Excerpt The union with Malaysia was successful in breaking Communist power in Singapore, essentially by diluting the political influence of the largely ethnic Chinese Communists into a larger polity including many more conservative Malay Muslim voters. This made possible the political decapitation of the Communists, which put an end to the great momentum that the Communists in Singapore had enjoyed before that. There was a real fear of China, and a reluctance to stand up to China-backed Communism, in the region at that time. China’s economy appeared to be growing very rapidly. In retrospect, it was all a Potemkin Village, but at the time, people did not realize that, Lee stated.
SENATOR BILL NELSON’S MEETING WITH MINISTER MENTOR LEE KUAN YEW Date: 2009 August 17, 09:47 (Monday)
Canonical ID: 09SINGAPORE773_a
Content Raw content Metadata Print Share Show Headers b/b)
1. (C) Summary: In a meeting with Minister Mentor (MM) Lee Kuan Yew, Senator Bill Nelson stressed the importance of cooperation between Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) and U.S. counterpart organizations to address common threats in areas such as terrorism and proliferation. MM Lee responded that the United States keeps the world safe; if not, everyone else including Singapore will be in trouble. MM Lee noted that he has met the U.S. Vice President and the Secretary of State, but he has not yet had the opportunity to meet the President. He said the Indonesians are making important progress under President Yudhoyono, a decent man leading a nation that is always difficult to govern. Even two terms may not be long enough for Yudhoyono to ensure that Indonesia stays on the right path in the long run. MM Lee said Beijing knows that Singapore is the “undeclared ally” of the United States, with longstanding bilateral cooperation and the Strategic Framework Agreement. China has not yet fully learned the lesson about the need to provide a predictable environment for foreign investors, Lee noted. End Summary.
Health of Lee’s Wife
2. (C) Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida), accompanied by Mrs. Grace Nelson, the CDA (notetaker), and Legislative Assistant Greta Lundeberg, met at the Istana on August 13 with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who was joined by Principal Private Secretary Chee Hong Tat and MFA Americas Assistant Director Jasmine Tan (notetaker). Mrs. Nelson extended her best wishes for improvement in the health of MM Lee’s wife Kwa Geok Choo. MM Lee expressed appreciation for the good wishes. He said his wife’s medical condition remains poor after three strokes. The fact that her cognitive facilities remain intact in some ways makes things more difficult, he said.
3. (C) Visitors to MM Lee are currently asked to apply hand sanitizer before shaking hand with him and Lee expressed concern about H1N1, which he noted is not particularly lethal but keeps mutating. He said dealing with challenges like H1N1 is inevitable in the globalizing world in which we live, in which diseases can spread around the world at the speed of a fast aircraft.
4. (C) Senator Nelson noted that he had met with Ambassador to Washington Chan Heng Chee (who extended her visit to Singapore so she could see the Senator) and with Internal Security Department (ISD) Director Pang Kin Keong. The Senator highlighted the importance of cooperation between ISD and U.S. counterpart organizations to address common threats in areas such as terrorism and proliferation. MM Lee responded that the United States keeps the world safe; if not, everyone else including Singapore will be in trouble.
5. (C) Senator Nelson expressed appreciation for Lee’s and Singapore’s leadership in the region, support for the United States, and contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senator noted that the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State are working hard to strengthen the U.S.-Singapore partnership. Lee said Ambassador Chan has briefed him on the Obama Administration’s leadership. He noted that he has met the Vice President and the Secretary, but he has not yet had the opportunity to meet the President, although Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong did meet the President (before his election) in the United States.
6. (C) Regarding Indonesia, MM Lee said the country is making important progress under President Yudhoyono, a decent man leading a nation that is always difficult to govern. He is trying his best, but even two terms may not be long enough for him to ensure that Indonesia stays on the right path in
SINGAPORE 00000773 002 OF 005
the long run. The challenge may pass to his successor. Extreme Islamists remain influential in Indonesia and can persuade politicians to make electoral promises that then limit the scope of action the politicians can take once they are in office. One extremist group is eliminated in Indonesia, but another springs up, he commented.
7. (C) China has not yet fully learned the lesson about the need to provide a predictable environment for foreign investors, Lee noted. (Comment: This seemed to refer to problems that foreign investors in China have faced including the current Rio Tinto controversy. End Comment.) Senator Nelson noted that dealing with China can be difficult. It was even difficult to ensure that China met the Secret Service’s security requirements for former President Bush during the Beijing Olympics, he stated. MM Lee said at the end of the day China will do what is necessary to ensure good relations with the United States. Other countries, however, may not get what they need from China. China took a hardline approach with France over the Olympic Flame issue, with Chinese citizens boycotting Carrefour stores. Beijing basically ignored President Sarkozy’s threat not to attend the Olympics, with Chinese officials simply observing “you are here” when he showed up for the Games.
