INTERNATIONAL

Lee’s Singapore model seen as benchmark for China

Lee Kuan Yew (left) welcomes Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping in Singaporein September 1978.— PHOTO: AP

Lee Kuan Yew (left) welcomes Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping in Singaporein September 1978.— PHOTO: AP  

The passing of Lee Kuan Yew is resonating powerfully in China, which has viewed the city-state’s model of “benevolent dictatorship” as a reference point for its own reforms in the post-Mao era.

On Wednesday, unlike India and many other countries, the Chinese foreign ministry declined to name Beijing’s representative at Sunday’s funeral of the late Singaporean leader. But it did signal that the Chinese establishment was deeply deliberating on ensuring a befitting presence at the solemn event, which was set to draw a galaxy of world leaders.

Admiration

The Chinese have long admired Singapore’s model of authoritarian rule and good governance, which has achieved the rare feet of generating astounding prosperity without sacrificing inclusivity.

“For years, China’s leaders have been obsessed with learning from Singapore’s success. The city-state has maintained single-party rule with popular legitimacy, retained good governance with an uncorrupted bureaucracy, and delivered inclusive growth with equal opportunities for its people in a harmonious, multiracial society,” wrote the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post .

Analysts say that since China’s departure from orthodox Maoism in the late 1970s, many senior officials have visualised Singapore’s model of “managed democracy” as the Communist Party’s final objective.

The personal chemistry between Lee and the Deng Xiaoping, China’s revered leader, and architect of reforms, laid the foundation for a bond, which fed into Singapore’s attraction as a political and administrative role model. Deng, then Vice-Premier, visited Singapore in November, 1978; two years after Lee made his first visit to China, where he managed a brief handshake with the ailing chairman Mao Zedong.

A special relationship with Deng triggered a spate of China visits — 33 in all — where Lee met five generations of Chinese leaders. That developed in him a unique insight into the complex forces that drive the Middle Kingdom.

Taking advantage of his characteristic ability to build a relationship of trust with Beijing and Washington simultaneously, Lee became a natural intermediary during times of crisis.

‘One of their own’

The Singapore government hosted the first direct talks between mainland China and Taiwan in 1992 — a durable legacy that led to sustained cross-strait relations for the next two decades. Lee was also tireless in bluntly telling Western leaders that China would never become a Western-style democracy, though openings for popular participation may expand over the years.

Outside the citadels of the elite, many ordinary Chinese saw Lee as one of their own. The great grandfather of the Singaporean patriarch belonged to Dabu county in Guangdong province, 500 km from Guangzhou, a premier trading hub.

Xinhua reported that Lee’s family belonged to the Hakka ethnic group, which has migrated in droves to Singapore, mostly from Dabu. Lee’s espousal of “Asian values”, rooted in Chinese Confucian mores, has also resonated well among Chinese.

Singapore is “an example of how Eastern culture, Chinese culture in particular, can be successfully integrated with Western culture for a prosperous nation,” observed an editorial in the state run China Daily . In its tribute, the People’s Daily — the official newspaper of the Chinese government — said that Beijing has been inspired by how Lee managed the smooth and orderly succession of power in the city-state since his retirement in 1990.



‘Singapore is an example of how Eastern culture, Chinese culture in particular, can be successfully integrated with Western culture for a prosperous nation’



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