Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has given a rare and candid interview to Ms Zou Yun of the China Media Group (CMG), in which he shared his personal journey and thoughts on his leadership.
The hour-long interview covered various topics such as foreign policy, geopolitics, and Singapore-China relations. However, it took a more personal turn, allowing viewers to learn more about the Prime Minister’s thoughts and feelings.
Regarding his decision to enter politics, 71-year-old PM Lee said, “I had the responsibility to come back to Singapore, be part of Singapore, and do what I could to help the country to succeed.”
He mentioned that he had studied mathematics during his undergraduate days at the University of Cambridge in Britain but decided to become a politician instead.
Ms Zou said, “Back in your days in Cambridge, some professors say they felt it was a pity for you to become a politician, not a mathematician, because you were back then a rising star in the world of math. Mr Prime Minister, have you ever regret about this choice?”
“I don’t regret. I was not a rising star. I was a promising student,” he told his interviewer, Ms Esther Zou.
PM Lee, who has been in government for almost 40 years and became the Prime Minister in 2004, spoke about the intellectual stimulation that comes with dealing with a wide range of issues, including keeping budgets balanced.
“The numbers have to work, but you must be able to make it work in terms which people can understand, accept and want to see,” he said. “What difference does it make to somebody’s life? Why does it matter to them?”
On building trust with Singaporeans, PM Lee said that it is an “unending task” and that it takes time to build that trust.
“Look and see what happens in different situations. Are you there for them or not? Are you still reliable under pressure? Do you have a message and hope for them? And gradually, you can build up. It takes time,” he said.
PM Lee’s illustrious military career
PM Lee was enlisted with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1971, and after his enlistment, he enrolled in Cambridge University’s Trinity College and graduated in 1974 as the senior wrangler.
The son of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, then came back to Singapore and served as a commissioned officer between 1974 and 1984, and held various staff and command posts, including Director of the Joint Operations and Plans Directorate, and Chief of Staff of the General Staff.
PM Lee rose quickly through the ranks in the Singapore Army.
In fact, it was so fast that he became the youngest brigadier-general (BG) in Singapore’s history after his promotion in July 1983 at the age of 31.
Notably, he was put in command of the rescue operations for the Sentosa cable car disaster on 29 January 1983 which he was given credit—while some criticised his lack of decisiveness which resulted in hours before any rescue attempt was made.
PM Lee served as commanding officer of the 23rd Battalion Singapore Artillery in the Singapore Army before he left the SAF in 1984 for politics at the age of 32.
So while PM Lee – currently the highest-paid Prime Minister in the world – said he never regretted going into politics instead of mathematics, he never really had the opportunity or the time to do so.
After all, he spent 13 years in the military, with five years in Cambridge and Harvard, before choosing to contest as a candidate in 1984.