Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew was always a friend to Britain, says British Prime Minister David Cameron

LONDON - Singapore's former colonial master, the country whose citizen he once was and where he pursued his university education, offered ample tributes to Lee Kuan Yew's legacy.

Praising Mr Lee for making his country "into one of the great success stories of our modern world", British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that he "was always a friend to Britain, if sometimes a critical one, and many British Prime Ministers benefited from his wise advice, including me".

The British leader also recalled that the late premier Lady Thatcher "once said that there was no Prime Minister she admired more than Mr Lee for 'the strength of his convictions, the clarity of his views, the directness of his speech and his vision of the way ahead'".

"His place in history is assured," said Mr Cameron of Singapore's first prime minister.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond paid tribute to Mr Lee for "fashioning the Singapore and Asian region that we know today".

Singapore and the United Kingdom, added Mr Hammond, "have a long and deep friendship; he will be sorely missed".

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair described Mr Lee as "one of the most extraordinary leaders of modern times".

"He was a genuine political giant," Mr Blair concluded.

The British media paid tribute to Mr Lee too.

"If you seek his monument", wrote The Economist in an obituary entitled "The Wise Man of the East", "look around Singapore: Prosperous, orderly, clean, efficient and honestly governed".

This "is not the work of Lee Kuan Yew alone", the magazine pointed out, although "the most important reason for Singapore's singular experience is Mr Lee himself".

The Financial Times noted in its obituary that "to many, Lee was the embodiment of a new Asian dynamism: smart, tough and pragmatic, and displaying unshakeable self-confidence."

The Guardian, Britain's top left-leaning newspaper, initially stumbled in its coverage: it misspelt Mr Lee's name and got wrong the precise timing of the announcement of his death. But the paper went on to praise Mr Lee as a "relentless nation-builder".

"Always a leader rather than a follower, he set his own agenda," it said.

Meanwhile, the centre-right Telegraph daily called Mr Lee "the outstanding Asian statesman of his generation", recalling the words of veteran British broadcasting journalist Anthony Lawrence who, upon seeing Mr Lee at his first press conference after he took office in 1959, reported that "the deep impression he left was of a hard-headed, no-nonsense popular leader, and of a man it would be very dangerous to cross".

Singapore's High Commission in London opened its doors for all those wishing to sign the condolence book on Monday.

High Commissioner Foo Chi Hsia told The Straits Times that, given the fact that Britain is home to one of the biggest overseas Singaporean communities, she expected a large number to come in order to pay their respects.

jonathan.eyal@gmail.com.