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Lee Kuan Yew Interview on the Charlie Rose Show


txlaw
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Charlie Rose conducted an hour long interview with Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, on October 22, 2009.  I highly recommend watching it to get some insight into how the global economy will develop this century, particularly with respect to China.  I disagree with him on many issues, but he is a very, very smart man.

 

You can find the interview at www.charlierose.com under the archive tab.  You can also read the transcript at http://www.charlierose.com/download/transcript/10681.

 

 

 

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In this interview, what are the things you disagree ?

 

I disagree with him mostly on his political/foreign policy views.

 

I do not believe we (the U.S.) should just pull out of Afghanistan.  I feel that we must try in good faith to help bring about an optimal solution for the Afghani people since we decided to get involved.  His view on the subject is too Realpolitik for me, which is probably why he's good friends with Kissinger.

 

Also, I'm no expert on foreign policy, but it seems like it would be a bad idea to risk a destabilization of Afghanistan that could spill over into Pakistan and create even more problems than they already have in Pakistan.

 

I also think that his regime was too authoritarian.  He disagrees, as you might expect.

 

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Lee's 2000 & 2004 interviews on Charlie Rose are also worth watching. Interesting insights on terrorism and how the world perceives America and Americans. Even at 86, he continues to display an impressive breadth of knowledge of economics and world affairs. He has slowed down with age and is no longer as eloquent as he used to be but his candour is truly refreshing, for those who are sick of the politicspeak we are so exposed to in the West.

 

Imo, LKY (as he is fondly called by Singaporeans) is to politics what Warren Buffett is to investing. He is a long term thinker, a visionary who sees things than most others miss, and one who will go against popular opinion to do what he thinks is right. Like Buffett, he has lived in the same house for decades, his own home that he continued to live in when he was Prime Minister, if I am not mistaken. Under Lee's stewardship, for a country without any natural resources, Singapore's economic development is almost as outstanding as Berkshire's as a company.

 

Among politicians, his integrity is without peer. There is an amusing story about the time when he raised salaries of cabinet ministers in Singapore to prevent corruption and to attract the best and the brightest into public service. (The current PM gets about US$3m a year). Amid strong criticism, he countered that although he was by far the highest paid leader in South East Asia, he was also by far the poorest (alluding to the corruption in Phillipines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.)

 

His 2-volume autobiography: The Singapore Story, which is also a biography of Singapore, is recommended reading for anyone who wants to know the man and that part of the world better.

 

Btw, I am not Singaporean. ;) And, like Txlaw, I disagree with some of LKY's views but that doesn't reduce my admiration for his achievements and intellect. Singapore is an inconsequential country but Lee's views carry weight among world leaders.

 

 

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Guest Broxburnboy

In this interview, what are the things you disagree ?

 

I disagree with him mostly on his political/foreign policy views.

 

I do not believe we (the U.S.) should just pull out of Afghanistan.  I feel that we must try in good faith to help bring about an optimal solution for the Afghani people since we decided to get involved.  His view on the subject is too Realpolitik for me, which is probably why he's good friends with Kissinger.

 

Also, I'm no expert on foreign policy, but it seems like it would be a bad idea to risk a destabilization of Afghanistan that could spill over into Pakistan and create even more problems than they already have in Pakistan.

 

I also think that his regime was too authoritarian.  He disagrees, as you might expect.

 

 

1. Afghanistan is "destabilized"... it has never been a viable state in the western sense. Racked by tribalism and a medieval mentality, the history of Afghanistan is a history of intertribal conflict and rejection by the provinces of any central authority. As the Russians found out to their great loss.. it doesn't lend itself to status as someone else's colony.

2. Pakistan has not moved much further up the scale in terms of social/political development outside of the main urban areas. The political border between the 2 states is not drawn on tribal lines and consequently ignored by the local tribes. Any effective government in these areas is local, not central, so it is virtually impossible for the federal governments to impose their security or other policies in the regions.

3. The "Afghan people" have diametrically opposing views on what the "solution" is and want to reserve the right to settle it themselves.

4. Given these circumstances and the reputation of Afghanistan as the "graveyards of Empires" the prospects of any invading power to impose any permanent self serving authority there is at best, remote.

5. The cost of such an invasion/occupation will eventually, as it did with the Russians, compel the interlopers to withdraw.

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Lot of interesting points; & in many ways the more things stay the same.

 

Happy to see that commodity prices are tied to the government interest in retaining control, & that the lessons from the fall of the old USSR have taken root. We would far rather a bet on the very strong self interest of the party, than the collective ability of G-8 central bankers  ;)

 

Dictators exist because in many parts of the world they’re a lot safer than democracy. One strong man who puts down all the others, is a lot easier to isolate than 10 contenders, and relatively simple to remove when the time comes. Fairly common practice under English colonialism, & after doing it to so many - they’d clearly worked the bugs out of it!

