Der Spiegel Interview: Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew (EWS, SGF)

|
 |  Includes: EWS, SGF
by: Daily Dose of Optimism

Here are some excerpts and a link to an interview with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew from Der Spiegel (August 2005), writes Daily Dose of Optimism. The interview is of interest to anyone owning the Singapore ETF (ticker: EWS) or closed-end Singapore Fund (ticker: SGF), as well as those investing in Chinese stocks (he makes interesting comments about China, as well as the climate for US business, trade and foreign relations). A sample gem:

Mr. Lee: A motor car is a commodity -- four wheels, a chassis, a motor. You can have modifications up and down, but it remains a commodity, and the Chinese can do commodities.

A sage lesson for all American businesses.

Excerpts from the interview:

A Shift in the Balance of Global Power:

SPIEGEL: The political and economic center of gravity is moving from the West towards the East. Is Asia becoming the dominant political and economic force in this century?

Mr. Lee: I wouldn't say it's the dominant force. What is gradually happening is the restoration of the world balance to what it was in the early 19th century or late 18th century when China and India together were responsible for more than 40 percent of world GDP. With those two countries becoming part of the globalized trading world, they are going to go back to approximately the level of world GDP that they previously occupied. But that doesn't make them the superpowers of the world.

SPIEGEL: Their leading politicians have publicly discussed the so-called "Asian Century".

Mr. Lee: Yes, economically, there will be a shift to the Pacific from the Atlantic Ocean and you can already see that in the shipping volumes of Chinese ports. Every shipping line is trying to get into association with a Chinese container port. India is slower because their infrastructure is still to be completed. But I think they will join in the race, build roads, bridges, airports, container ports and they'll become a manufacturing hub. Raw materials go in, finished goods go out.

On the Future Role of Asia:

Mr. Lee: ... In 50 years I see China, Korea and Japan at the high-tech end of the value chain. Look at the numbers and quality of the engineers and scientists they produce and you know that this is where the R&D will be done. The Chinese have a space programme, they're going to put a man on the Moon and nobody sold them that technology. We have to face that. But you should not be afraid of that. You are leading in many fields which they cannot catch up with for many years, many decades. In pharmaceuticals, I don't see them catching up with the Germans for a long time.

SPIEGEL: That wouldn't feed anybody who works for Opel, would it?

Mr. Lee: A motor car is a commodity -- four wheels, a chassis, a motor. You can have modifications up and down, but it remains a commodity, and the Chinese can do commodities.

SPIEGEL: When you look to Western Europe, do you see a possible collapse of the society because of the overwhelming forces of globalization?

Mr. Lee: No. I see ten bitter years. In the end, the workers, whether they like it or not, will realize, that the cosy European world which they created after the war has come to an end.

SPIEGEL: How so?

Mr. Lee: The social contract that led to workers sitting on the boards of companies and everybody being happy rested on this condition: I work hard, I restore Germany's prosperity, and you, the state, you have to look after me. I'm entitled to go to Baden Baden for spa recuperation one month every year. This old system was gone in the blink of an eye when two to three billion people joined the race -- one billion in China, one billion in India and over half-a-billion in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

On Stability in China

SPIEGEL: The Chinese Government is promoting the peaceful rise of China. Do you believe them?

Mr. Lee: Yes, I do, with one reservation. I think they have calculated that they need 30 to 40 -- maybe 50 years of peace and quiet to catch up, to build up their system, change it from the communist system to the market system. They must avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan. Their competition for power, influence and resources led in the last century to two terrible wars.

On the Future of Democracy

SPIEGEL: During your career, you have kept your distance from Western style democracy. Are you still convinced that an authoritarian system is the future for Asia?

Mr. Lee: Why should I be against democracy? The British came here, never gave me democracy, except when they were about to leave. But I cannot run my system based on their rules. I have to amend it to fit my people's position. In multiracial societies, you don't vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion. Supposing I'd run their system here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese. I would have a constant clash in my Parliament which cannot be resolved because the Chinese majority would always overrule them. So I found a formula that changes that...

The full interview is here.