Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was 'Lion among leaders' and 'inspiration' to Asians

Past and present leaders of nations, global organisations praise Mr Lee

From Washington to Canberra, the world mourned the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, described as one of "the greatest leaders" of our times, a "lion among leaders" and an "inspiration" to Asians.

"Lee Kuan Yew was a legendary figure in Asia, widely respected for his strong leadership and statesmanship," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in a statement, leading the reaction of world leaders.

"As Singapore marks its 50th anniversary of independence this year, its founding father will be remembered as one of the most inspiring Asian leaders."

Leaders in the world's most powerful nation also expressed grief at Mr Lee's death, with past and present US presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama issuing condolence notes.

"He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one of the great strategists of Asian affairs," Mr Obama said in tribute, as he expressed resounding appreciation for the Singapore statesman whose voice continued to be heard long after he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990.

"Our discussions during my trip to Singapore in 2009 were hugely important in helping me formulate our policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific," he said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank also joined in saluting the departed Singapore leader, who famously took his nation from Third World to First World during his lifetime.

"He was a visionary statesman whose uncompromising stand for meritocracy, efficiency and education transformed Singapore into one of the most prosperous nations in the world," IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said in Washington.

The World Bank praised Mr Lee for transforming Singapore.

"He tackled corruption relentlessly and held public servants to the highest standards," said the World Bank's chief executive officer, Mr Jim Yong Kim. "More importantly, he showed that economic development could provide opportunities and improve the lives of a country's citizens."

Mr Lee, who was the last surviving of the Asian titans who brought independence from European colonial rule to their nations, was also one of the five founding leaders of Asean, along with those from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Yesterday, South-east Asian leaders stood as one to express appreciation for a personality whose vision and diplomacy helped provide stability for a region that emerged as a growth model for the world during his time.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose nation is Asean's largest by area and economic size, described Mr Lee as a close friend of Indonesia and said he would travel to the Republic for Mr Lee's funeral.

"As a leader and a great statesman who loved his people, he was also one of the most influential politicians in Asia," Mr Joko told reporters in Tokyo, where he is on a bilateral visit.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak wrote on Facebook that "founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew's achievements were great, and his legacy is assured".

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Johor Sultan's coronation later, he said Mr Lee had the ability to contribute concrete ideas in various fields.

Datuk Seri Najib said he did not think Mr Lee's death would impact bilateral ties because current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is committed to strengthening the bilateral relationship.

Thailand's royal family and leaders also sent their condolences yesterday. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha will be in Singapore for Mr Lee's funeral on Sunday.

Much of the region's early prosperity is often linked to investments from Japan in the 1970s and 1980s.

Called the "flying geese model", this had Japan as lead goose, with newly industrialising South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore close behind, followed by the developing economies of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Yesterday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Mr Lee, who is "revered all over the world", played a key role not only in achieving Singapore's remarkable economic growth and prosperity but also in securing the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

Mr Lee was "one of the greatest leaders of modern times that Asia has ever produced", he said.

In China and India, Asia's big tectonic plates where Mr Lee was familiar to every leader in their modern history, the tributes were fulsome as well.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Mr Lee had been widely respected by the international community as a strategist and statesman and called him "founder, pioneer and promoter of China-Singapore relations".

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to the Singaporean figure.

"A far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life teaches valuable lessons to everyone," tweeted Mr Modi, who uses the social media site for most of his public pronouncements.

velloor@sph.com.sg


RESPECT OF FILIPINOS

"An era has passed, one upon which Singaporeans can look back on with deep pride and a sense of accomplishment. Throughout his long life, as Prime Minister and Senior Minister, Mr Lee demonstrated an unswerving devotion to his country, turning it into a statement that would be an exemplar of efficient, modern and honest governance. The development of Singapore has earned it the respect of nations and peoples, including the tens of thousands of Filipinos who work there and visit the country."

- Mr Benigno Aquino,

President of the Philippines


DETERMINATION TO SUCCEED

"Lee Kuan Yew's courage, determination, commitment, character and ability made him a formidable leader who held the respect of Singaporeans and the international community alike. His loss will be deeply felt by his family and the people of Singapore. I had the honour of meeting Mr Lee in 2007 during his last official visit to New Zealand. He was well-known for his insights and foresight but what struck me most was his unwavering determination to see Singapore succeed."

- New Zealand Prime Minister John Key


FIRM BELIEVER IN ASEAN

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"He ranks among the most influential leaders of Asia, and in Asean as well. He gave an exceptional contribution to the progress of Asean, alongside other Asean leaders of the time."

- Mr Jusuf Kalla, Vice-President of Indonesia, seen here signing the condolence book at the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta


A FRIEND TO BRITAIN

"He was always a friend to Britain, if sometimes a critical one, and many British prime ministers benefited from his wise advice, including me."

- British Prime Minister David Cameron


BIG INFLUENCE IN ASIA

"There can be few examples in history of such an outstandingly successful nation created so completely by the vision, will and leadership of a single individual.

"But his achievement extended far beyond Singapore itself. He was a key architect of Asean, and through that made a central contribution to the emergence of South-east Asia as a model to the world of effective regional cooperation and integration. No one did more than Lee to make our nearer region as stable and harmonious as it is today.

"But perhaps even more importantly, Lee had a profound impact on the wider Asian region through his remarkable influence on China. He understood, perhaps before anyone else outside China, and perhaps even before Deng Xiaoping himself, just what China could achieve if it found a way to harness market economics and an open trading and investment regime."

- Former prime minister of Australia Bob Hawke