Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Henry Kissinger on Lee Kuan Yew

Chaotic world will miss Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership: Kissinger

SINGAPORE — “Lee Kuan Yew was a great man. And he was a close personal friend, a fact that I consider one of the great blessings of my life. A world needing to distil order from incipient chaos will miss his leadership.”

Those are the first three lines of a moving eulogy — as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called it — by former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, himself a giant in global diplomatic circles.

Writing in the Washington Post, Dr Kissinger said that Mr Lee emerged onto the international stage as Singapore’s founding father and developed into a world statesman who acted as a kind of conscience to leaders around the globe.

Paying tribute to a colleague and friend he had known for more than four decades, Dr Kissinger recalled that fate initially did not appear to have provided Mr Lee with a platform to succeed, as he described Singapore’s turbulent post-colonial years which saw the Republic kicked out of Malaysia.

“It was cut loose because of tensions between Singapore’s largely Chinese population and the Malay majority and, above all, to teach the fractious city a lesson of dependency. Malaya undoubtedly expected that reality would cure Singapore of its independent spirit,” wrote Dr Kissinger.

“But great men become such through visions beyond material calculations. Lee defied conventional wisdom by opting for statehood,” he wrote, adding that Mr Lee’s choice reflected a deep faith in the virtues of his people.

“He asserted that a city located on a sandbar with nary an economic resource to draw upon, and whose major industry as a colonial naval base had disappeared, could nevertheless thrive and achieve international stature by building on its principal asset: The intelligence, industry and dedication of its people.”

Dr Kissinger, who was the US Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977, said that Mr Lee took Singapore to places it had never been, turning it into a global financial centre with quality education, no corruption and a high per capita income for her people.

“Superior performance was one component of that achievement”, said Dr Kissinger. “Superior leadership was even more important. As the decades went by, it was moving — and inspirational — to see Lee, in material terms the mayor of a medium-size city, bestride the international scene as a mentor of global strategic order.

“A visit by Lee to Washington was a kind of national event,” he added. “A presidential conversation was nearly automatic; eminent members of the Cabinet and Congress would seek meetings. They did so not to hear of Singapore’s national problems; Lee rarely, if ever, lobbied policymakers for assistance. His theme was the indispensable US contribution to the defence and growth of a peaceful world. His interlocutors attended not to be petitioned but to learn from one of the truly profound global thinkers of our time.”

Dr Kissinger said as a pilgrim in quest of world order and responsible leadership, Mr Lee understood China’s relevance and potential and often contributed to the enlightenment of the world on this subject.

“But in the end, he insisted that without the United States there could be no stability.”

Dr Kissinger added that in his dealings with Mr Lee over 45 years, the former prime minister was never emotional. Neither was Mr Lee a man of many sentimental words. “And he nearly always spoke of substantive matters. But one could sense his attachment. A conversation with Lee, whose life was devoted to service and who spent so much of his time on joint explorations, was a vote of confidence that sustained one’s sense of purpose.”

Dr Kissinger noted that Mr Lee’s domestic methods “fell short of the prescriptions of current US constitutional theory”.

“But so, in fairness, did the democracy of Thomas Jefferson’s time, with its limited franchise, property qualifications for voting and slavery.

“This is not the occasion to debate what other options were available”, Dr Kissinger wrote. “Had Singapore chosen the road of its critics, it might well have collapsed among its ethnic groups, as the example of Syria teaches today.”

Dr Kissinger ended with a moving note on Mr Lee’s wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo.

“The great tragedy of Lee’s life was that his beloved wife was felled by a stroke that left her a prisoner in her body, unable to communicate or receive communication. Through all that time, Lee sat by her bedside in the evening reading to her. He had faith that she understood despite the evidence to the contrary,” Dr Kissinger wrote.

“Perhaps this was Lee Kuan Yew’s role in his era. He had the same hope for our world. He fought for its better instincts even when the evidence was ambiguous. But many of us heard him and will never forget him.”

Dr Kissinger’s words moved Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to comment on the eulogy on his Facebook page yesterday (March 24).

“Henry Kissinger was an old and close friend of my father’s,” the Prime Minister wrote.

“They first met in 1967, when my father was taking a sabbatical in Harvard, and Kissinger was still a professor. They kept close ever since, in and out of office. When my father was ill recently, Kissinger wanted to visit his old friend one more time, but sadly my father was not in a condition to receive him. Now he has written this moving eulogy to my father.” 

My comment: Yup, LKY has always been a straight talker. If you watch his speeches, etc, throughout his career, you'll find that LKY was one mighty consistent fella. His beliefs, analyses, etc. Singapore and the world will miss him.  

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