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Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World

| Feb. 01, 2013

When Lee Kuan Yew speaks, who listens? Presidents, prime ministers, chief executives, and all who care about global strategy.

Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, two leading strategic thinkers,asked Lee Kuan Yew the toughest questions that matter most to thoughtful Americans weighing the challenges of the next quarter century. Drawing on their in-depth interviews with Lee as well as his voluminous writings and speeches, the authors extract the essence of his visionary thinking. The questions and answers that constitute the core of the book cover topics including the futures of China and the United States, U.S.-China relations, India, and globalization.

Lee Kuan Yew does not retell the well-known story of Singapore’s birth and growth to first-world status. Nor do the authors interject their own thoughts or try to psychoanalyze Lee. Instead, they present his strategic insights in his own words. The result is textured and comprehensive, yet direct and succinct. Allison and Blackwill bring to bear their own experience as veteran government officials and senior scholars; their questions focus on essential policy choices as the U.S. pivots toward Asia.

Lee, the founding father of modern Singapore and its prime minister from 1959 to 1990, has honed his wisdom during more than a half century on the world stage. He has served as a mentor to every Chinese leader from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, and as a counselor to every U.S. president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. With his uniquely authoritative perspective on the geopolitics of East and West, Lee does not pull his punches.

A few examples:

  • Are China’s leaders serious about displacing the U.S. as Asia’s preeminent power in the foreseeable future? “Of course. Why not? Their reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force.”
  • Will China accept its place within the postwar order created by the United States? “No. It is
    China’s intention to become the greatest power in the world—and to be accepted as China, not as an honorary member of the West.”
  • Will India match China’s rise? “Not likely. India is not a real country. Instead, it is 32 separate nations that happen to be arrayed along the British rail line.”
  • On competition between East and West: “Westerners have abandoned an ethical basis for society, believing that all problems are solvable by a good government. . . . In the East, we start with self-reliance.”


“Lee’s powerful intellect is captured in a new book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. It’s a collection of interviews with him by Harvard University professor Graham Allison, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Robert Blackwill and Harvard’s Belfer Center researcher Ali Wyne, while also drawing on other selected and cited writings by and about Lee. Now 89, officially retired and somewhat frail, Lee has mellowed with age — not unlike his creation Singapore, governed today with a lighter touch even as its citizens grow more vocal. Yet, as the book, and the adaptation here of the China chapter, reveal, Lee is as sharp, direct and prescient as ever. Though the volume was completed before China’s current territorial tensions with its neighbors, it helps expose, and explain, Beijing's hardball mind-set.”
TIME magazine, February 4, 2013

“Graham Allison and Bob Blackwill have important questions to ask about China, America and the extraordinary impact of the relationship of those two countries on the rest of the world. For answers, they turned to Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first premier and one of the world's most formidable geopolitical thinkers and strategists. The result is a fascinating book called Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World.”
Ian Bremmer, Reuters, February 20, 2013

“The question of whether nations can learn from history nag policymakers around the world. Part of the problem is that history is handed down through a variety of interpretations that do not reflect reality. But contemporary history, if genuine presented, can offer policy makers with lessons they can learn from. This is the central message in the newly released book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World, by Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, with Ali Wyne. This is a contemporary account of Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking as told through a series of interviews. His central message is that history can repeat itself in a positive way if the world community pays attention to contemporary lessons.”
Calestous Juma,January 30, 2013 (“Development: Learning from Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew”)

Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World forms a kind of last testament of the ailing, 89-year-old Mr. Lee. It is based on interviews with Mr. Lee by the authors—Graham Allison, a professor of government at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Robert Blackwill, a former U.S. diplomat—to which the authors add a distillation of Mr. Lee’s speeches, writings and interviews with others over many years.

