Being a close friend of Mr Lee Kuan Yew is 'one of the great blessings of my life': Henry Kissinger

Being a close friend of Mr Lee Kuan Yew is 'one of the great blessings of my life': Henry Kissinger
Elder US statesmen Dr Henry Kissinger gives Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (left) a hug just before Mr Lee was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the US-Asean Business Council for fostering US-Asean ties in October, 2009.

Former US Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger has paid tribute to Singapore former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in an eulogy published in the Washington Post.

Mr Lee died on March 23 at the Singapore General Hospital where he had been warded for severe pneumonia since Feb 5. He was 91.

Mr Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, is a close personal friend of Mr Lee, a fact that he considers "one of the great blessings of my life", Mr Kissinger, 91, wrote.

Mr Kissinger recounted how Mr Lee defied conventional wisdom when he decided that Singapore would leave Malaya and form an independent state.

"The 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."

On Mr Lee's role in building Singapore, Mr Kissinger wrote: "A great leader takes his or her society from where it is to where it has never been - indeed, where it as yet cannot imagine being."

"In a generation, Singapore became an international financial centre, the leading intellectual metropolis of Southeast Asia, the location of the region's major hospitals and a favoured site for conferences on international affairs."

Describing a visit by Mr Lee to Washington "a kind of national event", Mr Kissinger wrote: "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."

Noting that although Mr Lee was not a man of many sentimental words, Mr Kissinger said 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."

Mr Kissinger ended his eulogy by equating Mr Lee's devotion to his beloved wife Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who died in 2010, to his dedication to the world.

When Mrs Lee had a stroke, Mr Kissinger wrote, "Lee sat by her bedside in the evening reading to her. He had faith that she understood despite the evidence to the contrary."

"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."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a Facebook post on March 24, said it was a moving eulogy.


This article was first published on March 24, 2015.
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