We are not vulnerable? They can besiege you. You’ll be dead

The following is an excerpt from the Straits Times’ report on 16 January 2011 which is based on 16 interviews with Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew depicting his views on Singapore and being a Singaporean:

Source: Straits Times

Clockwise, from right) MM Lee, his press secretary Yeong Yoon Ying, ST reporter Rachel Lin, deputy review editor Chua Mui Hoong, deputy editor Zuraidah Ibrahim, editor Han Fook Kwang, news editor Ignatius Low, reporter Robin Chan, deputy political editor Lydia Lim, and MM’s principal private secretary Chee Hong Tat. Singapore spends 5 to 6 per cent of GDP on defence every year because Singapore’s vulnerability is very real, says MM. — ST FILE PHOTO

Lee was hardly the easiest person to interview. He was blunt at times, and often cantankerous and combative. Although he had agreed to a no-holds-barred interview format, he did not conceal his annoyance when he felt that the questions reflected perspectives that he had no patience for.

The journalists before him then seemed to become, in his eyes, surrogates for his ideological opponents and were dressed down accordingly. On other occasions, though, he seemed to relish the exercise, sometimes prefacing an extended discourse with ‘Have I told you this story?’ or coming prepared with a clutch of anecdotes and a choice phrase for the week.

Visible too were the signs of a man coping with the frailties of age. One day, he shuffled in wearing sandals. His toes had an infection. After a trip to Malaysia, where he had fallen off an exercise bicycle in his hotel in Kuantan, he appeared with an improvised therapeutic device: a heating pad strapped to his leg with neon-coloured skipping ropes.

After converting to a floor bike, his stiffness moved to his back and the pad followed. Several times, he would use a spritzer to moisten his parched throat.

Once, during a trip to Armenia, he developed pneumonia as he was having problems swallowing and food had gone down his windpipe.

Not once, however, did he lament about being tired or weary. The interviews drew not only from his surfeit of memories, but also from the latest developments in Asia and the world. He was obviously keeping abreast of things, whether it was China’s green energy ambitions or the elections in Japan. While he was less in command of the specific details of domestic policies, he was more than familiar with their general thrust. He kept himself scrupulously up to date on world events. He read the papers every day and in the office, his radio would always be tuned to the BBC World News Service.

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Jan 16, 2011


Whoever joins us, is part of us

Q You described Singapore as a nation in transition, given its young history where we do not have a common language, culture or geography. What must Singapore be like before you consider it a nation?

There must be a sense of self, a sense of identity, that you are prepared to die for your country, that you’re prepared to die for one another. Just look at the Chinese, how many times they’ve been invaded, but they have re-created themselves when the invaders got weak because there is that cohesiveness: same language, same culture and the same Han race.

Are we the same language, same culture? No. We have adopted one language which is a foreign language, like the West Indies or some African countries which have adopted English but they are not one nation. If we lose our second language, we lose all sense of our identity, not just the Singaporean. You don’t create a nation in 45 years.

Q Is there a worry that the influx of foreigners into Singapore will further dilute the national identity we’re trying to build?

Maybe, but what’s the choice? I keep on saying to Singaporeans, please have two children at least, if possible three. They have not responded.

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