I am trying to develop an interest in politics and world affairs so that I can have more content that I can blog about. Moreover, I figured that I should start being a politically engaged member of society, if there is any purpose to being one, perhaps so that I will vote correctly in the next general election. I doubt I will make a career in politics, but I guess if ever I become good at blogging about politics, I can become a political commentator. Now, I am really a newbie at politics and might be ignorant about many things regarding the state of affairs. The information that I will read about comes from the straits times and alternative medias like the online citizen. But let me start my endeavour to be a more informed political citizen by learning the views of our first prime minister of Singapore – Lee Kuan Yew. I suppose I wish to form a more objective evaluation of the man, his character, and the work he has done in building up Singapore. So I will blog more about this political personality, that is, if I can keep a sustained interest in politics. And if I can, I will try to proceed to blog on other political personalities of Singapore, such as former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee and S. Rajaratnnam. I suppose before I read his critics, I shall try to understand what the man himself has to say.
With that, let me start on my reading on the book the Hard Truths featuring Lee Kuan Yew’s views on what it takes to keep Singapore going. Each chapter is presented in a question-and-answer format preceded by an introduction.
In the first chapter of the book, Lee Kuan Yew gave his views on the trepid state of Singapore’s security given our geopolitical location and belligerent neighbouring countries, especially from Malaysia.
At Page 18 - “In Singapore, we are in a very turbulent region,” he would remind us. “If we do not have a government and a people that differentiate themselves from the rest of the neighbourhood…Singapore will cease to exist.” He recounted commenting to his Australian hosts in 1988 after a visit to New Zealand, that “I could come back here in 100 years and I’d be sure to find this place, still green grass, still sheep and cows and wheat and fruit trees…When I project myself forward 100 years for Singapore, I cannot tell you that it will exist.”
I remember reading for social studies lesson during my secondary school days on the nation state of Venice as a case study of small nation states, and its rise and fall. It held a prominent position as a centre of international trade, but subsequently declined from external threats from its neighbouring state powers, as well as from other circumstances such as the onslaught of the black plague. I suppose there is a concern by Lee Kuan Yew as to whether the narrative of the rise and fall of a nation state would similarly apply to Singapore. For now, Singapore is an economically strong nation amongst its neighbours, and holds many hub statuses, but would there come a day where Singapore would decline, or even become non-existent?
Lee Kuan Yew highlights the threats that Singapore experience within the geographical region from neighbouring country, and points out the vulnerabilities given Singapore’s dependence for resources which it imports from surrounding neighbours. In the past, we used to import water from Malaysia, and there were repeated threats from then Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohammad about breaching the water agreement and cutting off supply of water to Singapore. From what I read about in the Singapore newspapers, Mahathir was making statements like, “To skin a cat, there are many ways, to skin Singapore, there are also many ways.” I wondered then why Mahathir would take such a hard-ball approach towards Singapore.
I kind of got some information for the reason for such animosity when Former law minister Jayakumar came to give a talk over at the law faculty of Singapore. According to him, Malaysia during the time of Mahathir Mohammad, was put off by Singapore turning down Malaysia’s request for financial aid during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Subsequently, Mahathir started taking a hard-nosed approach in dealing with Singapore, bargaining for hard deals in the Malaysia-Singapore Points of Agreement of 1990 such as a 60-40 percent owernship in favour of Malaysia for in exchange for selling back the area at Tanjong Pagar where the railway line was. There is an endnote snippet at page 39 of the Hard Truth which states that “Malaysia banned all snad exports to Singapore in 1997, saying that It needed to conserve resources and protect sea and river beds. Indonesia banned sand exports to Singapore in 2007, citing environmental concerns. Singapore uses sand in construction and land reclamation; Indonesia’s ban caused construction activities to grind to a halt as sand prices trebled in 2007. Singapore now buys sand from further afield.”
I heard the reason why Indonesia was quite unhappy with Singapore was because of the outflow of capital after racial riots caused Chinese businessmen to park their money into Singapore. Singapore’s initial refusal to sign an extradition treaty led Indonesia to mete out a sand ban. Of course, the reasons given was masked as environmental concerns about eroding shore lines.
For now, it seems like Singapore’s foreign relationships with its neighbouring countries are more amicable, especially with the passing of leadership to the current leaders of Singapore and Malaysia. I do hope that the various leaders in the region would be sensible and peaceful in dealing with one another, and not allow their personal gripes to affect foreign relations in a negative manner. After all, there are many people that lives in each country, and they would suffer if the leaders of the various neighbouring countries take a hard-ball attitude towards one another.
My impression of Lee Kuan Yew is that he is a tough man who takes a tough attitude towards ensuring the success of Singapore, and he has no qualms about resorting to tough measures to address his concerns. After all, Singapore is his legacy, and what history shall ever make of him will depend on whether Singapore stands the test of time.