Graham A. , Blackwill R., & Wyne A., Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013) pp. 186

Last month the world lost one of the great leaders of 21st Century. This is Lee Kuan Yew. May his soul rest in peace. Why was Lee Kuan Yew not only a great but also a distinguished leader of the 21st Century?

This book, which is a collection of interviews with him by Allison Graham, Robert Blackwill, and Ali Wyne, gives us an insight to the unique and unapologetic thinking of Lee Kuan Yew. I am not going to dwell on introducing him because even a quick look at his Wikipedia page (don’t tell it to my students…lol) can give you adequate background information about him. I will instead reflect on his insights and take on different aspects that often disturb the minds of international politics scholars and analysts.

In the neoliberal and consumerism world that we are currently living in, politicians have been haunted and chocked by “political correctness” and “branding” in trying to please “political consumers” and voters. In that, only a few politicians can now dare to speak their minds openly. Lee Kuan Yew was one of those few leaders who dared to say what he thought was right even if it was not popular. Publicity did not bother him. And rightly so, it did not have to, because his actions and results of his work spoke for him and proved him right in many occasions. Due to positive results seen in Singapore out of his leadership, Lee almost legitimized “authoritarianism”.

In those interviews, the interviewers asked him a number of questions including the place of China in international affairs, the USA vs China balance of power, liberal democracy, Islamic extremism, and the future of globalization. In his answers, which are recorded in the book, Lee was extremely honest to speak his mind and constructively critical to some of the issues especially those that had to do with liberal democracy. He was, at many times, expressing his worries about the kind of leaders that the liberal democracy system of elections and campaigns are bringing to power.

I also do like his advice to the USA on dealing with China. He was very objective in his analysis of China and also the USA. In an implicit but thoroughly manner, Lee highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of China. He also spoke about India and showed its weaknesses, which I was really shocked to read about. He suggested ways of dealing with these countries. I hope the State Department took them seriously- most likely they did as the book was mostly meant to serve them.

I thus agree with most of Lee’s analysis and recommended solutions. But I also did not agree with some of his thoughts. Since I am going to urge everyone to read the book- especially those who are interested in international relations, I will only explain one of the things that I did not agree with him.

In his analysis of China, Lee thought one of the weaknesses China has is them not speaking English. He thought language is a barrier to China, and in fact one that is difficult to deal with. As much as English is the “global” language, I still think it is a good thing and in fact a positive thing for the Chinese to have kept their language in all aspects of their lives- official and social. Research has it that kids understand more when they are taught in their mother tongue. This could be one of the reasons why China has been very successful in training their kids in every aspect of life including patriotism. I also think Chinese do not need to know English because already they are making almost a 5th of the world population, so automatically making Chinese one of the most spoken language on earth. One thing that Lee forgot in his analysis (or may be it was not recorded) is that the Chinese are working day and night to teach its language in universities throughout the world through the establishment of Confucius Institutes.

Before making this too long, and for the sake of making you go pick up the book and read, I need to say that I was touched by how honesty (at the end) Lee was to his own weaknesses. He admitted that during his administration tenure, he did crazy things – such as locking up fellows without trials (p.149).

To end, I recommend every student of international relations to read this book (in fact one of the interviewer –Graham Allison- is a renown scholar of IR with a number of very good publication on foreign policy). I also recommend the book to politicians and other aspiring political leaders so as they can get inspiration and positive energy from the Grand Master who turned a small city from a third world status to a first world status state!

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