Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew made the world a better place: Kissinger

Ex-top US diplomat says his friend of more than 40 years was an amazing phenomenon

Prime ministers and potentates from some two dozen nations, joined by close friends of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, gathered last night to bid a final farewell to the man who often was called upon to step in to explain Asia to a global audience confounded by its complexities.

"The world is a better place because of Lee Kuan Yew," said Dr Henry Kissinger, former United States secretary of state and Mr Lee's friend of more than four decades.

"He taught us about the way Asians think about problems and explained to us what development meant in a practical sense. But he also told us, 'We can do that much, and beyond that, somebody else has to do certain things.'"

The former Harvard professor, four months older than Mr Lee, fashioned late US president Richard Nixon's diplomatic breakthrough with China. He was speaking to local media about his long friendship with Mr Lee, whom he first met in 1967.

Describing Mr Lee as "an amazing phenomenon", Dr Kissinger said theirs was not a friendship based on doing things for each other, but one based on learning from each other.

There, he acknowledged Mr Lee's role in helping to shape the US approach to China, which continues to evolve.

"He never came and said, 'You have to do this or that.' He was never a lobbyist," said Dr Kissinger.

"He would say, 'Here is a situation and you have to understand it if you want to succeed.' He explained what the Chinese were doing in their internal politics, their economic policies. I found his advice extremely helpful and so did a succession of presidents and others in practically every American administration."

The 91-year-old Dr Kissinger is in Singapore as part of the US presidential delegation led by former president Bill Clinton, the popular elder statesman of the Democratic Party. Dr Kissinger is the oldest among the overseas dignitaries attending the funeral.

Whether from tiny Bhutan, with a population of less than a million, or China, the world's biggest nation by population, leaders of 24 nations have travelled to the Republic, including the President of Kazakhstan and the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia.

Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck paid his respects to Mr Lee at the wake yesterday, accompanied by his wife, Queen Jetsun Pema.

Other rulers who will be at the funeral include Malaysia's monarch, Yang di-Pertuan Agong

Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.

Every Asean head of government or state is also here, with the exception of the Philippines, which sent President of the Senate Franklin Drilon. Of Asia's big powers - China, Japan and India - the latter two are represented by their prime ministers, while China sent Vice-President Li Yuanchao.

A stream of other dignitaries have also paid respects at Mr Lee's bier. Yesterday, they included former Malaysian finance minister Daim Zainuddin, a man respected by Mr Lee for his savvy.

Condolences from global leaders have also poured in. Egyptian President Fattah al-Sisi called Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Friday to offer condolences, paying tribute to the "architect of Singapore's economy", according to his spokesman Alaa Youssef.

velloor@sph.com.sg