Lee Kuan Yew

Xi Jinping pays tribute to ‘old friend of the Chinese people’, Lee Kuan Yew

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 March, 2015, 10:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 March, 2015, 11:02pm

China’s President Xi Jinping praised Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew as an “old friend of the Chinese people” following his death on Monday, while US President Barack Obama described Singapore’s founding Prime Minister as “a giant of history”.

Xi said Lee, who was ethnically Chinese, was “widely respected by the international community as a strategist and a statesman” and expressed “sincere condolences” to his relatives.

Lee met China’s leaders multiple times and his model of political control allied to economic growth was seen as an example to China’s Communist party as it embarked on reforms. Four of the seven members of the politburo standing committee have sent their individual condolences - Xi, premier Li Keqiang, National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang and vice premier Zhang Gaoli.

Lee died early on Monday morning after nearly a month in hospital.

“He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one of the great strategists of Asian affairs,” Obama said.

The president added that he personally “appreciated Lee’s wisdom, including discussions on my trip to Singapore in 2009,” which helped him formulate the US policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region.

Lee, who ruled Singapore between 1959 and 1990 and was the island state’s longest-serving prime minister, had been on a mechanical ventilator for several weeks since February 5, suffering from severe pneumonia.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent its condolences to Lee’s son, current Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, describing the former leader as “a politician who possessed unique influence on Asia.”

“He was also a strategist with oriental values and international perspectives,” a statement said.

“He was the creator and founder of China-Singapore bilateral relations and promoted the long-term mutually beneficial cooperation for the two countries, made historical contributions for the establishment and development of the two nations.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lauded Lee for building Singapore into a “modern and dynamic nation” as he extended Malaysian condolences on his death.

“I am saddened to hear about the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, founding Prime Minister of Singapore,” Najib said.

“I pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s determination in developing Singapore from a new nation to the modern and dynamic city we see today.

“His achievements were great, and his legacy is assured.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Lee a “great leader” of Asia. He said that Lee was “the founding father of Singapore and a great leader of Asia who built the foundation for its prosperity today.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Indonesia, which called Lee “the father of modern Singapore and one of the biggest leaders in Asia,” in a statement issued by its foreign ministry. The statement added that Lee “was very close to Indonesia”.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said that ”[Lee] was always a friend to Britain, if sometimes a critical one, and many British prime ministers benefited from his wise advice, including me.”

The Taiwanese government also offered its condolences.

Calling Lee an “admirable and outstanding leader,” the Presidential Office said in a statement that President Ma Ying-jeou had conveyed his heartfelt condolences to Lee’s family and the Singaporean people through diplomatic channels.

Ma said Lee and former president Chiang Ching-kuo were good friends and that he witnessed their friendship first-hand when he served as Chiang’s secretary and English translator, according to the statement. It added that Lee took personal pride in hosting the first meeting between the heads of the quasi-official agencies of Taiwan and Beijing in 1993.

Other world leaders to pay tribute included Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who praised Lee as a “giant of our region.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was deeply saddened by Lee’s death.

“Lee Kuan Yew was a legendary figure in Asia, widely respected for his strong leadership and statesmanship,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement posted on the UN’s website.

“During his three decades in office, he helped Singapore to transition from a developing country to one of the most developed in the world, transforming it into a thriving international business hub,” it said.

The secretary general expresses gratitude for the strong cooperation between the government of Singapore and the United Nations, and looks forward to deepening this partnership, it added.