 

Kind of nice to see the ‘old-skule’ stuff coming back.

 

SD

 

 

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Compare Singapore with all the other countries and South-East Asia and you'll see that you'd better live there than in the other places.

 

Singapore might not be a perfect democracy but Lee Kuan Yew is one of the smartest person I have ever heard and his baby, Singapore, is quite a success. For the history fans, I strongly recommend reading his autobiography. Quite a good read and a good way to better understand the world.

 

For the record, I lived 2 years in Singapore in the mid-90s.

 

Eric

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Lee Kuan Yew = A pragmatic x-dictator with pro-Chinese bias?

 

For obvious reasons, he does not believe in democratic values.

 

He may not practise the American brand of democracy but why do you say that he does not believe in democratic values? Ever since its inception, Singapore has always had democratically elected governments - and these are proper elections untainted by fraud.

 

If you watch the earlier interviews or read his writings/speeches, you will understand why he has gone for his own brand of democracy. His comparison of China with Russia in how they approached reform is instructive - Russia took a more "democratic" route but look where it has got them. Would China be the economic powerhouse we see today if it had taken the Russian path? Would the people be better off?

 

But it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that he advocates that China (and the Chinese leaders do really listen to him) stays forever on this dictatorial platform. All he is saying is that China will have to do it at its own pace, based on what's best for the country and he predicts that personal freedoms will come eventually when the Chinese population becomes increasingly urbanized.

 

This ties in to the advice he gives to America that they should be more accepting of others and their unique ways. Although he does not put it so bluntly, his advice is for Americans to lighten up on their "Father knows best" style of dealing with the rest of the world. (Quite ironic considering that Lee himself practices this type of "Father knows best" leadership in S'pore!) This is especially so given the tendency of Americans to dish out advice without a deep enough understanding of world history - hence his comment about the Chinese response to US advice ("Right, you have a 200 year history and you want to tell a nation with a 5,000 year history what to do? Thanks, but no thanks.")

 

To illustrate this point, think back to the time of the Asian currency crisis when hedge funds from the West bankrupted a few countries in Asia and put a few more on the ropes. US officials were very liberal with their advice and admonitions for those governments not to bail out their financial institutions or to engage in cronyism - "you have to bear the pain, take the IMF medicine and put your house in financial order by not running up deficits." Guess what? Fast forward 12 years, the US experiences its own financial crisis and what does it do?

 

LKY's point is that the US must learn that it doesn't have a lock on wisdom and all the right answers. Your style of democracy may work for you but don't assume that it will work elsewhere without considering local circumstances and history. That's why the "baby democracies" of Iraq and Afghanistan which the US mid-wifed continue to struggle.

 

LKY is smart yet he continues to seek out the advice and opinion of others. Singapore's success is in large part a result of his strategy of attracting the best talent (okay, nepotism is OK also, occasionally ;D). This is part of his genius.

 

Txlaw expresses some concern for his Realpolitik bent. However, in all the time that I have followed politics, I can't think of anyone who achieved success as a leader who did not have this bent - I think the others have simply managed to hide it better.

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1. Afghanistan is "destabilized"... it has never been a viable state in the western sense. Racked by tribalism and a medieval mentality, the history of Afghanistan is a history of intertribal conflict and rejection by the provinces of any central authority. As the Russians found out to their great loss.. it doesn't lend itself to status as someone else's colony.

2. Pakistan has not moved much further up the scale in terms of social/political development outside of the main urban areas. The political border between the 2 states is not drawn on tribal lines and consequently ignored by the local tribes. Any effective government in these areas is local, not central, so it is virtually impossible for the federal governments to impose their security or other policies in the regions.

3. The "Afghan people" have diametrically opposing views on what the "solution" is and want to reserve the right to settle it themselves.

4. Given these circumstances and the reputation of Afghanistan as the "graveyards of Empires" the prospects of any invading power to impose any permanent self serving authority there is at best, remote.

5. The cost of such an invasion/occupation will eventually, as it did with the Russians, compel the interlopers to withdraw.

 

I do not want Afghanistan to become a colony of the U.S.  Nor do I want the U.S. to impose a "permanent self serving authority" in Afghanistan. 

 

I want the U.S. government to at least take into consideration the effect it might have on the non-belligerent civilian population if we decide to withdraw from Afghanistan.  This is where I disagree with LKY because he seems to think that this shouldn't even be a factor.  I feel that some responsibilities attach when you decide to invade countries like Iraq (which was a huge mistake) and Afghanistan.

 

I don't know.  Perhaps the best course of action is to pull out of Afghanistan and let them sort out their own issues.  Maybe the civilians don't want us there, which would support the side that says we should leave.  Or perhaps it would be best to put more people in there to help the civilian government maintain order and protect its citizens from the escalating violence.  This is a tough issue with many people on both sides of the argument. 

