Singapore’s Role in the Successful Birth of Modern China

Born in 1923, Lee Kuan Yew would become Singapore’s founding father. He was elected its 1st Prime Minister in 1959. After victory in seven elections, Lee stepped down in November 1990, making him the world’s longest-serving prime minister.

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore and Lee offered him advice on how to modernize China, and it wasn’t by following America’s example.


CNN’s Fareed Zakaria talks with Lee Kuan Yew about his life as prime minister of Singapore.

“I want everyone to be a homeowner,” Lee Kuan Yew told CNN’s Zakaria. “I want investments. Do I want to be like America? Yes, in its inventiveness and creativeness, but not like America’s inability to control its drought problem. No! Or the gun problem. No!”

Lee also said, “I believe that during the second half of the 21st century, America will have to share the top spot with China and also India, make space for them, too.”

When Lee is asked by Zakaria if India will have an advantage because it is a democracy and China is not, Lee replies, “Let me put it this way, if India was as well organized as China, it will go a different speed, but it is going at the speed it is because it is India.  It is not one nation. It is many nations. It has 320 different languages and 32 official languages.”

India cannot reach all of its people with one language like Beijing can.

The South China Morning Post reported in 2015, “Singapore’s founder (Lee Kuan Yew) was alone among world leaders in his belief China would emerge as a global power and his views proved prescient. … In his memoirs, Lee makes plain his admiration for the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping who led China’s opening up in 1978. Lee recalled his conversations with Deng, including one that year when Deng visited Singapore. …

“There was nothing that Singapore had done which China could not do, and do better,” Lee wrote. When Deng Xiaoping told the Chinese people to do better than Singapore, Lee knew he had taken up the challenge he had quietly tossed to Deng 14 years earlier.

Mothership reveals “Singapore was special because it represented the achievement of an estranged relative. Nowhere else outside China was there a country with ethnic Chinese in its majority.

“Lee Kuan Yew told (Deng) that if Singapore Chinese who were the descendants of poorly-educated coolies could make good, how much better mainland China could be if the right policies were adopted. …

“On the economic front, China studied Singapore’s developmental experience to glean lessons for itself. … Deng’s visit to Singapore in 1978 had left an indelible imprint on his mind. That year, some 400 delegations from China visited Singapore (to learn more). …”

In addition, “China’s decision to open up the Internet within China (based on how Singapore managed its internet), (by) … keeping the internal universe separate from the universe outside …. (led to) the vibrant (and controlled) cyberspace we now see in China.

“For many years, Singapore was an inspiration to China … Increasingly, however, Singapore has also much to learn from a China that is breaking new grounds in many fields.” Something that Lee Kuan Yew predicted in 1978 when he met with Deng Xiaoping.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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