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LKY’s advice to Hong Kong in 1989, potentially reveals an insight on Singapore’s governance and how PAP stayed in power after so many years

At a meeting with the late Margaret Thatcher on 20 October 1989, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) had suggested that the people of Hong Kong should not directly confront Beijing but rather, “they should organise themselves so that they could do potential damage to China’s interests,” He went on to say that there were about 200,000 people in Hong Kong who really mattered and they if they banded together and threatened to leave Hong Kong, it could bring about the downfall of Hong Kong’s administration and economic life, thereby acting as a counterbalance to Chinese aggression in Hong Kong.

The above was revealed in files declassified last week from Britain’s National Archives in London.

It is interesting that LKY said what he did in the aftermath of the Tiananmen massacre on 4 June earlier that year. This could be why the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) government is so fixated on ensuring that its ministers are paid handsomely.

LKY understood well that Singapore was an island with no natural resources. All it had was its economy and if that were threatened, the PAP government would lose the trust of the people. Therefore, to ensure that the economically powerful people in the land do not gang up against party interests, the party had to ensure that the economically powerful people in Singapore were those who were part of the incumbent political system. What better way is there to ensure this balance than ensuring that your ministers are part of the economic elite in Singapore?

This also exposes how reliant on the health of the economy our current political system is. This could also mean that there are other economically powerful factions within Singapore who may have the power to damage the political interests of the PAP. If their financial interests are affected, could this lead them to potentially act against the PAP? If so, how does the PAP ensure that these financial elites are kept compliant? LKY’s assessment of the situation of a post Tiananmen Hong Kong potentially reveals an insight into how Singapore is governed and how the party stays in power after so many years.

In view of this formula, how does putting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s (LHL) wife, Ho Ching at the helm of Temasek, governing such a vast amount of assets square up? If the economy is king, could it be argued that putting your own family in charge of the largest assets available in the land is tantamount to political longevity?

If LKY was offering such advice to the people of Hong Kong, can the same be adopted by financially powerful people within Singapore who are not currently part of the ruling elite?