WASHINGTON • Singapore's decision to allow itself to be "exploited" by multinational companies from its early days of independence played a key role in its economic growth and success, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
"We decided if by exploiting us they created jobs for us, and they generated markets for us, and they brought technology and organisation... so be it," he said of the decision which went against conventional wisdom for newly independent former colonies in the 1960s.
PM Lee was speaking at a session with American business leaders and foreign diplomats based in Washington hosted by the Economic Club of Washington.
Club president David Rubenstein, chief executive of investment firm The Carlyle Group, had asked him what factors made Singapore succeed economically beyond its size.
The other factor, PM Lee said, was its decision to build a credible armed forces through national service, which showed Singapore could be defended.
"In the process... we also built a nation," he added, noting that conscription brought people from different walks of life together.
PM Lee was also asked about Singapore's stellar performance in international maths and science tests, its experience with gaming companies and whether he could see Singapore reunite with Malaysia.
"We don't often discuss such possibilities," he said of reunification.
"There was a fork in the road 52 years ago, we went one way, they went another," he added. "I think there is no turning back."
PM Lee attributed Singapore's good maths and science scores to its students working very hard and to parents placing a lot of emphasis on education.
On the integrated resorts, he felt they had worked well. While they were still contentious, he said they were comprehensive resorts that helped boost tourism, and measures have been put in place to limit the impact on society.
PM Lee was also asked about his plans to step down some time after the next election. He did not want to stay the full term, he replied, adding that he hoped to not stay on beyond the age of 70 - in 2022.
What about his greatest pleasure in being Prime Minister? asked Mr Rubenstein.
"To feel that you have made some contribution to a country which has been stable, which has been united, and which has been making progress steadily now for more than a decade," PM Lee said. The job gets harder in a way because expectations are higher, he added.
Asked if his children would enter politics, he said it was up to them - but noted they have not shown any interest. "They have to have the right combination of temperament, character and ability," he said.