More Diplomatic Bungles In NZ & AUS By S'pore's PM Lee
Did LHL do Singapore proud in NZ?
26 Feb 06
PM Lee Hsien Loong's recent visit to New Zealand stirred more than a little interest in the democratic affairs (or rather the lack of it) in Singapore. Some of his utterances have been severely undiplomatic and have cast Singapore in an even worse light. Below is a sample of the reports/opinion pieces that were published:
Who's afraid of big bad baby Lee, the angry Asian autocrat?
Tze Ming Mok
25 Jun 06
Amid international media reports about Singaporean bloggers living in a "climate of fear" apolitical Singaporean blogger "Mr Brown" recently asked why he couldn't read online just once that he was living in "a climate of 'a little bit scared'?"
After all, with its latest public behaviour modification campaign, Singapore is aiming to be the city of "four million smiles" not "four million fearful grimaces". This begs the question of the bilateral deal signed last week: How scary will the New Zealand-Singapore jointly- produced horror film about an embryonic ghost baby, be allowed to be? There could be trouble if it scares Singaporean women off breeding - declining Singaporean fertility has proved impervious to public behaviour modification campaigns marketing baby-bliss.
Even worse, the movie could constitute an illegal political analogy about the government's fear of the embryonic and growing political opposition movement and the threatened maturation of Singaporean political society! No wonder Lee Hsien Loong freaked out in New Zealand, putting on his own Jekyll and Hyde horror show. We were treated to an echo of his father Lee Kuan Yew's familiar transitions from vicious baby-eater to charming reptilian patriarch, in Baby Lee's vitriolic tirade against opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, and his later volte-face of manners to smooth over, or explain, his surprise outing as an Angry Asian Autocrat.
Trying to move the press off the subject of human rights and freedom of expression, he said that New Zealanders needed to be "more attuned to what is happening in Asia". Human rights were "familiar issues to Western journalists and maybe readers too, but really they don't define Asia. You need to come and learn how people live." I agree unreservedly with the prime minister of my maternal homeland. Yes, go spend some time in Singapore, and you'll know just how cynical and sarcastic a huge chunk of ordinary Singaporeans are about their government. Because you'll never see those ideas in the Singaporean press.
And yes, "defining" Asia through an Othering lense of one issue alone is always misguided and simplistic. Unfortunately, the way New Zealand is "attuning" to Asia now, would suggest that Asia is just about trade deals and photo-ops with leaders of countries who come and strike trade deals.
But if New Zealanders become more realistically attuned to what is happening in Asian countries, human rights will become only more relevant, because human relationships, human dignity and humanism as a whole will become more relevant.
I was under the impression that the big buzz about Asia was that a lot of human beings live there. Like anyone else, they dislike being exploited, intimidated, wrongfully arrested, repressed and tortured - and if they have ideas contrary to their governments about how to develop their economies and societies, then those ideas are just as Asian as they are. For a significant slice of New Zealand's population, these are our families and our erstwhile compatriots. Many more of us actually are these people - mobile global citizens with bases still in Asian countries.
The Singaporean government's stock response to overseas criticism, that Westerners "don't understand Asia", is a fraud when plenty of Westerners are Asian, and when a third of all Asian Singaporeans just voted against the PAP despite the opposition's zero chance of success.
Civil society movements across Asia are vibrant, feisty, and doing vital, constructive work, even in Singapore. Supporting and learning from opposition movements in our neighbouring autocracies, and from the open discourse and social movements in the democracies, is a better way of understanding Asia than defining the region narrowly as either a cash-machine or an exotic/retarded/mystical/cranky/ dirty child to be taught the ways of the West.
Physical cruelty, vindictive destruction of opposition, flouting of the rule of law, media manipulation and political bullying have no intrinsic relationship to whether a society is Asian or not. The US for example, is excellent at such stuff, and certainly tortures harder than Singapore these days.
However, I'm still Singaporean enough to get angry about Singapore, while lucky to be not quite Singaporean enough to get sued for expressing it. So from the safety of Auckland, what specifically were the underhand, destructive, foreigner-pleasing, martyrdom tactics of the Singapore Democratic Party ranted about by the Singaporean prime minister to the New Zealand press?
