Saturday, January 22, 2011

Singapore ‘not yet a nation’: MM Lee

MM Lee unveils a photograph of himself and his late wife Kwa Geok Choo at the launch of his book. (AFP photo)

For all its gleaming skyscrapers and successful transformation from a tiny fishing village to one of Asia’s — if not the world’s — most modern cities, Singapore is not yet the finished product.

That’s the frank, honest and brutal assessment of none other than Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the 87-year-old founding father of the city-state.

“We are a nation in the making. Will we make it? Am I certain we’ll get there? No, I cannot say that. Something can go wrong somewhere and we’ll fall apart,” said the Minister Mentor at the launch of his new book at St Regis Hotel on Friday.

Speaking in front of an audience of over 160 people, comprising of diplomats, Members of Parliaments and academics, MM Lee went on to assess Singapore’s chances of becoming a true nation.

“If you believe it’s a reality, then I think you’re making a mistake. It’s an aspiration, it’s something we must make into reality probably in another 20,30, 40, 50 years.”

At what stage would he consider Singapore a true “nation”?

When its people were willing to make sacrifices and “die for one another”, he said.

He gave the example of China and Japan as nations having been ravaged and demolished but whose ”people have come together to rebuild it”.

But if the same thing were to happen to Singapore, it may “simply fall apart”, said MM Lee.

“I do not deceive myself for one moment that our differences of race, culture and religion will disappear,” he said, before urging the current and future generations of Singaporean leaders to “nurture, strengthen and build upon” the current Singapore.

WIDE-RANGING BOOK

The 458-page book, entitled Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, also reveals MM Lee’s views on topics ranging his personal interpretations of love, family, homosexuality and even fengshui.

When asked if he believes in fengshui for instance, he laughed and said it was “utter rubbish” that people think he does.

“I’m a pragmatic, practical fella. I do not believe in horoscopes, I do not believe in fengshui, and I’m not superstitious about numbers,” he said.

MM Lee also calls love at first sight “a grave mistake” that one will regret. He advised Singaporeans to choose “somebody who will raise your standard”, joking that it was exactly what he did.

The 87-year-old also keeps an open mind about homosexuality.

“It’s not a lifestyle,” MM Lee said. “There’s a genetic difference, they’re born that way and that’s that.”

“So if two men and two women’re that way, just leave them alone,” he reiterated.

In the new book, Mr Lee also revealed his wish to have the family home torn down for redevelopment after he dies, even though many would probably wish to have the memorable place conserved.

“I’ve seen other houses, Nehru‘s, Shakespeare‘s. They become a shambles after a while.”

“Because of my house, the neighbouring houses cannot build high. Now demolish my house and change the planning rules, go up, the land value will go up,” he added.

After more than half a century in the public eye, fans and critics alike, MM Lee says he remains driven by the two things he holds closest to his heart – his family and his country.

“I did some sharp things to get things right,” he admitted. “Maybe they disapprove of it, (found it) too harsh, but a lot was at stake.”

“At the end of the day, what have I got? Just a successful Singapore.”

MM Lee’s new book is now available at all major bookstores for $39.90.

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