Lee Kuan Yew tells China how to play the Western media rules

Well, for all of us here, bloggers or surfers, the advice for China's ossfied "Propaganda Department" is quite unaimous -- learn to play by their rules.

Now Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew weighed in. (via Blood and Treasure blog, and also Danwei)
  • my outlook, my mental approach is different from theirs. I would laugh at the west. Just like, you know, they say “Singapore is a fine city.” Everything is fine, no chewing gum, no litter in the streets, it's antiseptic, it's sterile. I don't take offence.
    People come here, people stay. It's safe, 3 a.m. in the morning, you can go jogging by the marina, nothing happens to you, no rape, and no muggings. News gets out: “We are dull.”
    Now, we are not dull, we are quite cool. We're going to have reverse bungee, all-night dining by the river and by the marina, two integrated resorts, Formula One. How do you explain that? Whether they like it or not, they have to shift the nuances.
  • You take Tibet. Who started it? It was started by the Tibetans. The March incident, March 14. I was reading Jonathan Eyal who writes for our Straits Times. He was a commentator from London. He is from I think Chatham House, a very thoughtful man. He said if they had called in the newspapers right from the word go, and said, look, this is what happened. The Economist correspondent was in Lhasa when it happened and wrote about it. He was favorable to them. The rioters started killing people and they were not reacting. The orders were not to shoot, not to take on the rioters because they didn't want trouble. Had they engaged the west, all this would have turned out differently.
    Why didn't they? Because there was a chasm between their mental make up and that of the west. So they say all western correspondents out, that means you have got something to hide. I think that was not very wise. Supposing it was Singapore, do we say all correspondents out? No. I say look come on, stay, watch it, see what happens, see who started what.
    Are they [the Chinese] stupid? They can't do what we do? No. Its just people at the people at the top have not been educated in the west, they have not been exposed to that kind of environment, that kind of rules of the game, and are not playing by those rules of the game.
    The day they build up an educated middle class, a large middle class, huge numbers of whom have been educated abroad, PHDs, MBAs in America, Europe, Japan elsewhere, and they are the people setting policies at the top, not people whose mental mindsets are from Soviet days, that day they will find they can play by the western rules and win.

I am a bit shortsighted than Senior Minister Lee. I think it takes more than (or it does not really) a new western world exposed generation to pull this. The source of the problem is not just the old hags at the notorious Propaganda Dept (which controls SARFT and the media). It is the extreme risk-averseness of the government which picked the Propaganda heads. This would hinder the effort to let in foreign reporters. However, Mr Lee is right. With the ubiquitous DV and camera phones plus the internet, with or without foreign reporter there is really little difference. They might as well let them in.

If what Mr Lee said is serious. The Singaporeans have to thank the MSM for labeling Singapore "dull", as it forced it to become cooler. In the same spirit, when China becomes "cool", the MSM should be credited, whatever their "original intention" was. The great people are those who could turn even the malicious force against them into something good for themselves. Mr Lee is a great person. China needs to take heed of him.

Anyway, I think what Mr Lee showed is a win-win scenario. Just like in his example of arm-wrestling between Singapore and the MSM. Singapore is now not dull (even if not all agree it is "cool"). When China takes his advise, the accompanying measures (which is as harmless to China itself as making Singapore "cool" for Singapore) will transform China, into something that is closer to the "Western ideal" -- well, in reality, the "universal ideal" which is created by extracting the portion of Western ideal which also is acceptable by China. (again, the "coolness" which fits both Mr Lee's and MSM's definition).

The nitpicking I have on Mr Lee is the notorious T3, and the equally notorious Norman Foster for airport, who had so much pratice at London's Heathrow that walking a km is considered short stroll. T3, though better than Chek Lap Kwok in terms of the limping walks, is not what Mr Lee thinks. It still suffers from the Heathrow/Chek Lap Kwok syndrome, i.e. they are designed as your exercise machines, not as your airport.


Anonymous said...

How likely is it that the Chinese government will attract overseas educated Chinese when there are far more lucrative jobs in the private sector at home and abroad? Moreover, it is easier for the government of a small city-state to feel secure enough to loosen controls than the rulers of 1.3 billion people. I recall hearing a Chinese saying to that effect of "the emperor is far away in Beijing," meaning that it is easy for local officals to flout orders and do their own thing. Do you know of this saying and if so, can you tell me exactly how it's worded in Chinese? It's a useful saying applicable to any large entity.

