India and over half-a-billion in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

SPIEGEL: The question is: How do you answer that challenge?

Mr. Lee: Chancellor Kohl tried to do it. He did it halfway then he had to pause. Schroeder tried to do it, now he's in a jam and has called an election. Merkel will go in and push, then she will get hammered before she can finish the job, but each time, they will push the restructuring a bit forward.

SPIEGEL: You think it's too slow?

Mr. Lee: It is painful because it is so slow. If your workers were rational they would say, yes, this is going to happen anyway, let's do the necessary things in one go. Instead of one month at the spa, take one week at the spa, work harder and longer for the same pay, compete with the East Europeans, invent in new technology, put more money into your R&D, keep ahead of the Chinese and the Indians.

Let me say that I don't really agree that working longer hours is a main part of the answer. I think that what is required is just for government not to waste workers time. Nobody ever accused the Irish of being to hard working it is just that Irish businesses get rewarded with profits & ours get rewarded with more regulations. The entire world is getting wealthier which implies that we can get away with less work as long as it is not wasted.

Why China is not a military threat (& the US implicitly is)
About eight years ago, I met Liu Huaqing, the man who built the Chinese Navy. Mao personally sent him to Leningrad to learn to build ships. I said to him, "The Russians made very rough, crude weapons". He replied, "You are wrong. They made first-class weapons, equal to the Americans." The Russian mistake was that they put so much into military expenditure and so little into civilian technology. So their economy collapsed. I believe the Chinese leadership have learnt: If you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile, for 40 or 50 years.
On why the western aggression against Yugoslavia has made the world a much more dangerous place
Can the Chinese convince their North Korean ally Kim Jong-Il to get rid of his nuclear program?

Mr. Lee: North Korea is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. The leaders in North Korea believe that their survival depends upon having a bomb -- at least one nuclear bomb. Otherwise, sooner or later, they will collapse and the leaders will be put on trial like Milosevic for all the crimes that they have committed. And they have no intention of letting that happen.
Lee does not say that Milosevic was innocent, nor that he was guilty though you have to read him carefully to spot it, but since I can see no way in which saying in a German magazine that the western powers engaged in war crimes would benefit Singapore I don't think he could have been expected to go further.

I agree with him that so long as as the western powers have no respect for the rule of law (ie that Clinton, Kohl, Blair etc are not brought to trial) any nation (even one as semi-allied to NATO as Yugoslavia was in the 1980s) will ultimately need a Bomb. Stopping proliferation depends on our integrity not our threats.

What China has been doing while the US has been wasting its wealth in a "war on terror" in Iraq.
The Chinese are very conscious of being encircled by allies of America. But they are very good in countering those moves. South Korea today has the largest number of foreign students in China. They see their future in China. So, the only country that's openly on America's side is Japan. All the others are either neutral or friendly to China.
On western democracy
I have to amend it to fit my people's position. In multiracial societies, you don't vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion. Supposing I'd run their system here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese. I would have a constant clash in my Parliament which cannot be resolved because the Chinese majority would always overrule them. So I found a formula that changes that...

& Protestants would vote for Protestants & Hispanics for Hispanics & Germans would blame Jews. Though I am not convinced that he has an inate enthusiasm for democracy he has put his finger on the greatest problem it faces.

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