I am disappointed that the Straits Times did not give a full report of Lee Kuan Yew’s talk at the Standard Chartered Singapore Forum yesterday where he shared the stage with the former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.
The two reports on the Straits Times’ page 3 did not mention what he said when asked about China-India relations. You can see it in this video, shown on the Straits Times’ own website.
India does not have the same dynamism as China for many reasons, he said. “First, because they are not one nation, they are multiple nations.” India does not have “one cohesive core, as you have in China”.
China, he said, “has organically developed over the centuries, 90 per cent Han… So when you speak in China, everybody understands you. If you speak in India, if you speak in Hindi, you will be (garbled) by about 200 million in Northern India. If you speak in English, again you have about 200 million of the educated. So that sense of oneness is not there.So there is no comparison. One is organically developed over a million years, over 4,000 years, the other was only recently put together by the British…”
The importance he gives to this sense of oneness may be key to his political philosophy and Singapore’s development under his long leadership. He brooked no opposition, it is said, as he went about building a multiracial former British colony into one nation. And he succeeded. Singapore is one nation.
I admire him. It’s impossible to describe the emotions I felt watching him speak so haltingly. He is 89 years old but still so acute.
There is no denying the fissiparous tendencies and separatist movements in India.
He is right in stressing the importance of oneness — of having “one cohesive core”.
But can you imagine what the world would have been like had everybody held the same views, shared the same thoughts?
There would be no new ideas, no innovations.
We would still believe the sun revolves around the Earth because there would have been no Galileo.
People would not have embraced Christianity, Buddhism, Islam: they would have continued following whatever religions existed earlier.
The Americas, Africa, the Far East and Oceania would not have had intercourse with the Europeans because no one would have thought of circumnavigating the globe.
Singapore would have remained a Malay settlement because the British would not have come to the island and brought the Chinese and Indians with them.
And you wouldn’t be reading me online because there would have been no internet.
Singapore would not be the Singapore we see today had Lee Kuan Yew not led it out of the status quo. From a colony, it became a free nation, one of the richest countries in the world, a financial capital with world-class universities, advanced technologies and rich multinationals under his leadership.
He stresses the importance of oneness, but it was he who bucked the trend.
He was the great contrarian. When other leaders in the post-colonial world were distancing themselves from the West, nationalizing industries, he had the vision to welcome multinationals and remain a Western ally. And Singapore has benefited from his policies.
Now other countries are doing what Singapore did, seeking foreign investment, welcoming multinationals.
Lee Kuan Yew had the foresight to think unlike other post-colonial leaders.
Singapore would not be the Singapore we see today had he been like the others.
Unity and solidarity are all very fine, but it is the non-conformists who make a difference by having new ideas. That is possible only when you think unlike the rest.