'Lion among leaders' and 'inspiration' to Asians

'Lion among leaders' and 'inspiration' to Asians

FROM Washington to Canberra, the world mourned the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, described as one of "the greatest leaders" of our times, a "lion among leaders" and an "inspiration" to Asians.

"Lee Kuan Yew was a legendary figure in Asia, widely respected for his strong leadership and statesmanship," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in a statement, leading the reaction of world leaders.

"As Singapore marks its 50th anniversary of independence this year, its founding father will be remembered as one of the most inspiring Asian leaders."

Leaders in the world's most powerful nation also expressed grief at Mr Lee's death, with past and present US presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama issuing condolence notes.

"He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one of the great strategists of Asian affairs," Mr Obama said in tribute, as he expressed resounding appreciation for the Singapore statesman whose voice continued to be heard long after he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990.

"Our discussions during my trip to Singapore in 2009 were hugely important in helping me formulate our policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific," he said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank also joined in saluting the departed Singapore leader, who famously took his nation from Third World to First World during his lifetime.

"He was a visionary statesman whose uncompromising stand for meritocracy, efficiency and education transformed Singapore into one of the most prosperous nations in the world," IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said in Washington.

The World Bank praised Mr Lee for transforming Singapore.

"He tackled corruption relentlessly and held public servants to the highest standards," said the World Bank's chief executive officer, Mr Jim Yong Kim. "More importantly, he showed that economic development could provide opportunities and improve the lives of a country's citizens."

Mr Lee, who was the last surviving of the Asian titans who brought independence from European colonial rule to their nations, was also one of the five founding leaders of ASEAN, along with those from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Yesterday, South-east Asian leaders stood as one to express appreciation for a personality whose vision and diplomacy helped provide stability for a region that emerged as a growth model for the world during his time.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose nation is ASEAN's largest by area and economic size, described Mr Lee as a close friend of Indonesia and said he would travel to the Republic for Mr Lee's funeral.

"As a leader and a great statesman who loved his people, he was also one of the most influential politicians in Asia," Mr Joko told reporters in Tokyo, where he is on a bilateral visit.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak wrote on Facebook that "founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew's achievements were great, and his legacy is assured".

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Johor Sultan's coronation later, he said Mr Lee had the ability to contribute concrete ideas in various fields.

Datuk Seri Najib said he did not think Mr Lee's death would impact bilateral ties because current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is committed to strengthening the bilateral relationship.

Thailand's royal family and leaders also sent their condolences yesterday. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha will be in Singapore for Mr Lee's funeral on Sunday.

Much of the region's early prosperity is often linked to investments from Japan in the 1970s and 1980s.

Called the "flying geese model", this had Japan as lead goose, with newly industrialising South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore close behind, followed by the developing economies of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Yesterday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Mr Lee, who is "revered all over the world", played a key role not only in achieving Singapore's remarkable economic growth and prosperity but also in securing the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

Mr Lee was "one of the greatest leaders of modern times that Asia has ever produced", he said.

In China and India, Asia's big tectonic plates where Mr Lee was familiar to every leader in their modern history, the tributes were fulsome as well.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Mr Lee had been widely respected by the international community as a strategist and statesman and called him "founder, pioneer and promoter of China-Singapore relations".

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to the Singaporean figure.

"A far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life teaches valuable lessons to everyone," tweeted Mr Modi, who uses the social media site for most of his public pronouncements.

velloor@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 24, 2015.
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