Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew says Xi Jinping is in Mandela's class

Elder statesman's new book praises president's 'great breadth' and the way he endured many trials to work his way up Communist Party ladder

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 7:29am

Lee Kuan Yew has praised President Xi Jinping as a man of "great breadth", comparing him to Nelson Mandela.

The high praise from Lee, Singapore's founding father who turns 90 next month, comes from his new book, One Man's View of the World, which was launched yesterday.

He appeared alert but frail at the launch and did not take questions.

Lee is widely credited with building Singapore into one of the world's wealthiest nations with a strong, pervasive role for the state and little patience for dissent. His influence extended beyond the tiny population of 5.3 million, as the city state's economic success served as a model for many developing countries, including China under Deng Xiaoping , and he still garners respect from global leaders.

In his book, Lee says he met Xi in November 2007 in the communist leader's first meeting with a foreign leader after he was promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee. "He struck me as a man of great breadth," said Lee, praising the way Xi endured various trials and tribulations and worked his way up through the Communist Party. "I would put him in the Nelson Mandela class of persons."

Although China is becoming increasingly powerful, Lee said the United States' economic prowess was unlikely to wane, due to its innovative skills that lead to gadgets such as the iPad.

But it was worrying that President Barack Obama had recently lost several of his aides, Lee added. "That such experienced advisers have left him is not a good sign," he said.

Lee also used his book to defend his political legacy. He rejected as "absurd" suggestions that his "Stop At Two" children campaign in the 1970s played a part in the decline of current fertility rates in Singapore.

Rather, he insisted that the reluctance of couples to have more children was the result of changed lifestyles and mindsets, which no amount of financial perks could alter. Lee said the falling fertility rate remained Singapore's biggest survival threat.

He pointed to the example of Japan, which he said was on a "stroll into mediocrity" as the ranks of its elderly swelled due to young couples not wanting enough babies. Japan's reluctance to open up to immigrants would further lead to its decline.

Lee handed power to his deputy Goh Chok Tong in 1990 after 31 years in office but stayed on as a cabinet adviser until 2011.

On his fears for the future of Singapore, Lee, who once famously vowed to rise from his grave if something went wrong with the country, now seems ready to let fate run its course.

"I have done my job," he said. "I found a successor and handed over to another generation ... I cannot live forever as a young, vigorous 40- or 50-year-old."

Agence France-Presse, Reuters