The book focuses forward on Mr. Lee’s prognostications, not backward on his accomplishments. Messrs. Allison and Blackwill refrain from commentary on the man and his ideas, letting readers interpret for themselves.”
 Karen Elliott House, The Wall Street Journal

“The new book on Lee Kuan Yew’s views on China and its geopolitical influence on the global stage shows, again, why he is still one if the world’s most lucid thinkers. . . . [A] perceptive and concise read, detailing the wisdom of a man who has been at the political forefront for close to 50 years. . . . [The] question-and-answer format [is] an ideal one—his responses were mostly short, sweet and most importantly, smart. . . . [This book will] educate and enlighten by condensing the man’s vast intellect into accessible nuggets of information.”
Dazzlyn Koh in Prestige, June 2013 (“A Yew World Order”)

“[A]fter reading a good 20 pages, readers will be mesmerised by Lee’s lucidity and entertained by his acerbic tongue. After all, he is a good critic because he is not wholly shaped by ideology, nor does he try to be politically correct. . . . The final chapter, 'How Lee Kuan Yew Thinks’, reveals the human side of this formidable man and is a must-read. . . this book is a good read not only for students of politics, but also for readers interested in strategic thinking. Right-wing activists and liberal thinkers alike should read this book because gifted authoritarian figures such as Lee are increasingly rare.”
Anchalee Kongrut in Bangkok Post, April 29, 2013 (“Lee Kuan Yew serves up controversial views on China, the US and radical Islam”)

“I found myself engrossed this week by the calm, incisive wisdom of one of the few living statesmen in the world who can actually be called visionary. The wisdom is in a book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World, a gathering of Mr. Lee’s interviews, speeches and writings… He is now 89, a great friend of America, and his comments on the U.S. are pertinent to many of the debates in which we’re enmeshed.”
 Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

“The authors, a team of eminent strategy thinkers, took the opportunity of recording [Lee Kuan Yew’s] views on the world, and the way it’s likely to take shape over the next quarter century. The result is this concise, but important book, that looks at the futures of China, the US and India, as well as important contemporary issues, from globalisation and democracy to Islamic extremism—all delivered in Lee’s characteristically incisive, and occasionally politically incorrect manner.”
 Anvar Alikhan, Outlook

“The authors…emphasize the fact that the statesmen of dozens of countries, including those that compete with each other, appreciate Lee’s wisdom and want to assimilate his experience. In particular, Lee has been an adviser to a number of U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama. He has also advised Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping and the current president, Xi Jinping. . . . In spite of its global scope, the book contains valuable advice on how to build an effective public administration system.”
Simon Saradjyan in Russia in Global Affairs [Russian], March 10, 2013 (“Борьба за лучшие умы”)

“Whether you agree with him or not, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew is a great man. [He is] a straightforward man with straightforward talk, [who] will not beat around the bush so [this book is] very fun to read . . . As an introductory book about Lee Kuan Yew, this is a very good choice.”
Liao Jianming in South China Morning Post, May 7, 2013 

“The book is a peek into the past, a mini-encyclopedia of Lee’s statements, speeches, magazine articles (and so on), that is stirred into a bouillabaisse for beginners. . . . More than just an exceptional mind, Lee is a force of nature. Up close and personal, he can charm your human-rights arguments away with dialectical subtlety, or blow you away with one overpowering dismissive glare. Has there ever been anyone like him?”
Tom Plate in South China Morning Post [English], March 17, 2013 (“Book review: Lee Kuan Yew”)

Lee Kuan Yew (MIT Press, 2012) focuses on the insightful, expansive views of Singapore’s first prime minister (from 1959-90), who is known as the founder of modern Singapore and who remains an astute observer of world events. . . His observations are acerbic: India’s economic potential won’t be realized as long as it retains a stultifying bureaucracy and hidebound caste system—and, he insists, ‘Multiculturalism will destroy America’ (though he also worries about our propensity for guns, drugs, and 'unbecoming behavior in public’).”
James Clyde SellmanColloquy

“The contribution of Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World to the debate about Asia’s future is unique…[It] sets down the thoughts of an 89-year-old veteran of 20th century history with much to say about the future. The book is densely packed with Lee’s characteristically blunt assessments of issues, countries and people. The text has been deftly assembled and extensively footnoted.”
Stephen Minas,LSE Review of Books

“In a recent publication Lee Kuan Yew, the Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World—a compilation of interviews and selections by Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill with Ali Wynn, published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government—the former prime minister of Singapore had this to say: ‘China’s emphasis is on expanding their influence through the economy. In the geopolitical sense they are more concerned now with using diplomacy in their foreign policy, not force’.”
Ramon J. Farolan in Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 26th, 2013 (“A Sense of Urgency”)