The SDP adopts its nonviolent civil disobedience tactics directly from Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote the passive resistance rulebook while undermining the British Empire. Ironically, the PAP is in the role of machine-state imperialist now, while the little SDP is staying true to a hopeful political methodology indigenous to Asia: "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
The first three steps are well in hand - because, dear xiao Lee, you're turning out a bully just like your old man. But maybe after the PAP's worst election result ever, you too are "a little bit scared".
Single party rule 'best for Singapore'
John Burton in Singapore and Leora Moldofsky in Sydney
22 Jun 06
Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's prime minister, has criticised Australia and New Zealand's liberal democratic practices, suggesting that Singapore's system, under which a single party has ruled since independence, is more efficient.
Mr Lee made the remarks at the end of a nine-day visit to the two countries, which are attracting a growing number of immigrants from the Asian city-state.
Although the democracies of Australia and New Zealand made for "more exciting" politics, the national interest could suffer in a multi-party system, said Mr Lee.
The comments could provoke controversy, particularly as Mr Lee's visit was meant to improve economic and defence ties in spite of criticism about Singapore's human rights record.
"Endless debates are seldom about achieving a better grasp of the issue but to score political points," said Mr Lee about the political systems in Australia and New Zealand.
He said John Howard, the Australian prime minister, "spends all his time dealing with this party politics. The result is you don't have a lot of time to worry about the long-term future."
Dominant party rule was the best system for a small, multiracial country like Singapore, Mr Lee said, as he prepared to leave New Zealand, whose population of 4m is similar in size and ethnic complexity to that of the city-state.
The People's Action Party has governed Singapore since 1959 when Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lee's father, was elected prime minister.
Mr Lee blamed Australia's multi-party system for his failure to persuade Canberra to open its aviation market to state-owned Singapore Airlines, which is seeking to fly the transpacific route from Sydney to Los Angeles.
He said Australia's National party, the minority partner in the ruling coalition, was against opening up the route because Qantas could threaten in response to cut unprofitable routes to rural areas where the party is strong. Qantas has opposed Singapore Airline's entry on the transpacific route.
The decision was "a net loss" for Australia because it hurt tourism, Mr Lee said.
His remarks appeared aimed at Mark Vaile, the National party leader and trade minister, who will lead negotiators next month in a review of the bilateral trade pact with Singapore.
Mr Lee was questioned about the treatment of Singapore opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan, who was charged this week with speaking in public without a police licence. He said all political leaders had to respect the law, adding that Dr Chee engaged in "destructive" policies that were meant "to impress foreign supporters".
Speaking without a license?
22 Jun 06
New Zealand played host to Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, this week. Mr Lee's visit has been marred by controversy following revelations that a leading opposition politician in his home country is facing prosecution for speaking without a licence. The issue brings into sharp focus concerns about free speech and the role it plays in a functioning democracy.
While Mr Lee is in New Zealand for discussions with Prime Minister Helen Clark, Singapore Democratic Party Secretary, General Chee Soon Juan, is facing a prosecution for speaking in public without a permit during the election campaign. Mr Chee is also defending a defamation lawsuit issued by the Prime Minister. Mr Chee has been jailed before for breaching Singapore's restrictive speech laws, which prohibit public speaking without a police permit and allow the government wide powers of censorship.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have documented a pattern of cases in which opposition politicians were sued for defamation and subsequently fined or imprisoned. Singapore's judicial system has also faced criticism for being too compliant when dealing with Mr Lee's People's Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since its independence in 1959.
New Zealanders would consider the freedom to speak our minds a basic liberty, and in this vein Green Party co-leader Russel Norman urged Helen Clark to "speak out" to defend free speech. It would be easy for New Zealanders to take free speech for granted, but this situation on our doorstep is a reminder that we cannot afford to be lax in defending free speech.
Restrictive laws can have a chilling effect on free speech and the expression of contrary or unpopular ideas, particularly in the political arena. Without a free exchange of ideas in the public square, democracy would not exist. We would be deprived of the information and the ability we need to participate in the running of the country. Free speech isn't always pleasant or comfortable and people may sometimes take offence at things that are said. However, allowing the expression of ideas, even discomforting or unpalatable ideas, is a minimum condition for democracy. And it is a price worth paying.