Lee Kuan Yew the statesman

Lee Kuan Yew the statesman
THE STATESMAN: Mr Lee Kuan Yew meeting (clockwise from left) Mao Zedong, Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, and Mahathir Mohamad

For decades, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was an important player in Asia's economic emergence, who forged an enduring partnership with the US and contributed to the reformation and opening of China's economy.

The authority of his views comes from the success of Singapore's socio-economic transformation and from the high regard in which he has long been held by leaders in the US, China and elsewhere.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger praised Mr Lee as 'an indispensable friend of the United States', while Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to him as 'our senior who has our respect'.


It was in Cambridge University that Mr Lee met future leaders such as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who up to the time she died, called him by his English name, Harry.

Mrs Thatcher was quoted as saying in 1998: "In office, I read and analysed every speech of Harry's. He had a way of penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our times and the way to tackle them. He was never wrong."


Mr Lee was one of the few world leaders who had personal encounters with several generations of Chinese leaders - from Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping to current President Xi Jinping.

In November 1978, Mr Deng visited Singapore and was impressed by its economic development, greenery and housing. He later sent Chinese officials here to learn from our experience.

Mr Lee and Mr Deng had mutual respect and admiration that cemented a special relationship between Singapore's founding father and China's great reformer. Mr Lee also became the go-to person on China.


Mr Lee was a counsellor to every US president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama.

In 2011, he was presented the Lincoln Medal, an award which honours those whose accomplishments exemplify the legacy of America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

Mr Lee was the first Asian to receive the annual award.

I personally appreciated his wisdom, including our discussions during my trip to Singapore in 2009, which were hugely important in helping me formulate our policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific.

- US President Barack Obama


There are few individuals whose observations on the US-China relationship received equal attention on both sides of the Pacific - Dr Henry Kissinger is one, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was another.

The two men were close. For more than 40 years, there was friendship and mutual respect.

Mr Lee talked on the phone with Dr Kissinger at least once every two months. They mostly talked about China or about other current political issues.

When Mrs Lee died, Dr Kissinger called Mr Lee and this touched him.

In profiling Mr Lee for Time magazine's 2010 list of the world's 100 most influential people, Dr Kissinger observed: "There is no better strategic thinker."


It was a love-hate relationship between Mr Lee and his then Malaysian counterpart, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Calling him "a big frog in a small pond", Dr Mahathir said: "People look at him as an intellectual, as something more than just an ordinary politician, so he is always invited to give his views on things, and to that extent he is... bigger than Singapore.

This article was first published on March 28, 2015.
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