“Lee excels in pithy evaluations of regional and national strengths and weaknesses. At his best, the man is a cross between Confucius and Machiavelli.”
Aram Bakshian Jr.Washington Times

“Required reading for Presidents Obama and Xi.”
Kobsak Chutikul in Bangkok Post, June 15th, 2013 (“Period of benign drift may be best for Asia”)

“The book belongs on the reading list of every world leader.”
The Commercial Press, Hong Kong

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Adapted from Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. Interviews and selections by Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill, with Ali Wyne. 

  • Are Chinese leaders serious about displacing the U.S. as the No. 1 power in Asia and, eventually, in the world?

    Of course. Why not? They have transformed a poor society by an economic miracle to become now the second-largest economy in the world—on track, as Goldman Sachs has predicted, to become the world’s largest economy. They have followed the American lead in putting people in space and shooting down satellites with missiles. Theirs is a culture 4,000 years old, with 1.3 billion people, with a huge and very talented pool to draw from. How could they not aspire to be No. 1 in Asia, and in time the world? The Chinese people have raised their expectations and aspirations. Every Chinese wants a strong and rich China, a nation as prosperous, advanced, and technologically competent as America, Europe and Japan. This reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force. Unlike other emergent countries, China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West. The Chinese will want to share this century as coequals with the U.S.

  • How will China’s behavior toward other countries change if China becomes the dominant Asian power?

    At the core of their mindset is their world before colonization and the exploitation and humiliation that brought. In Chinese, “China” means “Middle Kingdom,” recalling a world in which they were dominant in the region, when other states related to them as supplicants to a superior and vassals came to Beijing bearing tribute. Will an industrialized and strong China be as benign to Southeast Asia as the U.S. has been since 1945? Singapore is not sure. Neither is Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand or Vietnam. We already see aChina more self-assured and willing to take tough positions. The concern of America is what kind of world they will face when China is able to contest their preeminence. Many medium and small countries in Asia are also concerned. They are uneasy that China may want to resume the imperial status it had in earlier centuries and have misgivings about being treated as vassal states having to send tribute to China as they used to in past centuries. They tell us that countries big or small are equal; we are not a hegemon. But when we do something they do not like, they say you have made 1.3 billion people unhappy. So please know your place.

  • What is China’s strategy for becoming No. 1?

    The Chinese have concluded that their best strategy is to build a strong and prosperous future, and use their huge and increasingly highly skilled and educated workers to outsell and outbuild all others. They will avoid any action that will sour relations with the United States. To challenge a stronger and technologically superior power will abort their “peaceful rise.” The Chinese have calculated that they need 30 to 40—maybe 50—years of peace and quiet to catch up, build up their system, and change it from the communist system to the market system. They must avoid the mistakes made byGermany 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, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile for 40 or 50 years. My first reaction to the phrase “peaceful rise” was to tell one of their think tanks, “it is a contradiction in terms; any rise is something that is startling.”

  • What are the major hurdles in executing that strategy?

    There will be enormous stresses because of the size of the country and the intractable nature of the problems: the poor infrastructure, the weak institutions, the wrong systems that they have installed, modeling themselves upon the Soviet system in Stalin’s time. Straight-line extrapolations from [their] remarkable record are not realistic. China has more handicaps going forward and more obstacles to overcome than most observers recognize. Chief among these are their problems of governance: the absence of the rule of law, which in today’s China is closer to the rule of the emperor; a huge country in which little emperors across a vast expanse exercise great local influence; cultural habits that limit imagination and creativity, rewarding conformity; a language that shapes thinking through epigrams and 4,000 years of texts that suggest everything worth saying has already been said, and said better by earlier writers; a language that is exceedingly difficult for foreigners to learn sufficiently to embrace China and be embraced by its society; and severe constraints on its ability to attract and assimilate talent from other societies in the world.

