Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

South Korea's President Park Geun Hye to attend Mr Lee Kuan Yew's funeral

SEOUL - South Korean President Park Geun Hye will attend Sunday’s state funeral of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the president’s office has confirmed.

Ms Park on Monday offered deep condolences to Singaporeans over the death of their founding father, who she called a friend of South Koreans as he offered wisdom for the development of relations between their two nations, Yonhap news agency reported.

She said in a statement that she hoped Mr Lee may rest in peace.

Under Mr Lee’s 31 years of “remarkable leadership and profound wisdom, Singapore has become an advanced nation and a world class hub of finance and logistics. His achievements and dedications to transform Singapore into the first-rate country have been revered by countries all around the world including Korea,” she added in the statement.

Apart from the official statement, South Korean media also used excerpts from her 2007 memoir in which she recalled encounters with Mr Lee and his wife Mrs Kwa Geok Choo, and how the couple had treated her with kindness.

Ms Park first met them when Mr Lee paid an official visit to South Korea in October 1979 for a meeting with her late father Park Chung Hee, a former military general credited with rapid post-war development and expansion of the Korean economy.

Ms Park, standing in as first lady after her mother’s early death, was also the interpreter for the meeting, which cemented bilateral relations established in 1975. A week after the meeting, Mr Park was assassinated.

In her autobiography, Ms Park drew parallels between her father and Mr Lee - how they were both gallant men leading their own countries in difficult times in the 1960s and 70s, full of passion and ideas how to move ahead. She wrote that it was a cordial meeting, and both heaped praises on each other, but she could also detect a sense of rivalry between them.

When Mr Lee got news of her father’s passing a week later, he sent her his deepest condolences.

Ms Park wrote in the memoir, The Exercise of My Despair: Park Geun Hye Autobiography, that the couple treated her with kindness as if they were her parents.
In May 2006, Ms Park met with Mr and Mrs Lee once again, this time in Seoul.

In her memoir, she wrote that after so many years, Mr Lee’s eyes were still gleaming and he had the air of a well-weathered leader, but she could feel his kindness under his stoic appearance.

She could not help but wonder if this would be the image of her own father if he was still alive. Ms Park wrote that Mr and Mrs Lee were kind towards her as if she was their own daughter, recalling how Mrs Lee passed her some lozenges telling her that it is important to take good care of her throat when going around giving speeches during her election campaign trail as the chairman of Grand National Party.

Later that day, Ms Park was hurt in a knife attack in a rally - to which Mr and Mrs Lee responded with a letter of concern. She wrote that she will never forget the parent-like kindness they showed her.

Finally, noting that Mr Lee’s son is now the leader of Singapore, she wrote: If one were to say Mr Lee and my father were rivals during their times, I hope to explore together with his son, the current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, the future development of our countries.