An unwavering dedication to Singapore
The first time I met Mr Lee Kuan Yew in person was in March 1997, when he interviewed me for the job of Principal Private Secretary (PPS). His questions were fast and sharp. Every reply drew even more probing questions.
At the end of it, he said: “Brush up your Mandarin and report in three months. We have an important project with China.”
I realised later that, among other things, it was perhaps when I replied “I don’t know” to one or two questions that I made an impression. With Mr Lee, it is all right if you do not know something. But you do not pretend and lie if you do not know. Integrity is everything.
I had the privilege of working as Mr Lee’s PPS from mid 1997 to early 2000. This was the period of the Asian Financial Crisis, and Mr Lee was writing his memoirs.
Mr Lee’s world views are comprehensive and consistent. Three stand out for me.
THAT YIN-YANG TENSION
The first is about Singapore’s place in the world. His view is that a small city state can best survive in a benign world environment, where there is a balance of powers, where no single state dominates, and where the rule of law prevails in international affairs.
A small city state has to stay open and connect with all nations and economic powerhouses. To prosper, Singapore has to be relevant to the world. We must be exceptional.