Security issues the focus of MM Lee’s talks in US
He also touches on rise of India and China, and their influence in Asia.
SECURITY issues in the Middle East and Asia were the focus of talks between Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and US President George W. Bush and top officials of his administration here over the past two days.
White House sources, who described MM Lee as “an elder statesman whose voice is respected in Asia and the world”, said the American leadership drew great value from his insights into a range of issues that Washington was currently grappling with.
These included the Iraq war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, North Korea’s nuclear test and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Terrorism and the rise of China and India also featured in the talks. “This administration and others before know that they are dealing with the wise man of Asia,” said a White House official.
“They get a lot of value from what he tells them. That is why the President and his team see him. They will continue to see him because of the enormous clout he continues to hold in world affairs.”
According to US officials, MM Lee’s message – that America has to remain engaged in the Middle East and Asia – struck a chord in his meetings with President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In his discussions, MM Lee drew on some of the themes in the speech he delivered last week in New York when he received a top public service award from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.
One was Iraq, where he maintained that the United States should stay the course.
He said US engagement in Iraq could help create a stable country that could transform the rest of the Middle East for the better.
MM Lee noted that the Vietnam War in the 1970s had brought “collateral benefits” for Asia as it “bought the time and created the conditions that enabled non-communist East Asia to follow Japan’s path and develop into the four dragons, followed by the four tigers”.
The four dragons referred to South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore while the tigers are Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These countries in turn changed both communist China and Vietnam into open market economies and made them freer societies, MM Lee said.
In his discussions in Washington, he also spoke at length – especially during his 50-minute meeting with Mr Bush – about the rise of China and India. He noted how both countries that had long had traditional and cultural links in South-east Asia were competing for influence in the region. The White House official who advises the American President on Asian affairs noted: “The bottom line is clear: the Minister Mentor wants the US to remain involved in the region and not revert to isolationist tendencies. Singapore looks to the US for leadership and is not conflicted about it. It does not have anything against American hegemony.
“It is this pragmatism that makes this a love-love relationship. Of course, Singapore is not uncritical of us. But it is constructive criticism logically thought out…Singapore does not have any baggage in its dealings with the United States.”
US-Singapore relations have grown stronger in recent years, especially after the Sept 11 attacks. Founded on defence and economic cooperation, the ties have broadened to include areas such as information technology, health and education.
The US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement is a key area of engagement. In July last year, the two countries also concluded a strategic framework pact that further strengthened defence and security links.
Underlying such cooperation is the close ties between the leaders of both countries. Here, the Minister Mentor has been instrumental.
Influential Republican Joe Wilson, who sits on the armed services and international relations committees of the House of Representatives, told The Straits Times that MM Lee was Singapore’s “signature political figure” who shaped the country into the economic powerhouse it is today.
“Now serving in an advisory role, Lee Kuan Yew continues to wield influence in the United States and around the world.”
Importantly, he also ensured that Singapore had a global reach, punching way above its weight class.
“As an ally in the global war on terrorism and a beacon of democracy in eastern Asia, the United States is proud to stand with Singapore,” said Mr Wilson. MM Lee, who is on a two-week working visit to the US, was due to leave for Dallas yesterday. He is also scheduled to go to Las Vegas.
“Singapore looks to the US for leadership and is not conflicted about it…It is this pragmatism that makes this a love-love relationship.”
A WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL, who advises President Bush on Asian affairs