Magazine Article - The Australian

Be Wary of Rising China, Says Lee Kuan Yew

| February 19, 2013

Lee Kuan Yew, the retired Singapore leader who remains hugely influential in Asia, insists in a new book that the US will revive economically and strategically - and he expresses concern about China’s rise.

He says “America’s core interest requires that it remains the superior power” in the region, which is subject to a 21st-century “contest for supremacy” with China. And “America’s creativity, resilience and innovative spirit will allow it to confront its core problems, overcome them, and regain competitiveness”. But its “Asia pivot” points to policy problems, he says in Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World, a collection of interviews and other material by Graham Allison, Robert Blackwill and Ali Wyne.

Mr. Lee, 89, whose son Lee Hsien Loong is the Singapore Prime Minister, says: “If the US wants to substantially affect the strategic evolution of Asia, it cannot come and go.”

The very name China, he says - Middle Kingdom - recalls a region in which it was dominant, “when other states related to them as supplicants to a superior”.

“Will an industrialized and strong China be as benign to Southeast Asia as the US has been since 1945? Singapore is not sure. Neither is Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand or Vietnam.”

He says “many small and medium countries in Asia are concerned. They are uneasy that China may want to resume the imperial status it had in earlier centuries, and have misgivings as being treated as vassal states”.

“China tells us that countries big or small are equal, that it is not a hegemon,” Mr Lee writes. “But when we do something they do not like, they say you have made 1.3 billion people unhappy. So please know your place.”

He says “the Chinese must avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan. Their competition for power, influence and resources led in the last century to two terrible wars. The Russian mistake was that they put so much into military expenditure and so little into civilian technology that their economy collapsed.

“I believe the Chinese leadership has learned that if you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So keep your head down, and smile for 40 or 50 years.”

He anticipates that “China will inevitably catch up to the US in absolute gross domestic product. But its creativity may never match America’s because its culture does not permit a free exchange and contest of ideas”.

China is not going to become a liberal democracy, he says. “If it did, it would collapse. If you believe there is going to be a revolution of some sort in China for democracy, you are wrong.” To achieve modernization, he says, “China’s communist leaders are prepared to try every method except for democracy with one person and one vote in a multi-party system.” For the party believes it needs a monopoly on power for stability. It fears a loss of control by the centre over the provinces.

Mr. Lee says of the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping: “He is reserved - not in the sense that he will not talk to you but in the sense that he will not betray his likes and dislikes. There is always a pleasant smile on his face, whether or not you have said something that annoyed him. He has iron in his soul.”
 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham, Robert D. Blackwill and Ali Wyne. “Be Wary of Rising China, Says Lee Kuan Yew.” The Australian, February 19, 2013.