About Lee Kuan Yew

When Lee Kuan Yew speaks, who listens? Presidents, prime ministers, chief executives, and all who care about global strategy. Below are quotes about Lee Kuan Yew as told by some of the world’s most notable leaders.


Presidents

Barack Obama, president of the United States
Lee “is one of the legendary figures of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries. He is somebody who helped to trigger the Asian economic miracle.” (October 29, 2009)

Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States
“MM Lee’s life of public service is both unique and remarkable… His work as prime minister and now as minister mentor has helped literally millions of people in Singapore and all across Southeast Asia to live better, more prosperous lives. I hope the leaders of ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] will continue to build upon Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s outstanding legacy… I thank you [the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council] for honoring a man I admire so very much.” (October 27, 2009)

George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States
“In my long life in public service, I have encountered many bright, able people. None is more impressive than Lee Kuan Yew.” (endorsement of Lee’s My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey, 2011)

Jacques Chirac, president of France (1995–2007)
“Lee Kuan Yew has gathered around himself the most brilliant minds, transforming the most exacting standards into a system of government. Under his leadership, the primacy of the general interest, the cult of education, work and saving, the capacity to foresee the needs of the city have enabled Singapore to take what I call ‘shortcuts to progress.’ (endorsement of Lee’s From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965–2000, 2000)

F.W. de Klerk, president of South Africa (1989–94)
“The leader who, perhaps, impressed me most was Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore… He was an individual who changed the course of xiv Lee Kuan Yew history… Lee Kuan Yew took the right decisions for his country; he chose the right values and the right economic policies to ensure the development of a successful society. In this, he was an artist painting on the largest canvas that society can provide. He was also a very astute judge of the world and provided a very canny and realistic assessment of our situation in South Africa when I met him during the early nineties.” (March 30, 2012)


Chinese Leaders

Xi Jinping, vice president of China
Lee is “our senior who has our respect”: “To this day, you are still working tirelessly to advance our bilateral relationship, and you have my full admiration. We will never forget the important contribution you have made to our bilateral relationship.” (May 23, 2011)


Other World Leaders

Tony Blair, prime minister of the United Kingdom (1997–2007)
Lee is “the smartest leader I think I ever met.” (Blair, A Journey: My Political Life, 2010)

John Major, prime minister of the United Kingdom (1990–97)
“Lee Kuan Yew can justiªably be called the father of modern Singapore. He has steered through policies that have been copied across Asia, and have greatly lifted the proªle and representation of Singapore. It is a legacy that will endure.” (comment in Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew: Citizen Singapore: How to Build a Nation, 2010)

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the United Kingdom (1979–90)
“In office, I read and analyzed every speech of Lee’s. He had a way of penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our times and the way to tackle them. He was never wrong.” (endorsement of Lee’s From Third World to First:The Singapore Story: 1965–2000, 2000)

Helmut Schmidt, chancellor of Germany (1974–82)
“Ever since I met my friend Lee Kuan Yew, I was highly impressed by his brilliant intellect and his straight overview. His lifetime achievements as a political leader and statesman are outstanding. The economic and social advancement of modern Singapore is deeply rooted in his capability to establish an adequate political framework for Singapore’s ethnical heterogeneity. This book is yet another proof of his perspicacity and competence.” (endorsement of Lee’s My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey, 2011)


Heads of Global Corporations and Economic Institutions

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of News Corporation
“More than 40 years ago, Lee Kuan Yew transformed what was a poor, decrepit colony into a shining, rich, and modern metropolis—all the time surrounded by hostile powers. With his brilliant, incisive intellect, he is one of the world’s most outspoken and respected statesmen. This book is a ‘must read’ for any student of modern Asia.” (endorsement of Lee’s From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965–2000, 2000)

John Chambers, chairman and chief executive officer of Cisco Systems
“There are two equalizers in life: the Internet and education. Lee Kuan Yew is a world leader who understands this and is using the power of the Internet to position Singapore for survival and success in the Internet economy.” (endorsement of Lee’s From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965–2000, 2000)

Sam Palmisano, chairman of IBM
“It is terrifc to be at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. It is especially special for me because a gentleman I admire so much, and have learned so much from, is Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. He has given me lots of tutelage on Asia and China and India, and has tremendous insights.” (February 1, 2011)

Rex Tillerson, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil
“For so many years, you have been a willing mentor to leaders of government, business, and for me personally. The Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal is given to individuals who … exemplify the lasting legacy and mettle of character embodied by President Abraham Lincoln. Few leaders in modern history meet this criteria more than tonight’s honoree… Abraham Lincoln once said … ‘towering genius disdains a beaten path.’ For the people of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was such a towering leader who held a bold vision for his nation. He did not lead them down the beaten path of narrow-minded protectionism, but down the broad avenues of global engagement and economic competitiveness.” (October 18, 2011)

Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank (2007–12)
“As soon as I learned a number of years ago about the Lee Kuan Yew School, I wanted to figure out some way to at least come by. I cannot think of a better testament for a leader who has made a huge mark in the world.” (December 18, 2008)

James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank (1995–2005)
“I used to be the advisor to the Minister Mentor. It was a very hard job, because I traveled to Singapore, and every time I was just about to tell something to Mr. Minister Mentor, he would stop me and tell me the thing I was to tell him. Then I would return to the United States and sell his advice. Thank you very much, Mr. Minister Mentor, for all the things you have taught me. I tried giving you my advice. But, in fact, it was you who taught me.” (July 10, 2007)

Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive officer of Coca-Cola
“History will record few leaders who have accomplished so much for their country and for Southeast Asia as His Excellency Lee Kuan Yew. As a driving force behind the growth and evolution of ASEAN, Mr. Lee also helped millions of people across Southeast Asia to live in an environment of peace and economic growth.” (October 27, 2009)

David Rothkopf, president and chief executive officer of Garten Rothkopf
“Like many other visitors, you wonder whether this tiny island [Singapore] that did not even exist as a truly independent nation until 1965 is perhaps the best-run city in the world, whether maybe the ancient Greeks and Singapore’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, were on to something when they settled on the idea of city-states… During the course of the half century in which he has led Singapore, he has emerged as one of the world’s most effective if sometimes controversial leaders.” (Rothkopf, Power, Inc., 2012)


Senior Policymakers

Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state
“I am delighted to welcome the Minister Mentor here [to the White House] today… Singapore is a long and valued partner on so many important issues. And I think it is fair to say, sir [addressing Lee], that you have a great many admirers. You are here to accept an important award [the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award] that is given for lifetime achievement, and I join in the many Americans who thank you for your service.” (October 26, 2009)

George Shultz, U.S. secretary of state (1982–89)
“You have taught all of us a tremendous amount by what you have done, what you have said, [and] the way you mean it when you say something, and I thank you.” (October 27, 2009)

Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state (1997–2001)
“He has the most modern and most strategic view of anyone I have met for a long time.” (July 30, 1997)

Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. national security adviser (1977–81)
“He is among the most intellectually alert of the world’s leaders… He is capable of expatiating at length and with perception on virtually any international problem; he is a most astute observer of the Asian scene; and he is candid in passing along to us Asian perceptions of our changing role in that part of the world.” (September 16, 1977)

Larry Summers, director of the U.S. National Economic Council (2009–10) and U.S. secretary of the Treasury (1999–2001)
“It is more than a little bit daunting to be talking about the subjectof governance just before Lee Kuan Yew speaks.” (September 15, 2006)

Robert Rubin, U.S. secretary of the Treasury (1995–99)
“Lee is deeply knowledgeable about geopolitical and cultural matters… I had gotten to know the Senior Minister somewhat during the Asian financial crisis, when he had demonstrated the enormous depth of his geopolitical understanding and grasp of regional issues.” (Rubin, In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington, with Jacob Weisberg, 2003)

Joseph Nye, chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council (1993–94)
“Today, it [Singapore] is a rich and prosperous country. If the rest of the world could accomplish what Singapore has accomplished, the world would be a better and more prosperous place… He is a man who never stops thinking, never stops looking ahead with larger visions. His views are sought by respected senior statesmen on all continents.” (October 17, 2000)


Commentators

Nicholas Kristof, opinion columnist for the New York Times
“Other leaders have reshaped nations—Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, Lenin in Russia, Deng Xiaoping in China—but no one left a deeper imprint on his people than Lee… One can disagree with him, but intolerance and authoritarianism have never had so articulate or stimulating a spokesman. These [From Third World to First] are rich memoirs, the legacy of an extraordinary man, and in many ways, this book is like Lee himself: smart, thoughtful, blunt, and provocative.” (November 5, 2000)

David Ignatius, opinion columnist for the Washington Post
“He is probably the smartest politician I have interviewed in more than 25 years as a journalist.” (September 28, 2002)

Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large of Time Magazine
“Lee Kuan Yew took a small spit of land in Southeast Asia, which became independent in 1965 after great struggle and anguish, with no resources and a polyglot population of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian workers, and turned it into one of the economic centers of the world. To do this, Lee had to have smart economic policies, but also a shrewd foreign policy… He is still indisputably the father of Singapore. I was struck by the depth of his understanding of the world—China, Russia, and the United States—all at age 85.” (September 21, 2008)

Zoher Abdoolcarim, Time Magazine, Asia Edition
“Over the years Lee has been called many things — unflattering as well as admiring. But perhaps the single most fitting description is: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow.” (February 4, 2013.