    China will inevitably catch up to the U.S. in absolute GDP. But its creativity may never match America’s because its culture does not permit a free exchange and contest of ideas. How else to explain how a country with four times as many people as America—and presumably four times as many talented people—does not come up with technological breakthroughs?

    Technology is going to make their system of governance obsolete. By 2030, 70% or maybe 75% of their people will be in cities, small towns, big towns, mega big towns. They are going to have cellphones, Internet, satellite TV. They are going to be well-informed; they can organize themselves. You cannot govern them the way you are governing them now where you just placate and monitor a few people because the numbers will be so large.

  • How do China’s leaders see the U.S. role in Asia changing as China becomes No. 1?

    The leadership recognizes that as the leading power in the region for the sevendecades since World War II, the U.S. has provided a stability that allowed unprecedented growth for many nations including Japan, the Asian Tigers and China itself. China knows that it needs access to U.S. markets, U.S. technology, opportunities for Chinese students to study in the U.S. and to bring back to China new ideas about new frontiers. It therefore sees no profit in confronting the U.S. in the next 20 to 30 years in a way that could jeopardize these benefits. Rather, its strategy is to grow within this framework, biding its time until it becomes strong enough to successfully redefine this political and economic order.

    In the security arena, the Chinese understand that the U.S. has spent so much more and has built up such advantages that direct challenges would be futile. Not until China has overtaken the U.S. in the development and application of technology can they envisage confronting it militarily. What are the Americans going to fight China over? Control over East Asia? The Chinese need not fight over East Asia. Slowly and gradually, they will expand their economic ties with East Asia and offer them their market of 1.3 billion consumers. Extrapolate that another 10, 20 years and they will be the top importer and exporter of all East Asian countries.

  • What impact is China’s rise having on its neighbors in Asia?

    China’s strategy for Southeast Asia is fairly simple: China tells the region, “come grow with me.” At the same time, China’s leaders want to convey the impression that China’s rise is inevitable and that countries will need to decide if they want to be China’s friend or foe. China is also willing to calibrate its engagement to get what it wants or express its displeasure. China is sucking the Southeast Asian countries into its economic system because of its vast market and growing purchasing power. Japan and South Korea will inevitably be sucked in as well. It just absorbs countries without having to use force. China’s neighbors want the U.S. to stay engaged in the Asia-Pacific so that they are not hostages to China. The U.S. should have established a free-trade area with Southeast Asia 30 years ago, well before the Chinese magnet began to pull the region into its orbit. Economics sets underlying trends. China’s growing economic sway will be very difficult to fight.

  • Will China become a democracy?

    No, China is not going to become a liberal democracy; if it did, it would collapse. Of that I am quite sure, and the Chinese intelligentsia also understands that. If you believe that there is going to be a revolution of some sort in China for democracy, you are wrong. Where are the students of Tiananmen now? They are irrelevant. The Chinese people want a revived China. Can it be a parliamentary democracy? This is a possibility in the villages and small towns. The Chinese fear chaos and will always err on the side of caution. It will be a long evolutionary process, but it is possible to contemplate such changes. Transportation and communications have become so much faster and cheaper. The Chinese people will be exposed to other systems and cultures and know other societies through travel, through the Internet, and through smartphones. One thing is for sure: the present system will not remain unchanged for the next 50 years. To achieve the modernization of China, her Communist leaders are prepared to try all and every method, except for democracy with one person and one vote in a multiparty system. Their two main reasons are their belief that the Communist Party of China must have amonopoly on power to ensure stability; and their deep fear of instability in a multiparty free-for-all, which would lead to a loss of control by the center over the provinces, with horrendous consequences, like the warlord years of the 1920s and 1930s. I do not believe you can impose on other countries standards that are alien and totally disconnected with their past. So to ask China to become a democracy, when in its 5,000 years of recorded history it never counted heads—all rulers ruled by right of being the emperor; if you disagree, you chop off heads, not count heads.

  • How should one assess Xi Jinping?

    He has had a tougher life than Hu Jintao. His father was rusticated, and so was he. He took it in stride, and worked his way up. It has not been smooth sailing for him. His life experiences must have hardened him. 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, more than Hu Jintao, who ascended the ranks without experiencing the trials and tribulations that Xi endured. I would put him in Nelson Mandela’s class of persons. He is a person with enormous emotional stability who does not allow his personal misfortunes or sufferings to affect his judgment. He is impressive.



