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World Leaders in Singapore Sunday for Lee's Funeral

  • Steve Herman
  • VOA News

Dozens of world leaders will be in Singapore on Sunday for the state funeral of the small country's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Lee was greatly admired in the region where other leaders sought to emulate him and replicate his success.

In Bangkok, Beijing, Jakarta and other Asian capitals, Lee Kuan Yew served as a role model for leaders hoping to reproduce the magic that took Singapore from a colonial backwater to one of the world's most prosperous and efficient nations.

One of his many such admirers: former Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun, who says as a Southeast Asian, he feels “a great sense of loss.”

“His wisdom, his advice, his insight have always been sought by leaders of other nations,” he said.

Autocrats envied the well-educated pragmatist's ability to maintain a one-party government in a nanny state that eschewed liberalism, except for economic policies.

Curtis Chin, a former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, says many of Mr. Lee's less successful fellow leaders in the region failed to absorb his most important lessons.

“So when we think about what others can learn from Lee Kwan Yew they may be citing some things," he said. "But unfortunately too many leaders of Asia today have not learned about the rule of law, the good governance, the accountability, the battle against corruption that Lee Kwan Yew also was all about.”

Lee rejected the notion of an “Asian model” for development but articulated Asian values which, in his eyes, made individual rights subservient to collective security and growth.

Thus it is no surprise that over the decades many of China's leaders expressed admiration for the rapid transformation of Singapore under the leadership of Lee, an ethnic Hakka Chinese.

Lee made “historical contributions to the bilateral relationship” between Beijing and Singapore, says China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

“Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is a uniquely influential statesman in Asia. And he is also a strategist embodying oriental values and international vision,” said Hong Lei.

The official delegation from the United States will be led by former president Bill Clinton and will include former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, a contemporary of Lee's, who said the Singaporean leader was a "close personal friend, a fact that I consider one of the great blessings of my life."