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Friday, January 16, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew on Indians and Asian Values

The Prime Minister: I stand by the decisions we made, and the Constitution is functioning. And any tampering, any desire to follow Whitehall or Westminster, Singapore undertakes at its own peril. I know what works. I am not defensive about my colleague, the Second Deputy Prime Minister, being in charge of the NTUC. It is a system that works. It has brought prosperity, high wages and a good life to Singapore workers.

Let me remind a younger generation of Singaporeans who do not know that a British Prime Minister tried to do likewise. Mr Harold Wilson, in 1966, co-opted his Chairman of the TUC, Mr Frank Cousins into the Cabinet. Got him into Parliament; made him a Minister of the Cabinet. Mr Frank Cousins, because he could not carry out policies which he supported in the Cabinet with his TUC, took the easier way out and resigned, and went back to be a great trade union leader. Why is the country in a shambles? Is that a paradigm for us? Or is there not a lesson, that perhaps what is functioning in Singapore should be jealously preserved. Work within the system. There have been more than 50 constitutions promulgated by the British on the independence of their various colonies. Very few have worked, despite radical amendments, despite one-party states. Ours has. Why? Because we have a practical people whose cultures tell them that contention for the sake of contention leads to disaster. I have said this on many a previous occasion: that had the mix in Singapore been different, had it been 75% Indians, 15% Malays and the rest Chinese, it would not have worked. Because they believe in the politics of contention, of opposition. But because the culture was such that the populace sought a practical way out of their difficulties, therefore it has worked.

But I go on and inform my younger colleagues here that, in the process of change, we moved away from the Chinese schools, where the principle is that the rights of society come over and above that of the individual, to the English schools where the philosophy is the individual and his rights to the exclusion of everybody else's. That we now face, even with the Chinese, the English-educated, a novel situation where he has a conflict within him, of deep, abiding cultural beliefs of the family, the clan, the nation, but super-imposed, the books he has read, the television series he watches, in which the rights of the individual are paramount.

If we go with the West, then I say we will have all the maladies, the malignancies of Western society. The Japanese have pointed out to the Americans that they have seven engineers to one lawyer. The Americans have seven lawyers to one engineer. They are always contending. $150 million for one libel suit by a general against CBS. $50 million by an Israeli general against Time magazine. It is a society that believes in contention.

I know exactly what the older generation in Singapore wants. I do not have to tell them; they do not have to tell me. We are pan of one whole that has made Singapore.

I am asking the younger generation to ask themselves what made Singapore work. Are you wise in tossing overboard fixed, settled values which are part of our culture, of our ethos, for principles and theories of government espoused in the West which are not part of our culture and not part of our system? I understand the Member for Anson because that is all he has. He does not share in this other part. It is not his fault. His name is Joshua Benjamin. I know large parts of Jaffna where they cut off their connections with their ancestors and called themselves by the names of their plantation owners. It is not his fault. But these are deep fundamental beliefs, abiding beliefs. He knows no other system. So he comes forth with this.

I know what I believe is a superior system. We adopt enough of the West in order to hoist in their science, their technology, their competitiveness. Like the Japanese, we should try to remain as much ourselves and to keep as much of the fundamentals as we can. And it is very difficult. Language is the key to daily influence, via the media, We have educated a whole generation in English. With it goes all the TV serials. Unless a conscious effort is made, it will be a different Singapore. Do not kid ourselves. I fought strenuously to prevent the drift of the students from the Chinese schools into the English schools. I tried to slow down the process, but parents decided that they wanted their children to have this key to the future. But this key also opened up other values, besides science and technology and engineering. That is the difference between Japan and us, apart from size. No feature goes to Japan without somebody actively having considered the matter, deciding that it is wise to translate or interpret, either a TV feature or a book. We are wide open.

And I am suggesting to this younger generation: you are going to hear more and more of this, and not just from the Member for Anson. If it is just from the Member for Anson, it is easy to demolish. It is from visiting professors, from eminent practitioners in every field, whether they are surgeons, ophthalmologists, whatever. They come from a different system, they espouse the views of their different system. Have we got the self-confidence to say, "No. I start off as the product of a unique civilization, the only one which has no break in continuity for more than 4,000 years." There must be some reason. Is it that inferior? Yes, it has lost in the race for science and technology. But in the interpersonal relationships, the fundamentals of filial relationships, familial relationships, is it an inferior system? This is what the debate is about, about our future. And we will deceive ourselves, particularly the PAP backbenchers, if we begin to talk to the older generation. They already know they are with us. They do not want what they can see is happening with their children, but they do not know how to stop it. And it is partly our circumstance. We had to go this way because we wanted the knowledge to make Singapore viable. There was no other way. The hazards had to be run; the hazards are being run.

Our job is constantly to remind them how different we are, and how important it is that we should stay different in order that we can survive. We are so jejune, so young as a people. We have made decisions without knowing their long-term consequences. I illustrate a very simple one. When the pill was discovered, it was supposed to be a blessing for mankind, and we just took the pill in, and family planning dispensed the pill. It has led to promiscuity in the West, the total breakdown of all family control over children, a new kind of society where you shack up with people and you have one-parent families. It may interest Members to know that the Japanese forbade the pill. And it is still forbidden. If you want birth control, you buy the old fashioned condom. They have it in multi colours. It has taken me nearly 15 years to realize the wisdom of that move. We are too small. Even if we ban it, they will go to Johor Baru and get it. But, as a result, they have maintained their values - chastity, high level of fidelity, maybe old-fashioned, double standards for men and women, but the integrity of the family is preserved.

I am not sure what is going to happen to our families. Our divorce rates are slightly up, but nowhere near the dangerous levels of Britain and America. But we have working women fully independent, economically. We have already unlocked important family grids that hold the units together. We are proliferating homes into Housing Board units. Where are we going? We are not arguing with the Member for Anson or the Member for Potong Pasir. We are arguing for the minds of the next generation and they are too young to know, as we indeed were too young to know what was good.

--- PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS, Debate on the Address (First Allotted Day), 01-03-1985
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