8. (C) Senator Nelson asked how China treats Singapore. MM Lee said Beijing knows that Singapore is the “undeclared ally” of the United States, with longstanding bilateral cooperation and the Strategic Framework Agreement. China knows that Singapore continues to send troops for training in Taiwan. Beijing has asked Singapore to stop this and offered training areas in Hainan. Lee told Chinese counterparts that if Singapore forces go to Hainan for training, the Americans will stop selling Singapore arms. He intended for the Chinese to get the message that their arms are not equal to American arms, he said. He added that he has told Beijing that if Beijing is in charge of Taiwan, he will ask Beijing for permission to train there.
9. (C) Lee said Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore in November, 1978. Vietnam had just invaded Cambodia. The Chinese message was that the Russian bear was trying to use Vietnam to establish a Cuba in the region. Lee told Deng that he and his neighbors did not fear the Russian bear. Russia is far away from Singapore. Meanwhile, China was supporting insurgencies in Southeast Asia, providing arms and supporting propaganda broadcasts. China needed to stop. Lee expected push-back, but Deng considered the message and asked what Lee wanted him to do. Lee said just stop. Deng said he needed time and, in about a year, he had basically stopped the arms flows and the broadcasts, Lee stated.
10. (C) According to Lee, on the economic side, Deng saw that Singapore was running a fair and egalitarian society, but one in which capitalist multinational corporations were playing a major role in job creation. Under the British, Singapore had been a nation of traders rather than engineers or manufacturers. Singapore had learned how to develop these skills and attract American, Japanese and European investment. Singapore’s Small and Medium Enterprises were supplying them. Under Deng, China shifted from calling Singaporeans “lackeys” and “running dogs” to calling Singapore a “garden city” and urging Chinese to learn from Singapore. After Deng’s Singapore trip, China began opening Special Economic Zones. Some Chinese leftists like Chen Yun opposed this, saying the shift was a retreat from Communism and Socialism and the Party would lose control. In 1992, when Deng’s policies again came under attack from leftists, Deng made his famous trip to South China and again urged Chinese to learn from Singapore.
11. (C) Lee said at that time the Chinese were sending people to Singapore and they were videotaping what they saw, but there were real limits to what could be accomplished in this manner, as Lee told Deng’s son Deng Pufang. Lee therefore pushed for establishment of the China-Singapore Industrial Park in Suzhou, near Shanghai. Lee sought to work with Premier Zhu Rongji on the project, but President Jiang Zemin insisted that Singapore work instead with Vice Premier Li Lanqing, whom Jiang trusted more than Zhu. Lee returned to Suzhou in May 2009 to mark the 15th anniversary of the
SINGAPORE 00000773 003 OF 005
industrial park. Vice Premier Wang Qishan represented the Chinese side. Through projects like this, Singapore has built a strong reputation for urban management in China, but Singapore still comes under pressure from Beijing on issues like Taiwan, Lee said.
12. (C) Senator Nelson praised MM Lee’s efforts to support China’s opening up over the years. MM Lee said President George H.W. Bush played a key role by supporting China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Many in China were skeptical about joining the WTO, but Zhu Rongji persuaded Jiang Zemin that WTO entry, and the associated pressure to comply with WTO rules, would be vital over the long term to the process of ensuring that China prospers and changes. Senator Nelson noted that economic integration seems to have promoted improved ties between Beijing and Taipei. Lee said former leaders in Taiwan, like President Lee Teng-hui and President Chen Shui-bian, had miscalculated and pushed for independence. Instead, they should have used their economic leverage to build better ties with Beijing. President Ma Ying-jeou understands this, but Taiwan does not have the economic leverage it once had relative to Beijing, Lee stated.
Lee’s Experience Under Japanese Occupation
13. (C) Senator Nelson asked MM Lee about his experience in World War II during the Japanese occupation of Singapore. MM Lee said he was lucky to escape being massacred. Ethnic Chinese in Singapore had been active in raising relief funds for China and Chiang Kai Shek, so when the Japanese occupiers arrived they demanded that Singapore’s ethnic Chinese business community raise $200 million for Japan, or else. The Singaporeans failed to raise the money, so the Japanese detained 50-100 thousand ethnic Chinese men in Singapore, including Lee. There was no real pattern to it; the detained men were just people who seemed like they might be anti-Japanese or guerrilla fighters. Lee was ordered to get into a truck with others, but he had an intuition that getting into the truck would be a mistake so he got permission to go get clothes and used the opportunity to slip away for three or four days. He was then able to blend back into the population. Those who had boarded the trucks ended up machine gunned to death on the beach. The Japanese were brutal and cruel, using intimidation and collective punishment to terrorize the population into submission, he noted.