I agree with Lee Kwan-yew that China can better advance its interests by co-opting its critics, but I don't see this being carried out effectively. Even ethnic Chinese and Sinophile foreign netizens proficient in English barely hold their own in online forums. Another Western "rule" that the Chinese might adopt is to pick your battles carefully. Defend positions that are vital and defensible and concede to valid criticisms of the Chinese government and Chinese society. There are Chinese like yourself who can do this, but it seems that voices of moderation like yours drowned out by the 中国, 加油! crowd. Perhaps after the Olympics, the fever of nationalism will fade, but I think quite the opposite. The defenders of the flag will rise again in future international disputes.


Anonymous said...

Singapore has it relatively easy compared to China. As mentioned above, it's tiny. There aren't massive tirades across the internet painting it as a den of evil. Yes, people thinking of banned chewing gum as soon as Singapore is mentioned (a common reaction in the West) would be an annoyance to a proud Singaporean. But it's nothing compared to the flak raised against China (although it is ostensibly against the CCP).

The fact that Chinese immigrants, XBCs etc are getting angry shows the size of the gulf.

And I agree with Sonagi that erudite speakers and thinkers are actually having problems engaging people online when the mass of Western public opinion is concentrated on words and phrases like 'police state', 'communism', 'authoritarianism', 'totalitarianism' etc. The problem will be the same old problem - i.e. some as these words are true, but with different connotations east and west.

Sun Bin said...


1) it is 天高皇帝远。 "The sky is high and the emperor is (just as) far."
but this is becoming less true now the physical distance/communmication is shortened by technology.
-- in china the local power is still strong mainly because of the political structure, where the management is 'outsourced'

2) there are always a spectrum of attitudes and behaviors. what we hope (incl Lee KY i suppose), is that that the spectrum would slowly shift. although nobody knows a timeline for that. but as Lee said, a new generation will shift all these, but the extent of shift (as you said) is not clearly known.

Sun Bin said...

p.s. online world is not a good place to do survey. analogy: if you are in a concert hall of 1000 audience, and you hear a lot of coughing, the sounds usually come from maybe a dozen people.

Anonymous said...

OMG, sun bin, you:re still rattling on about image & PR. You are putting the cart before the horse!
China has many many problems to worry about than lkg right in Western eyes. Do you need to be cool when so many people are still feeling cold, for real?
LKY didn:t give 2 s##t for years what Westerners thought. You take Singapore for what it is, or leavei it.
Spore is what it is today - developed nation status - bcos he put doing right by Spore first,not what others would bid him do,
Why must China come up to speed with the West? Why can:t the West slow down to what China?
The highlands episode has blown over & what has done it for the highlanders?

Sun Bin said...


yes, you have a good point.

ignoring those protest is one pretty good response. but we know they didn't, and that only made things worse.

china is not singapore, it had the original sin of calling itself 'communist', a population size so big that people view it as a key potential competitor and use it as an excuse to sell arms to its own government, etc...... i wouldn't care about the olympic, but boycott and embargo/etc could hurt its development, and its negotiation in international affairs. (eg how much more it paid to get into the WTO club)

Anonymous said...

"p.s. online world is not a good place to do survey. "

True. That is why I always use the term "netizen" when talking about online discourse. However, the number of people whose perceptions of China come from media sources, including online forums, versus the number of people who've actually experienced China first-hand is large. Likewise, netizens from the same country feed on each other, and online content can become mainstreamed as evidenced by the photos of the torch relay in Seoul. The Chinese MSM initially ignored the violence until it became a big issue in China's online community. Once the cat was out of the bag, the MSM had to address it. Online content is certainly not representative of a population at large but its influence shouldn't be discounted especially since, it seems, that Chinese rely on online content much more than Westerners do as an alternative to China's heavily censored media.

"china is not singapore, it had the original sin of calling itself 'communist',"

China didn't just call itself Communist. It actually was Communist until Deng Xiaopeng took over and finally started reforming an economic dinosaur. Legacies of decades of real Communism, like danweis and state-owned enterprises still exist in present-day China. The Party still rules and intends to keep on ruling by not actually practicing what it preaches.


Anonymous said...