By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 31) - One of Asia's best-known, world-class statesman is 80-year-old Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Lee converted Singapore, a small island with a population of slightly more than four million, from Third-World to First-World status in one generation.

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, wrote that Richard Nixon felt Lee would have achieved the status of a Churchill, Disraeli or Gladstone, had Lee lived in another country at another time.

Lee is an Asian intellectual giant, whose blunt words on numerous subjects have made him politically incorrect. And his unambiguous advice on attaining economic growth, while maintaining political order and control, has carried great influence.

The Council on Foreign Relations' "Foreign Affairs Agenda 1995: Critical Issues in Foreign Policy" contains a must-read interview that Zakaria, then managing editor of Foreign Affairs journal, had with Lee. Lee's thinking on American-style democracy and its shortcomings is the focus of this column today. His thinking can help us to understand ourselves, too.

Lee admires America's "free, easy and open relations" between people of diverse social status, ethnicity or religion; a "certain openness" in argument; accountability of public officials; the absence of secrecy and terror known in communist societies. But Lee criticizes the expansion of individual rights "to behave or misbehave" at the expense of an orderly society. He sees the post-World War II idea that men are better off if allowed to do as they please as having "not worked out, and I doubt if it will."

Lee sees people of East Asia (Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam) as believing in a well-ordered society, whose members cannot enjoy freedom "in a natural state of contention and anarchy." He sees America as changing with an erosion of society's moral underpinnings, and the shrinking of personal responsibility. Lee believes that human nature has certain basics that do not change; that evil exists and that no society has the power or obligation to protect its citizens from all its outcomes.

In Eastern societies, Lee says, an individual exists in the context of his family, which is a part of the extended family, friends and the wider society. To Lee, a ruler or a government does not provide for a person what his family can provide him. He refers to a Chinese aphorism that is embraced by a whole people: Xiushen (look after yourself), Qijia (look after the family), Zhiguo (look after the country), Pingtianxia (all is peaceful under Heaven).

Lee advises that a developing society should focus on basics and work on the individual person within the context of his family, his friends and his society. Lee says Singaporeans started off with basics and used the family to push economic growth by improving the lot of children through education.

"The government can create a setting" for people to live happily and successfully, Lee explains, but "it is what people do with their lives that determines economic success or failure." Lee says Singapore's fortune is blessed with a culture of thrift, hard work, filial piety, loyalty in the extended family and "most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning."

We believe that all men are equal and all people the world over are the same. But Lee says, "They are not." He sees different peoples develop different characteristics as they have evolved separately for centuries, and that "genetics and history interact." People may have similar shape of skulls, Lee argues, but their neurological development and cultural values vary. To refuse to see these differences because it is politically incorrect to do so is to lay a land mine for oneself, he says.

Lee warns that because East Asia has been industrialized so quickly within a period of 50 years, compared to the West, where it took more than 200 years, people are nostalgic for the past they have left behind. But Japan has addressed this problem by becoming industrialized while keeping the "Japaneseness" of its core values. Lee sees nothing wrong with modernization, in the sense that people accept science and technology to bring change to their lifestyles. To be modernized is not the same as to be Westernized, he says.

Do we on Guam find anything Lee says that is relevant as Guam is developing?

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., teaches political science at the University of Guam

December 31, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com


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