Asia

In quotes: Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew in San Francisco 9 March 2000 Image copyright AFP

Lee Kuan Yew was the statesman who turned Singapore from a port city into a global financial powerhouse.

He argued that people needed to be shaped by governments into nations - and was unapologetic about the steps he took to do this.


Split from Malaysia

Transcript of an emotional press conference on 9 August 1965, after Malaysia voted to expel Singapore

"For me it is a moment of anguish because all my life... I have believed in merger and the unity of these two territories. You know, it's a people, connected by geography, economics, and ties of kinship. Would you mind if we stop for a while? [pause for Mr Lee to regain his composure]

[Several paragraphs later] There is nothing to be worried about it. Many things will go on just as usual. But be firm, be calm. We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore... Everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion."


Press freedom

Address to the General Assembly of the International Press Institute at Helsinki on 9 June 1971

"What role would men and governments in new countries like the mass media to play?... The mass media can help to present Singapore's problems simply and clearly and then explain how if they support certain programmes and policies these problems can be solved. More important, we want the mass media to reinforce, not to undermine, the cultural values and social attitudes being inculcated in our schools and universities.

[Several paragraphs later] Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government."


Role of the state

Speech to the National Day Rally in 1986, quoted in the Straits Times on 20 April 1987

"I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn't be here today.

And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn't be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters - who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right."


The West

Interview with Foreign Policy, March/April 1994

"Let me be frank; if we did not have the good points of the West to guide us, we wouldn't have got out of our backwardness. We would have been a backward economy with a backward society. But we do not want all of the West."

[Responding to a separate question]

"Let me give you an example that encapsulates the whole difference between America and Singapore. America has a vicious drug problem. How does it solve it? It goes around the world helping other anti-narcotic agencies to try and stop the suppliers... Singapore does not have that option.

What we can do is to pass a law which says that any customs officer or policeman who sees anybody in Singapore behaving suspiciously... can require that man to have his urine tested. If the sample is found to contain drugs, the man immediately goes for treatment. In America if you did that it would be an invasion of the individual's rights and you would be sued."


Political opponents

On JB Jeyaretnam, a lawyer and opposition lawmaker who called for greater freedoms but was bankrupted by Mr Lee via the courts, in Lee Kuan Yew, The Man And His Ideas, 1997

"If you are a troublemaker… it's our job to politically destroy you. Put it this way. As long as JB Jeyaretnam stands for what he stands for - a thoroughly destructive force - we will knock him. Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac."


The Singapore model

Interview with the New York Times, 29 August 2007

"We knew that if we were just like our neighbours, we would die. Because we've got nothing to offer against what they have to offer. So we had to produce something which is different and better than what they have. It's incorrupt. It's efficient. It's meritocratic. It works.

We are pragmatists... Does it work? Let's try it and if it does work, fine, let's continue it. If it doesn't work, toss it out, try another one. We are not enamoured with any ideology."


Future challenges

Interview with the New York Times on 13 Sept 2010

"The regret is there's such a narrow base to build this enormous edifice, so I've got to tell the next generation, please do not take for granted what's been built.

If you forget that this is a small island which we are built upon and reach a 100 storeys-high tower block and may go up to 150 if you are wise. But if you believe that it's permanent, it will come tumbling down and you will never get a second chance."


His legacy

Interview with the New York Times on 13 Sept 2010

"The final verdict will not be in the obituaries. The final verdict will be when the PhD students dig out the archives, read my old papers, assess what my enemies have said, sift the evidence and seek the truth.

I'm not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honourable purpose."


Chewing gum ban

Interview with BBC reporter, June 2000

"If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana."

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