Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am

Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going
by Lee Kuan Yew
Straits Times Press HK$234

It's in the genes. That is a theme running through the latest book by Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

In his book, the Southeast Asian island nation's elder statesman praises the Jews as having 'more brainpower per one thousand of population than any other race in the world'. Yet he would be uncomfortable if a Jew or a non-Chinese married into his family.

Lee does approve of a potential Chinese in-law who graduated from a top US university. 'My grandson, the Prime Minister's son, brought home this young lady to meet me. She's a graduate of MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology], a mainlander whose father was a professor. OK, that's not bad. Suppose he'd brought home a white girl. What would my reaction be? I'd say think it over carefully.'

Lee believes the best way to create the best talent is by marrying the right partner. 'The bright ones marry equally well-educated spouses. The result is their children are likely to be smarter than the children of gardeners.'

Lee's views on marriage extend to the offspring of Chinese leaders. 'Marry your equal, don't marry somebody with primary school qualifications,' he exhorts. 'Jiang Zemin's son, Li Peng's sons, Zhu Rongji's son - all top class.'

For Lee, 'the Chinese have a position more in keeping with the animal kingdom. 'I'm powerful, I multiply. You're weak, you're no good, you're sterile. You have no women, I have a harem.' The next generation, many get their genes from the bright and energetic. The Chinese emperor at the end of every examination chose the top scholar to marry his daughter. The emperor wanted the royal family to be infused with good genes.'

Yet China's history debunks the notion that passing superior genes through many wives to many offspring will create talented rulers who can maintain long periods of successful rule. Chinese history is replete with dynasties that start with strong, smart founders only to be ruined by ineffectual descendants.

Lee says he has no intention of creating a dynasty. He has repeatedly stressed that his eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, is Singapore's prime minister because of the latter's ability and not nepotism. There is no reason to doubt that. But Lee's genetic views hardly square with the values he prescribes for Singapore: multiracialism and equality of opportunity.

Indeed, Lee's book has offended many Malay Muslims. The island state can integrate all races and religions except Islam, he writes, because of Malay Muslims' strict adherence to Islamic tenets.

In January, Singapore's Association of Muslim Professionals issued a statement expressing 'deep regret' and disagreement with Lee's comments. Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and some Malaysian newspapers were also critical.

Amid a damage control exercise, Lee Hsien Loong said his views on Malay Muslim integration were 'not quite the same' as his father's. The elder statesman recently publicly admitted his statement on Malay Muslims was 'out of date'.

Lee states his purpose for writing the book is to convince younger Singaporeans that if the tiny nation is weak, it is at risk. The question is how to select the best leaders. He is no fan of democracy: 'I don't see China having one man, one vote.' Lee backed the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, saying, 'Deng Xiaoping knew that once China breaks up, it's finished. So he says, 'get them out or I shoot them'. Why should he give up his lifetime's work for a few hundred agitators? Had the students won, do you think we will have today's China?'

He takes an equally dim view of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. 'Do Hongkongers realise who butters their bread?... [Former Hong Kong chief secretary Anson Chan] took a position which is not tenable. She opposed China. She thought the British system, democracy, American support, they can maintain 50 years. Rubbish.'

If democracy is not a solution to Singapore's survival, what is? Can Lee genetically engineer his country's survival?