Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Lee Kuan Yew and Deng Xiaoping ‘had special bond’ [Straits Times]


Contrary to the obvious, Singapore as the only Chinese-majority nation outside of Greater China should naturally be friends with the Chinese nation, ancestral home to more than 70% of the population.

Here’s a look back at how China and Singapore became friends through the ‘special bond’ between Deng Xiaoping and Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew were once labelled as running dogs of the West, and it certainly took some effort to change that perspective into useful lessons to be learnt for both sides.

‘He was the most impressive leader I had met. He was a five-footer, but a giant among men. At 74, when he was faced with an unpleasant truth, he was prepared to change his mind.’ Lee Kuan Yew on Deng Xiaoping, two ‘straightforward realist’ leaders who had come of age fighting colonialism,

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Lee Kuan Yew and Deng Xiaoping ‘had special bond’
by Leslie Koh
Source – Straits Times, published November, 14, 2011

New book on Chinese leader tells of mutual respect and admiration.

ONE founded a tiny nation of two million, and succeeded in turning it into an economic powerhouse.

The other reformed a once-great empire of more than 900 million, and was trying to grow its economy after years of poverty and isolation.

One had grown up in an Anglicised family, spoke English better than he did Mandarin, and fought the Communists.

The other spoke only Mandarin, with a Sichuanese accent, and was a Communist leader. Yet both men saw what was needed to create order out of chaos, and were not afraid to make radical changes to achieve what they wanted for their countries. For this, they shared a mutual respect and admiration that cemented a ‘special relationship’ between Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew and China’s reformer Deng Xiaoping, according to a new biography of the Chinese leader.

By the end of Mr Deng’s first official visit to Singapore in 1978, says its author Ezra F. Vogel, the two men had developed a bond that, ‘like that between Zhou Enlai and Kissinger, enabled them to communicate with mutual respect on a common wavelength’. Modern China’s first premier Zhou and then US Security Adviser Henry Kissinger were instrumental in taking the United States and China towards resuming diplomatic relations in the 1970s.

Likewise, Mr Lee and Mr Deng’s relationship paved the way for diplomatic and economic ties between Singapore and China. In his newly published book, Deng Xiaoping And The Transformation of China, the eminent Harvard University academic Vogel reveals for the first time the depth of Mr Deng’s admiration for Mr Lee, and describes both men as having much in common.

They had come of age fighting colonialism, were both ‘straightforward realists, utterly dedicated to their nations’, and believed in the need for strong leadership. ‘Deng had close ties with many foreign leaders, but his relationship with Lee reflected a greater depth of mutual understanding,’ writes Professor Vogel.

Only one other person, Hong Kong tycoon Yue-Kong Pao, he says, had bonded with Mr Deng the way Mr Lee did. ‘From Deng’s perspective, what made Lee and Y.K. Pao attractive was their extraordinary success in dealing with practical issues, their first-hand contacts with world leaders, their knowledge of world affairs, their grasp of long-term trends, and their readiness to face facts and speak the truth as they saw it.’

According to Prof Vogel, Mr Deng admired the Singapore leader’s accomplishments in the young Republic, while Mr Lee was equally impressed by how the Chinese leader was dealing with problems in the Communist giant as it tried to enter a modern world.

Prof Vogel, who has written a number of influential books on the rise of Japan and Asia, is best known for his 1979 book Japan As Number One: Lessons For America.

Aware of Mr Lee’s familiarity with Mr Deng, he flew to Singapore to interview the former prime minister when researching his latest book.

Then Vice-Premier Deng and Mr Lee first met in 1978, when Beijing was seeking support from South-east Asian nations amid strengthening ties between Vietnam and the then Soviet Union. By this time, the two Communist giants had fallen out, and China was afraid that Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore would swing over to the powerful Soviets.

Prof Vogel says that when Mr Deng visited Singapore on Nov 12, 1978, both men were already ‘aware of the other’s reputation’, and made special efforts to bridge the cultural gap. Mr Lee prepared a spittoon for Mr Deng and offered him an ashtray, knowing the Chinese leader’s habits.

But Mr Deng, having found out Mr Lee’s views on smoking, made sure not to spit or smoke during their meeting.

When Mr Deng laid out his fears about the Soviet Union, he was surprised by Mr Lee’s frank reply that Asean nations were more worried about the ‘China dragon’ than the ‘Russian bear’, as Mr Lee recounts in his own memoirs. But Mr Deng recovered quickly, and asked what was wanted of China – a question that ‘astonished’ Mr Lee, who recalled the meeting in his two-part memoirs, The Singapore Story.

‘I had never met a communist leader who was prepared to depart from his brief when confronted with reality,’ he wrote, ‘much less ask what I wanted him to do.’ Mr Lee too paid tribute to the Chinese reformer: ‘He was the most impressive leader I had met. He was a five-footer, but a giant among men. At 74, when he was faced with an unpleasant truth, he was prepared to change his mind.’

Indeed, their meetings – Mr Deng and Mr Lee met again in 1980, 1985 and 1988 – ultimately led to significant changes in the relationship between China and Singapore. Up till then, Beijing and its propaganda had refused to recognise Singapore’s independence, and condemned Mr Lee as a ‘running dog’ of the West.

But, writes Prof Vogel: ‘A few weeks after Deng visited Singapore, this description of Singapore disappeared… Instead, Singapore was described as a place worth studying for its initiatives in environmental preservation, public housing, and tourism.’ Mr Deng died in 1997, at the age of 92.

The 876-page Deng Xiaoping And The Transformation of China is published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, and can be found in local bookstores.

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Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Chinese Model, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Ethnicity, Greater China, History, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, Modernisation, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Straits Times, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

3 Responses

  1. anthony arulsamy says:

    first he locks everyone opposing as comunist then the big boss of commuist comes and he hugs n says thats a smart move to be ur partner and for the press or i say the yes man or sir

  2. T says:

    Deng Xiaoping too opposed communism. Thats in its unsavoury form. Intelligent and pragmatic, he “used” socialism in a constructive , powerful way. On the other side, LKY showed the same pragmatism. Nothing is good or bad be it so called democratic or socialism. Only the Us propaganda make it so for people in order to “influence” them to their orbit.

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