Did Lee Kuan Yew help Singapore?

A viewer asked this question on 7/12/2000:

Hi! I'd like to ask about your view towards Lee Kuan Yew's contribution to Singapore. As I'm doing a research paper in my college, I really hope that u can tell me your opinion of him. Thank You!

JesseGordon gave this response on 7/12/2000:

I'm not an expert on Lee, but I can share some thoughts on Singapore in general. I wrote a paper on this subject (with some references to Lee) at .

Lee was the president of a one-party system, and worked hard to keep it that way. So in a sense, he fought against democracy, since he effectively disallowed opposition parties. On the other hand, we successfully converted Singapore from a third world country to a prosperous international leader. That's the dilemma of his rule -- is his style of authoritarian democracy acceptable, to enrich your people?

The bubble.htm paper above concludes Yes. What Lee did was tolerable -- he made all sorts of political controls, but never killed his people. Keeping to the "good" side of that line makes authoritarianism an acceptable interim during economic growth.

A viewer rated this answer:

Thank you!

A viewer asked this question on 8/22/2000:

Hi. Can anyone analyse or provide relevant information on the United States foreign policy toward Singapore? Urgent. Thanks.

stevehaddock gave this response on 8/22/2000:

There's not a lot to tell.

As I understand it, the United States treats Singapore as another sovereign nation despite the small size of the island nation. It has probably done so since Singapore was thrown out of the Malaysian Federation in the early 1960's. There is no special relationship between the two countries and they have normal diplomatic relations so travel between the two countries can be accomplished with an ordinary visa. The United States has been known to protest the treatment of American citizens under the rather strict laws of Singapore, but the worst that has been done to an American citizen is caning as punishment for a charge of vandalism.

I do not believe Singapore has "favoured nation" status so imports from Singapore to the U.S. carry normal tariffs.

Although Singapore is effectively a one-party state, the U.S. has not put any sanctions on Singapore to attempt to change this policy.

The U.S. does recognize Singapore's strategic importance in Asia (it is right in the middle of all major Indian Ocean shipping lanes), but there is no defence treaty with Singapore.

JesseGordon gave this response on 8/29/2000:

I'd like to clarify a couple of points from my colleague 's answer.

First, Singapore is only small geographically. Typically, the US bases its foreign policy on ECONOMIC size, not on GEOGRAPPHIC size or POPULATION size. If we based it on geography, we'd care a lot more about Brazil; if we based it on population we'd care a lot more about India. We base foreign policy on economic size because that's what matters to the US -- how much we can trade with them, etc. Singapore is certainly not one of the world's larger economies, but it's a lot bigger economically than it is geographically (a 20-mile island) or by population (just 4 million people). But it's in the same category as Denmark or Israel, economically, which is well above most African, Asian, or Latin American countries. Some nice figures to substantiate that are at -- Singapore makes it (barely) into the "select list" of countries.

Second, Singapore DOES have "most favored nation" status. MFN is an oddly-named status; it just means that the country gets the same status as the most-favored nation, which is the same thing as saying, open trade. Because it's so hard to state it that way, the new term is "NTR", for "Normal Trading Relations." Singapore has NTR (and MFN) status with the US. We have no import restrictions, and no special tariffs, for Singapore. In the world of international trade, "normal" means "most favored."

Third, it's true that Singapore has a one-party government. But they are by no means a strong-man dictatorship -- they're a democracy. The US would NEVER put sanctions against a government like Singapore's -- their leaders are elected democratically. It's a non-Western authoritarian form of democracy, like Japan and South Korea have, but it IS a democracy. Their one-party state COULD be voted out of power, as Japan's was. I predict that will happen in about 10 years in Singapore -- see for details.

Finally, the US does have some defense relationship with Singapore. It's true that we have no formal defense relationship (which would be through SEATO, the US's Pacific equivalent of NATO). But Singapore is a member of ASEAN (the economic Association of South East Asian Nations), which the US is associated with through its membership in the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum, which has some security aspects to it). It's unlikely that the US would feel obligated by treaty to come to the military assistance of Singapore, but it's also unlikely that anyone would invade. But we were not obligated by treaty to come to the military assistance of Kuwait or Kosovo either, and we did -- I suspect we would do the same for Singapore. We DO use Singapore as a port of call for US Navy ships (I've seen them in the harbor), and when the US bases in the Philippines were closing, Singapore considered opening a new US base there (I think it was rejected because the island is just too small).

Overall, 's answers are correct, but miss the spirit -- Singapore is an ally, as far as the US is concerned, for the basic reason that they are a developed capitalist democracy.

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