Look closely at the front page photograph we published on Saturday of Singapore elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew and you will see on the podium behind him an enlarged photograph of the front cover of his latest book. From Third World To First, the second volume of his memoirs, is not nearly as readable as the first, but this book promotion reminds your correspondent that he really ought to continue slogging his way through it. Its title, however, reminds him more of a visit to Singapore years ago just after the United States had decided that Singapore no longer required something called GSP preferences - special sweetheart trade terms for developing countries that had sided with the Free World against godless communism. Rumours then emerged that there had actually been what passed for a protest in Singapore against this decision, although admittedly brief, orderly and characterised by none of that outrage one might expect from something spontaneous. Your correspondent remarked on it during a meeting with a Singapore civil servant and the man replied: 'It's quite simple. The US had just told us we are no longer a Third World country and we are just proving that we still are.' The substance of Mr Lee's message to us on Friday was a perfectly pragmatic one - don't expect Beijing to let you run more of your own affairs until you can convince Beijing that you are really operating on China's agenda. But then back we went to vintage Lee Kuan Yew. Our civil service, he said, was trained under British rule to implement policies rather than formulate them and win public support. Policy secretaries will be unable to back Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa like cabinet ministers unless they are politicised. Music to Mr Tung's ears. He is known, we shall put it mildly, to hold legislative councillors in some disfavour, and here is someone to confirm that in government, it is not the business of elected representatives to formulate policies and win public support for them. It is rather the business of appointed bureaucrats to do so. That would make two tiny jurisdictions in the world where this is true, Hong Kong and Singapore. You may have wondered about this strange definition of democratic process if you live in Hong Kong Island and cast your vote yesterday. A pointless exercise if the rest of the world is so wrong about the ballot box, wasn't it? Then we have Mr Lee sticking in his oar about President Jiang Zemin's outburst at a reporter who asked whether the selection of the SAR's chief executive was an imperial process - 'a flash of sudden anger at the stupidity of the questions'. You might be excused for thinking it rather represented the pack hitting a bulls-eye on a tender question of great importance to Hong Kong, not stupid at all. Mr Lee's underlying theme was, as it so frequently is, that 'Chinese leaders are not far wrong' in thinking Western societies seek to manipulate SAR affairs to meddle in China. He may well be right. It is another matter, however, whether Hong Kong people think that democracy is not Western chicanery but, when honestly practised (not the you-vote-for-the-other-guy-you-get-no-swimming-pool sort you see in a certain city) and when allied with civil liberties and free markets, the key to the real advance of human societies. This is not diplomatic conspiracy and it does us a disservice to have someone of Mr Lee's stature confuse the issue this way. These values are human values, not specifically Western ones. They are also the true hallmarks of a transition from Third World to First World societies, rather than just the wealth they inevitably bring along with them. Your countrymen may have made the transition from Third World to First, Mr Lee, but it is another question whether you have.