“Graham Allison on the Rise of China”
Harvard Kennedy School Policycast
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Belfer Center Director Graham Allison discusses his new book Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World in a video presentation prepared for an upcoming Harvard Kennedy School Virtual Book Tour.

The Chinese government discusses reform. Who cares? You should! This week the Communist Party of China (CPC) will hold several meetings, known as third plenary sessions, to initiate major economic change in China. In this interview with Xinhua News, ‘Grand Master’ co-author Graham Allison suggests topics the meeting should address.

At a National Committee on U.S.-China Relations program on May 6, 2013, the authors discussed their new book. Belfer Center Director Graham Allison and Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill discuss their new book Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. The event was moderated by Belfer Center’s Executive Director for Research Gary Samore.

What will propel China forward? Graham Allison answers the question in this interview with Xinhua, coinciding with the publication of the Chinese-language edition of Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World.   

In their new book, Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill distill the essence of Lee Kuan Yew’s visionary thinking about critical issues including the futures of China and the United States, U.S.-China relations, India, and globalization.

How does American foreign policy adjust to a changing world, and in particular to the rise of China? Melissa Bell of France 24 puts the question to Graham Allison, the Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

About Lee Kuan Yew

AP_080530051335_0.jpgWhen Lee Kuan Yew speaks, who listens? Presidents, prime ministers, chief executives, and all who care about global strategy.

Below are quotes about Lee Kuan Yew as told by some of the world’s most notable leaders.


Barack Obama, president of the United States
Lee “is one of the legendary figures of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries. He is somebody who helped to trigger the Asian economic miracle.” (October 29, 2009)

Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States
“MM Lee’s life of public service is both unique and remarkable… His work as prime minister and now as minister mentor has helped literally millions of people in Singapore and all across Southeast Asia to live better, more prosperous lives. I hope the leaders of ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] will continue to build upon Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s outstanding legacy… I thank you [the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council] for honoring a man I admire so very much.” (October 27, 2009)

George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States
“In my long life in public service, I have encountered many bright, able people. None is more impressive than Lee Kuan Yew.” (endorsement of Lee’s My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey, 2011)

Jacques Chirac, president of France (1995–2007)
“Lee Kuan Yew has gathered around himself the most brilliant minds, transforming the most exacting standards into a system of government. Under his leadership, the primacy of the general interest, the cult of education, work and saving, the capacity to foresee the needs of the city have enabled Singapore to take what I call ‘shortcuts to progress.’ (endorsement of Lee’s From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965–2000, 2000)

F.W. de Klerk, president of South Africa (1989–94)
“The leader who, perhaps, impressed me most was Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore… He was an individual who changed the course of xiv Lee Kuan Yew history… Lee Kuan Yew took the right decisions for his country; he chose the right values and the right economic policies to ensure the development of a successful society. In this, he was an artist painting on the largest canvas that society can provide. He was also a very astute judge of the world and provided a very canny and realistic assessment of our situation in South Africa when I met him during the early nineties.” (March 30, 2012)

Chinese Leaders

Xi Jinping, vice president of China
Lee is “our senior who has our respect”: “To this day, you are still working tirelessly to advance our bilateral relationship, and you have my full admiration. We will never forget the important contribution you have made to our bilateral relationship.” (May 23, 2011)

Other World Leaders

Tony Blair, prime minister of the United Kingdom (1997–2007)
Lee is “the smartest leader I think I ever met.” (Blair, A Journey: My Political Life, 2010)

John Major, prime minister of the United Kingdom (1990–97)
“Lee Kuan Yew can justifiably be called the father of modern Singapore. He has steered through policies that have been copied across Asia, and have greatly lifted the profile and representation of Singapore. It is a legacy that will endure.” (comment in Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew: Citizen Singapore: How to Build a Nation, 2010)

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the United Kingdom (1979–90)
“In office, I read and analyzed every speech of Lee’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.” (endorsement of Lee’s From Third World to First:The Singapore Story: 1965–2000, 2000)