 

On top of this, there's the whole election fraud scandal that has called into question the legitimacy of the government.

 

The ultimate decision we should make is outside of my circle of competence.

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This is where I disagree with LKY because he seems to think that this shouldn't even be a factor.  I feel that some responsibilities attach when you decide to invade countries like Iraq (which was a huge mistake) and Afghanistan.

 

I used to feel the same way as you do - that the US had to show to the world that it was an honorable power by building a newer and better Afghanistan. But LKY may be right. It may not be that he doesn't care about Afghanistan. He may simply understand the reality of the situation better. If the Afghans, even after experiencing the brutality of Taliban rule, still do not realise the urgency of preventing a Taliban resurgence, no amount of US support can change anything. Right now, it seems like the Afghan leaders are content to let the US do the heavy lifting while taking advantage of the security provided to enrich themselves.

 

So, perhaps he is looking at the bigger picture and thinking that the US should conserve its limited political and financial capital for more promising causes - the Israeli-Palestinian problem for starters.

 

Unfortunately, this is not a SAT question and there are no simple answers.

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If the Afghans, even after experiencing the brutality of Taliban rule, still do not realise the urgency of preventing a Taliban resurgence, no amount of US support can change anything. Right now, it seems like the Afghan leaders are content to let the US do the heavy lifting while taking advantage of the security provided to enrich themselves.

 

So, perhaps he is looking at the bigger picture and thinking that the US should conserve its limited political and financial capital for more promising causes - the Israeli-Palestinian problem for starters.

 

You could be right about that. 

 

I actually saw yesterday that Tom Friedman of the NYT essentially expressed that very same view in an op-ed, and he definitely takes into account the plight of the Afghanis. 

 

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Do not agree with LKY on this.

 

If US withdraws from Afghanistan, the Mullah Omar/Bin laden are ready to take over again.

If that happens imagine the loss of credibility and how Bin laden will be viewed in moslem world.

 

Maybe after the top leadership of Taliban, Al Qaeda is caught and killed USA can withdraw from Afghanistan.

 

Otherwise, Pakistan, Iran, China will do anything to resurrect pre 9/11 afghanistan..

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Hi,

 

As a Singaporean, I wish to give my take on this.

 

Firstly, Lee Kuan Yew is a smart guy. One of his key strengths is his ability to absorb enormous amounts of information. He professes to a big believer in reading (read, read and read)

 

In recent years, he's been promoting himself as "statesman" with his foreign policy experience of almost 40 years and intimate knowledge of South East Asian and East Asian politics. As a leader, he is known as being decisive and having foresight with an autocratic bent.

 

But have to point out, in an effort to move Singapore into the First World, it came at a heavy cost. He has been known to jail dissidents for years without a trial. In one case, a dissident who dared to challenge him was subsequently jailed for 23 years with a trial.More information can be found here.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chia_Thye_Poh

 

In addition, by beating any form of opposition into submission, he could implement policies almost overnight without the need to engage in the democratic process. Lastly, much of the success enjoyed by Singapore was due to riding on the back of the Asian tigers (Taiwan, Japan and Korea) by adopting an export driven economy.

 

Personally speaking, having such an autocratic system will probably not be sustainable in the long run. Winston Churchill once said "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried"

 

Best regards,

ageofsocrates

 

 

 

 

 

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Age of Socrates,

 

Interesting moniker but find it hard to think that it is appropriate for our times with all the irrationality around! :)

 

You are right about democracy being the best form of govt despite its flaws. Niebuhr said it best: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."

 

You mentioned the success of Taiwan and Korea.* But they were no more democratic than S'pore. Add Hongkong, Dubai (the UAE, technically) and China which are not democracies. Chile is another. These countries have the most outstanding growth records in the 20th century and they did it BECAUSE they were not full-fledged democracies. Benevolent dictatorships work spectacularly well - of course, the problem with dictatorships is that you don't get to choose your dictators!

 

Philosophical arguments aside, I think history will judge LKY very favourably in that he did much more good than bad. He turned a chountry with few resources into one with world class education, healthcare, infrastructure and financial systems. Poverty is low, home ownership is high and corruption is one of the lowest in the world. Just compare how her peers in the 1960s (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Phillipines) have done inspite of having more natural resources.

 

It's true e has used heavy handed (but legal) tactics against the opposition but Chia Thye Poh's case is different. Chia subscribed to communist (and therefore undemocratic!) ideals and refused to renounce the use of violence to overthrow the govt. This was the only condition that prevented his early release.

 

Singapore would not be what it is today if not for LKY and his uncompromising style (it might even be a junior state in Malaysia!). I agree with you that S'pore has to "lighten up" going forward - they are already doing that (the youtube videos of comedians making fun of the govt would have been unthinkable a few years ago.)

 

Regards,

oec

 

*Singapore's success came not from riding on the back of the other Asian tigers but from adopting a similar strategy of exporting to the West.

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