The People and their Leaders
The least you can say about Singapore is that it is an impressive and successful country by various standards and in spite of recent global experiences in general. It is no secret that this success is mainly down to the personality of one renowned politician; the former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. This is the man behind Singapore’s glory; the man who transformed this small island from a port for pirates into an industrial and service engine on a par with the most important and largest economies in the world. He left his post some years ago after spending no less than 30 years as head of state; administering, planning, excelling, and transitioning his country towards the first world.
Today he has published an important new book offering his strategic political vision for China, the US and the wider world. It is a book published in conjunction with two of Harvard University’s most distinguished professors, namely Graham Allison and Ali Wyne, which reiterates the stature of the man, his thoughts, and the relevance of his views when it comes to major international affairs.
Lee’s opinions, with regards to China in particular, set a precedent in his day. Ever since the 1960s and 1970s he insisted that China was a racehorse for the future, and insisted upon basic Mandarin being taught in the official Singapore curriculum. For a country like Singapore that had just emerged from British colonialism, surrounded left and right by English speakers in a world where English was the global language of trade, this was an incomprehensible move at the time.
But Lee realized that China was a commercial force by nature, as proven by its huge diaspora community around the world and their notable successes and excellence. Thus he reasoned it was only a matter of time before the policy of openness adopted by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, against the teachings of legendary communist leader Mao Zedong, would pay off, because it was consistent with China’s historic nature.
This is what Lee Kuan Yew wagered on. He was sure that China would become a pivotal country both economically and politically because it had already tasted success, and it would be satisfied with nothing other than first place. To this end, it would utilize the enormous cash flow it had generated as a result of ongoing economic successes. Lee also said that China would never be a liberal democracy like those in the West; rather its parliament would simply play an increasing and more advanced role, with a focus on fighting corruption whilst not sacrificing security or the continual development of the country’s education and economy. Lee believed that modern technology would be the most important engine to change the reality in China, and would lead it to change its current method of governance. By the year 2030, 70 or even 75 percent of the population in China’s cities, towns, and villages will have mobile phones or access to the internet and it will not be possible to rule in the same manner as it was in the past.
Lee Kuan Yew is among the exceptional leaders alive today. Other leaders have sought to adopt his vision and apply it to their own countries, like Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia who intends for his state to be the world’s leading industrial power by 2020, and is on track to do so. Likewise there is also the former South African president Nelson Mandela, whose model of governance is legendary. He put forward a genuine national model that united the country on one road on which all parties agreed on, whatever the differences between them. The same goes for Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, who provided an important example of leadership in a country that was at the wrong end of international lists in terms of production, governance and corruption, and the butt of many jokes. Edrogan directed the country towards a single goal, namely to develop its reputation through opening up to its surrounding environment by developing production, industry and services, along with Turkish politics and culture, but without harboring any colonial ambitions.
Let us compare the above examples with figures such as Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad, who were appointed’ to their countries and their people in the name of the Baath party; a deceptive movement that aimed to spread sedition, enslave the people, destroy their neighbors, and transform the country into a huge prison where people were excluded under the slogans of resistance and Arabism. Likewise, Muammar Gaddafi, with his Green Book project, transformed his country into a massive circus known as a Jamahiriya.
When a leader has a great vision, the people gravitate towards them continuously and sustainably. These leaders are the ones who make successful nations, while others are preoccupied with failure, and in his latest book, Lee Kuan Yew reminds us of that.