Helmut Schmidt, chancellor of Germany (1974–82)
“Ever since I met my friend Lee Kuan Yew, I was highly impressed by his brilliant intellect and his straight overview. His lifetime achievements as a political leader and statesman are outstanding. The economic and social advancement of modern Singapore is deeply rooted in his capability to establish an adequate political framework for Singapore’s ethnical heterogeneity. This book is yet another proof of his perspicacity and competence.” (endorsement of Lee’s My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey, 2011)

Heads of Global Corporations and Economic Institutions

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of News Corporation
“More than 40 years ago, Lee Kuan Yew transformed what was a poor, decrepit colony into a shining, rich, and modern metropolis—all the time surrounded by hostile powers. With his brilliant, incisive intellect, he is one of the world’s most outspoken and respected statesmen. This book is a ‘must read’ for any student of modern Asia.” (endorsement of Lee’s From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965–2000, 2000)

John Chambers, chairman and chief executive officer of Cisco Systems
“There are two equalizers in life: the Internet and education. Lee Kuan Yew is a world leader who understands this and is using the power of the Internet to position Singapore for survival and success in the Internet economy.” (endorsement of Lee’s From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965–2000, 2000)

Sam Palmisano, chairman of IBM
“It is terrific to be at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. It is especially special for me because a gentleman I admire so much, and have learned so much from, is Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. He has given me lots of tutelage on Asia and China and India, and has tremendous insights.” (February 1, 2011)

Rex Tillerson, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil
“For so many years, you have been a willing mentor to leaders of government, business, and for me personally. The Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal is given to individuals who … exemplify the lasting legacy and mettle of character embodied by President Abraham Lincoln. Few leaders in modern history meet this criteria more than tonight’s honoree… Abraham Lincoln once said … ‘towering genius disdains a beaten path.’ For the people of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was such a towering leader who held a bold vision for his nation. He did not lead them down the beaten path of narrow-minded protectionism, but down the broad avenues of global engagement and economic competitiveness.” (October 18, 2011)

Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank (2007–12)
“As soon as I learned a number of years ago about the Lee Kuan Yew School, I wanted to figure out some way to at least come by. I cannot think of a better testament for a leader who has made a huge mark in the world.” (December 18, 2008)

James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank (1995–2005)
“I used to be the advisor to the Minister Mentor. It was a very hard job, because I traveled to Singapore, and every time I was just about to tell something to Mr. Minister Mentor, he would stop me and tell me the thing I was to tell him. Then I would return to the United States and sell his advice. Thank you very much, Mr. Minister Mentor, for all the things you have taught me. I tried giving you my advice. But, in fact, it was you who taught me.” (July 10, 2007)

Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive officer of Coca-Cola
“History will record few leaders who have accomplished so much for their country and for Southeast Asia as His Excellency Lee Kuan Yew. As a driving force behind the growth and evolution of ASEAN, Mr. Lee also helped millions of people across Southeast Asia to live in an environment of peace and economic growth.” (October 27, 2009)

David Rothkopf, president and chief executive officer of Garten Rothkopf
“Like many other visitors, you wonder whether this tiny island [Singapore] that did not even exist as a truly independent nation until 1965 is perhaps the best-run city in the world, whether maybe the ancient Greeks and Singapore’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, were on to something when they settled on the idea of city-states… During the course of the half century in which he has led Singapore, he has emerged as one of the world’s most effective if sometimes controversial leaders.” (Rothkopf, Power, Inc., 2012)

Senior Policymakers

Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state
“I am delighted to welcome the Minister Mentor here [to the White House] today… Singapore is a long and valued partner on so many important issues. And I think it is fair to say, sir [addressing Lee], that you have a great many admirers. You are here to accept an important award [the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award] that is given for lifetime achievement, and I join in the many Americans who thank you for your service.” (October 26, 2009)

George Shultz, U.S. secretary of state (1982–89)
“You have taught all of us a tremendous amount by what you have done, what you have said, [and] the way you mean it when you say something, and I thank you.” (October 27, 2009)

Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state (1997–2001)
“He has the most modern and most strategic view of anyone I have met for a long time.” (July 30, 1997)

Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. national security adviser (1977–81)
“He is among the most intellectually alert of the world’s leaders… He is capable of expatiating at length and with perception on virtually any international problem; he is a most astute observer of the Asian scene; and he is candid in passing along to us Asian perceptions of our changing role in that part of the world.” (September 16, 1977)

Larry Summers, director of the U.S. National Economic Council (2009–10) and U.S. secretary of the Treasury (1999–2001)
“It is more than a little bit daunting to be talking about the subjectof governance just before Lee Kuan Yew speaks.” (September 15, 2006)

Robert Rubin, U.S. secretary of the Treasury (1995–99)
“Lee is deeply knowledgeable about geopolitical and cultural matters… I had gotten to know the Senior Minister somewhat during the Asian financial crisis, when he had demonstrated the enormous depth of his geopolitical understanding and grasp of regional issues.” (Rubin, In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington, with Jacob Weisberg, 2003)

Joseph Nye, chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council (1993–94)
“Today, it [Singapore] is a rich and prosperous country. If the rest of the world could accomplish what Singapore has accomplished, the world would be a better and more prosperous place… He is a man who never stops thinking, never stops looking ahead with larger visions. His views are sought by respected senior statesmen on all continents.” (October 17, 2000)


Nicholas Kristof, opinion columnist for the New York Times
“Other leaders have reshaped nations—Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, Lenin in Russia, Deng Xiaoping in China—but no one left a deeper imprint on his people than Lee… One can disagree with him, but intolerance and authoritarianism have never had so articulate or stimulating a spokesman. These [From Third World to First] are rich memoirs, the legacy of an extraordinary man, and in many ways, this book is like Lee himself: smart, thoughtful, blunt, and provocative.” (November 5, 2000)

David Ignatius, opinion columnist for the Washington Post
“He is probably the smartest politician I have interviewed in more than 25 years as a journalist.” (September 28, 2002)

Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large of Time Magazine
“Lee Kuan Yew took a small spit of land in Southeast Asia, which became independent in 1965 after great struggle and anguish, with no resources and a polyglot population of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian workers, and turned it into one of the economic centers of the world. To do this, Lee had to have smart economic policies, but also a shrewd foreign policy… He is still indisputably the father of Singapore. I was struck by the depth of his understanding of the world—China, Russia, and the United States—all at age 85.” (September 21, 2008)

Zoher Abdoolcarim, Time Magazine, Asia Edition
“Over the years Lee has been called many things — unflattering as well as admiring. But perhaps the single most fitting description is: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow.” (February 4, 2013)

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Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

The death of the founding father of Singapore, and its prime minister for its first three decades, is an occasion for reflection. Not only did Lee Kuan Yew raise a poor, notoriously corrupt port from the bottom rungs of the third world to a modern first world nation in a single generation. He was also one of two certifiable grand masters of international strategy in the last half century (Henry Kissinger being the other), and a wise counselor to the world.

Here, Belfer Center experts reflect on the legacy of the “Grand Master,” Lee Kuan Yew:

The Lee Kuan Yew Conundrum
The Atlantic | March 30, 2015
By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

Lee Kuan Yew: Lessons for leaders from Asia’s ‘Grand Master’ | March 28, 2015
By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

“3 Lessons from Lee Kuan Yew”
The National Interest | March 27, 2015
By Jeremy Schwarz, Ernest May Fellow in History and Policy, International Security Program

“The Sayings of Lee Kuan Yew, the Sage of Singapore”
Los Angeles Times | March 25, 2015
By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

“Africa Can Still Learn Important Lessons from Lee Kuan Yew’s Work in Singapore”
The Daily Nation | March 24, 2015
By Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development; Director, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project; Principal Investigator, Agricultural Innovation in Africa

What Would Lee Kuan Yew Do?
The New York Times | March 23, 2015
By Ali Wyne, Former Research Assistant, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Lee Kuan Yew: Graham Allison Reflects on the Man and His Impact
March 23, 2015
By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

The World Will Miss Lee Kuan Yew
The Washington Post | March 23, 2015
By Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977.

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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham, Robert D. Blackwill and Ali Wyne. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.