14. (C) MM Lee said Singapore was occupied for three and a half years. Although Japan surrendered on August 6, 1954, the British were unable to accept the surrender in Singapore until September. In the interim, the Japanese were defeated but in charge, beating up anyone who celebrated their defeat. Some Japanese committed suicide. They were brainwashed to believe they were the chosen people of the Moon Goddess. If they lost, they brought shame on their country and their race. During the occupation, Lee and others in Singapore had to bow deeply in the direction of Tokyo and the Emperor three times a day on Imperial Rescript Day. It was therefore surreal for Lee, years later in the 1960s when he was PM of Singapore, to meet the Emperor over lunch. Senator Nelson asked Lee if he said anything to the Emperor about the occupation. Lee said he felt he could not in the context of the lunch meeting. The Emperor murmured something about regrettable events, he stated.
Lee on Singapore’s Union with Malaysia
15. (C) Senator Nelson asked MM Lee about his experience from 1963-65, first leading Singapore into union with Malaysia in order to break the power of the Communists in Singapore, then leading an independent Singapore following the breakup on the union with Malaysia. Lee noted that during the period of British rule, Singapore had been the seat of empire for a broad area that included Malaysia, Singapore, North Borneo including Brunei, the Cocos Islands, and Christmas Island. After World War II, the British knew they could not hold onto India and Pakistan and they soon realized they could not hold Peninsular Malaysia, which they granted independence, while keeping Singapore. As it became clear that Britain could not retain Singapore either, Lee pushed for union with Malaysia.
SINGAPORE 00000773 004 OF 005
16. (C) Lee said that the Tunku, then the leader of Malaysia, did not want Singapore, which would bring with it all the complications of a largely ethnic Chinese city, but the Tunku was persuaded when the British added East Malaysia as a kind of dowry to the Tunku for taking Singapore. The union with Malaysia was successful in breaking Communist power in Singapore, essentially by diluting the political influence of the largely ethnic Chinese Communists into a larger polity including many more conservative Malay Muslim voters. This made possible the political decapitation of the Communists, which put an end to the great momentum that the Communists in Singapore had enjoyed before that. There was a real fear of China, and a reluctance to stand up to China-backed Communism, in the region at that time. China’s economy appeared to be growing very rapidly. In retrospect, it was all a Potemkin Village, but at the time, people did not realize that, Lee stated.
17. (C) Lee said that the breakup of the union with Malaysia began when his People’s Action Party (PAP) tried to get Malays in Malaysia to join the PAP. Lee argued that all citizens have equal rights, but the Tunku took the view that Malays must rule Malaysia. In 1964, there were race riots in Singapore, which were engineered by the Malaysians to intimidate the Singaporeans, as similar riots had intimidated the people in Penang. Lee responded by organizing a solidarity conference. If there were going to be riots in Singapore, there would be riots in Malaysia. At that point, the Tunku told Lee to “get out,” Lee stated.
Lee on Building an Independent Singapore
18. (C) Lee said building up an independent Singapore outside Malaysia was a huge challenge, but he had one critical advantage: he had won the trust of the people of Singapore. In earlier years, the Communists had taunted Lee as a soft, English-speaking, UK-educated lawyer who slept in air-conditioned rooms. Lee and his colleagues had shown their character by fighting the Communists, then by standing up to the Malaysians, even though the Malaysians controlled the police and the army. After 1965, they needed to ensure that Singapore was more productive and better organized than its resource-rich neighbors. Singapore had a strategic location and an infrastructure inherited from the British. To make use of these advantages, it needed to rebuild relations between labor and management. It needed to provide jobs, food and shelter for a population, at the time, of two million, he commented.
19. (C) According to Lee, the critical thing was to create stability and confidence for investors, who want their people in Singapore and their families to enjoy security, health care, and educational opportunities. There can be no changing of the rules in the middle of the game. Even during the 1973 oil crisis, Singapore honored its commitments. Jumping ahead to the current day, Exxon Mobile is proceeding with a USD 4.5 billion cracker plant on Singapore’s Jurong Island, despite all the uncertainties in the global economy. This is because they anticipate expanded demand in China and India and they have confidence in Singapore’s investment climate.
Lee on Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule” Painting
20. (C) As the meeting concluded, Senator Nelson presented PM Lee with a copy of a Norman Rockwell “The Golden Rule” painting, representing the unity of the people of the world. The Senator noted that when he had the opportunity to go into space on the Space Shuttle 23 years ago he had developed a new appreciation for the oneness of the people of the planet. Lee said that is not the way the Russians see it. Senator Nelson noted that, despite U.S.-Russia disagreements, the two countries have been cooperating in space since 1975. Lee said perhaps President Medvedev sees things that way, but not PM Putin, who is still calling the shots. Lee added that many extremists in the Islamic world also reject the idea of the essential oneness of the world’s people.