Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Lee Kuan Yew interview: "It's Stupid to be Afraid"

Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew is no doubt a pretty smart man. Even though he mentions the potential for aggressive nationalism in China within the next generation, I still think he underestimates the probability for this. And he doesn't mention that it may come as a result of internal Chinese weakness, to save the CCP from being overthrown:

Lee Kuan Yew interview: "It's Stupid to be Afraid"

SPIEGEL: The political and economic center of gravity is moving from the West towards the East. Is Asia becoming the dominant political and economic force in this century?

Mr. Lee: I wouldn't say it's the dominant force. What is gradually happening is the restoration of the world balance to what it was in the early 19th century or late 18th century when China and India together were responsible for more than 40 percent of world GDP. With those two countries becoming part of the globalized trading world, they are going to go back to approximately the level of world GDP that they previously occupied. But that doesn't make them the superpowers of the world.

SPIEGEL: But how afraid should the West be?

Mr. Lee: It's stupid to be afraid. It's going to happen. I console myself this way. Suppose, China had never gone communist in 1949, suppose the Nationalist government had worked with the Americans -- China would be the great power in Asia -- not Japan, not Korea, not Hong Kong, not Singapore. Because China isolated itself, development took place on the periphery of Asia first.

SPIEGEL: Such a consolation won't be enough for the future.

Mr. Lee: Right. In 50 years I see China, Korea and Japan at the high-tech end of the value chain. Look at the numbers and quality of the engineers and scientists they produce and you know that this is where the R&D will be done. The Chinese have a space programme, they're going to put a man on the Moon and nobody sold them that technology. We have to face that.

SPIEGEL: When you look to Western Europe, do you see a possible collapse of the society because of the overwhelming forces of globalization?

Mr. Lee: No. I see ten bitter years. In the end, the workers, whether they like it or not, will realize, that the cosy European world which they created after the war has come to an end.

SPIEGEL: How so?

Mr. Lee: The social contract that led to workers sitting on the boards of companies and everybody being happy rested on this condition: I work hard, I restore Germany's prosperity, and you, the state, you have to look after me. I'm entitled to go to Baden Baden for spa recuperation one month every year. This old system was gone in the blink of an eye when two to three billion people joined the race -- one billion in China, one billion in India and over half-a-billion in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

SPIEGEL: The Chinese Government is promoting the peaceful rise of China. Do you believe them?

Mr. Lee: Yes, I do, with one reservation. I think they have calculated that they need 30 to 40 -- maybe 50 years of peace and quiet to catch up, to build up their system, change it from the communist system to the market system. They must avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan. Their competition for power, influence and resources led in the last century to two terrible wars.

SPIEGEL: But would anybody take them really seriously without military power?

Mr. Lee: About eight years ago, I met Liu Huaqing, the man who built the Chinese Navy. Mao personally sent him to Leningrad to learn to build ships. I said to him, "The Russians made very rough, crude weapons". He replied, "You are wrong. They made first-class weapons, equal to the Americans." The Russian mistake was that they put so much into military expenditure and so little into civilian technology. So their economy collapsed. I believe the Chinese leadership have learnt: If you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile, for 40 or 50 years.

SPIEGEL: What are your reservations?

Mr. Lee: I don't know whether the next generation will stay on this course. After 15 or 20 years they may feel their muscles are very powerful. We know the mind of the leaders but the mood of the people on the ground is another matter. Because there's no more communist ideology to hold the people together, the ground is now galvanised by Chinese patriotism and nationalism. Look at the anti-Japanese demonstrations.


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