Mr Lee optimistic over China’s development; He predicts next leader will seek to take country to higher level
Lee Kuan Yew opines on China and shares his views on eugenics again. ST via LexisNexis:
CHINA’S next helmsman, Mr Xi Jinping, may not have announced what he plans for the country, but he will seek a legacy as weighty as that of his four predecessors. And if one had to guess what the ‘Xi brand’ would consist of, it would be ‘to (take) China to a higher level, socially, in education, and economically, in standard of living’.
Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew yesterday hazarded these and other predictions on what the world might expect of China’s fifth generation of leaders, due to take charge of China from next year. ‘It is a very big target,’ he said of Mr Xi’s possible goal. ‘And if he achieves it in the 10 years he is in power, it will be a great achievement.’
Mr Lee was speaking at the end of the first day of the Future China Global Forum, which saw a gathering of hundreds of businessmen and China experts. He freely admitted that he lacked ‘a feel for the country’ since he visits China for only about one week every year. But forum participants were eager as ever to tap into what they saw as a wealth of knowledge on world affairs, with dialogue moderator, respected Sinologist John Thornton of the Brookings Institution in the United States, declaring there was no person he would rather discuss China with than Mr Lee.
Mr Lee was, on the whole, optimistic about China’s development. He reckons that by the end of Mr Xi’s rule, China would probably match the size of America’s economy, even if gross domestic product (GDP) per capita would still be low. If China’s structured succession sequence takes place as planned starting next year, Mr Xi will take over the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, followed by the Chinese presidency. Mr Xi, Mr Lee believes, will attempt to leave his imprint, as the first four leaders of Communist China have: For Mao Zedong, it was the idea of perpetual revolution; for Deng Xiaoping, stability and growth; for Mr Jiang Zemin, consolidation and development; and for current leader Hu Jintao, a harmonious society.
To be sure, Mr Xi faces an era fraught with difficulties for the vast nation, where the provinces often operated on the Chinese saying that ‘the mountains are high and the emperor is far away’. For one thing, growing discontent will continue to be felt by less developed regions, especially inland provinces, as well as those who live in the rich cities, but who have not reaped the benefits of growth. ‘You can live in Chengdu or Chongqing or Yunnan, and you can see Beijing (on TV), and you say, ‘When is my turn” And you can see all these Olympic stadiums, it is grandiose, it is well-designed by world-renowned architects… but if you are in Yunnan or in Guangxi, you say, ‘What is there in it for me”’ said Mr Lee.
For another, the Chinese system produces a people lacking in diversity because they are ‘drilled with the same drum major, the same drum beat, and they all come out more or less similar to (one another)’. ‘And that is not good for innovation,’ he said. To add to that, China’s new generation is unlike its parents’. It feels it has come of age and wants to choose its own path in life, rather than follow orders. ‘So, the leaders in Beijing have a different situation to deal with,’ he said. But China has at least one advantage over key rival India – its ability to ‘get things done’, said Mr Lee. It would do well to learn from the American system of diversity, which involves many centres of intellectual capabilities challenging one another. ‘And under that contention, we get great ideas that survive. So, the Internet, the iPhone, Microsoft, they all came from America,’ he said.
China’s style of governance also has to adapt to a new age in which technologies like the Internet and the cellphone now avail themselves to the masses. ‘I think their desire to manage news is certainly there because it is an old habit, some several decades long, but more and more, they will realise that it is not something that can be done,’ he said. ‘I think their desire to manage news is certainly there because it is an old habit, some several decades long, but more and more, they will realise that it is not something that can be done,’ he said.
In Mr Xi, whom he has met on several occasions, most recently just two months ago during a visit to Beijing, Mr Lee saw a man who was ‘as smart as any of the other leaders’, although he ‘lacks the bonhomie of Jiang Zemin’ and ‘is not as formalistic as Hu Jintao’, referring to the two top leaders immediately preceding Mr Xi. ‘But as I have always believed, all Chinese leaders keep their heads well below the parapet until they take office,’ he said, suggesting that the heir apparent may not have revealed his full personality yet. …
‘From my empirical observation of people and leaders, I believe 70 to 80 per cent of a person’s capability, his proclivities, his temperament, is genetic. The day you were conceived, at least 70 per cent was already fixed in the womb. If you are bound to be a capable person, you will grow into a capable person. If you are bound to be slow, you will be slow. Nothing can change that. You can’t choose your parents… I do not believe, contrary to what American books say, that you can teach people to be leaders. I think you are a born leader or you are not a leader. You can teach a person to be a manager. but not a leader. They must have the extra drive, intellectual verve, an extra tenacity and the will to overcome. So, I would put it briefly and say 70 per cent of what I am, I was born with it. Twenty to 30 per cent was what I learnt to be what I am.’ …
‘You look at the construction industry (in India and China) and you will know the difference between one that gets things done, and another that does not get things done, but talks about things… It is partly because India is such a diverse country – it is not one nation, it is 32 different nations speaking 330 different dialects. They became one nation under the British, but it hasn’t changed the nature of the country. In China, it is 90 per cent Han Chinese all speaking the same language, with different accents, but reading the same script. If you stand up in Delhi and speak in English, out of one thousand two hundred million, 1.2 billion people, maybe 200 million will understand you. You can speak in Hindi, maybe 250 million people will understand you. You can speak in Tamil, 80 million people will understand you. So there is an enormous difference between the two countries. So, I think we are comparing oranges and apples. They are different, and the taste is different. Let me not be misunderstood. The upper class in India is equal to any in the world. The Brahmins, who are the children of the priests… are as bright and as smart as you can find anywhere in the world, but as I have said, they face the same hurdles. And also because in their caste system, if you are a Brahmin and you marry a non-Brahmin, you go down in caste. So, your genetic pool is frozen in each caste. In China, if you are a successful official, you will die in Suzhou and you can have many wives and children…’
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