Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Foreign dignitaries attend Mr Lee Kuan Yew's state funeral

Leaders from 23 countries attended the state funeral of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew yesterday, in a testament to the deep regard many had for his achievements and his insights.

Gathered at the University Cultural Centre were heads of state or government from the other Asean countries and close partners.

They were Malaysia's Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Laos' Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Myanmar's President Thein Sein, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Philippine Senate president Franklin Drilon represented President Benigno Aquino.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Canada's Governor-General David Johnston, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin were also present.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov, New Zealand Governor-General Jerry Mateparae, South Korean President Park Geun Hye and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani also attended the funeral.

Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao, former United States president Bill Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov were also there.

In his eulogy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said his father had raised Singapore's standing in the world.

"Mr Lee was not just a perceptive observer of world affairs, but a statesman who articulated Singapore's international interests and enlarged our strategic space," he said. He added that at crucial turning points, "his views and counsel influenced thinking and decisions in many capitals".

In the process, Mr Lee "built up a wide network of friends and acquaintances, in and out of power".

He knew every Chinese leader from Mao Zedong, and every US president from Lyndon Johnson. He established close rapport with President Suharto of Indonesia.

Other close friends, PM Lee said, included former British premier Margaret Thatcher, Mr Clinton, and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was also at the funeral service.

"They valued his candour and insight. As Mrs Thatcher said, '(Mr Lee) had a way of penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing, with unique clarity, the issues of our times and the way to tackle them. He was never wrong.'

"Hence, despite being small, Singapore's voice is heard, and we enjoy far more influence on the world stage than we have any reason to expect," PM Lee added.

Mr Modi earlier told reporters that Mr Lee "was among the tallest leaders of our times".

"Singapore's transformation in one generation is a tribute to his leadership... I am sure that he left satisfied with Singapore's achievements and confident about its future," he said.

"He inspired not just South-east Asia, but all of Asia, to believe in its own destiny."

Mr Modi described Mr Lee as a source of inspiration, whose "achievements and thoughts give me confidence in the possibility of India's own transformation".

Bhutan's King said: "His legacy will live on forever (not just) through Singaporeans, but all over the world. People such as myself, young people who have great admiration for Lee Kuan Yew, will continue to remember him with great respect."

Mr Clinton added that he appreciated Mr Lee's insights and candour: "Because Singapore had been friendly to the US and was friendly to the forces of reform in China, we were all able to have an informal relationship and just talk things through, and I think that's the way.

"People can deal with differences as long as everybody is on the level. Lee Kuan Yew was on the level. Whatever the deal was, that's what he would say. It was a gift, not just to the people of Singapore, but to the rest of the world."

rachelay@sph.com.sg