a community of singaporeans

Diplomacy – a la MM Lee

Posted by theonlinecitizen on August 1, 2007

By Choo Zheng Xi

Imagine a senior western dignitary visiting Singapore to lecture us on electoral and constitutional reform, claiming our legislators lack legitimacy because of the constitutional quirk that is our GRC system.

And after that he asks us to expedite sensitive defense negotiations.

This was basically what MM Lee did on his recent trip to Jakarta.

In a Straits Times report (27th July) titled “Jakarta’s bind a result of charter changes: MM”, he is quoted as having told a public forum:

“They created a Constitution which is different from any other Constitution in the world. Constitutions are very complex subjects, so when you make a Constitution, you study what other countries have done, and then you make amendments here and there to suit your circumstances”.

After giving the Indonesians a lecture on constitutional drafting, he then carried on to wax lyrical about the system in the Suharto era where “it was the legislative branch which elected the President…in a way that made sense”. MM Lee seems to have forgotten that Parliamentary democracy in Suharto’s reign was little more than Indonesian wayang kulit.

He then let rip into the legitimacy of the Indonesian parliamentary system, criticizing it for being unaccountable to voters because it is a closed list proportional representation system. Spain, Portugal, Israel, Finland are among the countries that should contemplate electoral reform before MM’s next visit: they are among the plethora of countries that utilize this system of voting.

It is apparently a less democratic means of picking legislators than Singapore’s Westminster democracy.

Indonesian legislator Andreas Pereira had this to say to MM’s lesson on democracy:

“Wake up, Mr Lee. Present day Indonesia is much more democratic and open than during the era when the two of you (Mr Lee and Suharto) could make bilateral agreements on your own”.

The irony of deriding Indonesian parliamentarians’ accountability a day after visiting Indonesia’s ex dictator Suharto seems to have been completely lost on MM. To add to the surreality of the visit, MM Lee invited the Speaker, Agung Laksono of the DPR (Indonesian Parliament) to visit him in his hotel room.

Diplomacy with this personal touch might have worked in the days of Suharto, but was soundly rebuffed by Mr Agung. He said “If (he) wants to meet, meet me at the DPR building so that it respects the state institution”. Evidently he thought the hotel room offer slightly off-putting and beneath his dignity.


This almost farcical trip might have been funny if not for the fact that Singapore still harbours (or harboured, as the case might now be) hope that the very Parliament MM Lee insulted might ratify a Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with Singapore.

After orchestrating a high profile signing of the Extradition Treaty (ET) Indonesia has long asked us for, Indonesia promptly left us in the lurch to wait for their Parliament to ratify the supposedly quid-pro-quo DCA. Things have gone downhill astoundingly fast since then: a Parliamentary commission has refused to ratify the DCA in its present form, which might mean bringing the DCA back to the negotiating table.

This setback, along with strident anti-Singapore voices in the DPR, seems to have been what got Mr Lee’s goat. So in he swooped, sledgehammer flying.

What he doesn’t seem to have realized was that there might have been some hope of it being ratified by the DPR in an amended form. At issue was the use of an area in the South China Sea for military training. This didn’t seem to be something a spot of deft diplomacy and political lobbying couldn’t untangle.

Well if the road to the DCA previously seemed long and winding, it’s now that much more complicated. That flushing sound is the sound of a DCA going down the toilet. To say MM’s visit was bad for Singaporean diplomacy would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Read also: Lee Kuan Yew’s statement draws widespread controversy in Indonesia (Bernama)

And “This ‘punching bag’ will bounce back, says MM” (TODAY)


25 Responses to “Diplomacy – a la MM Lee”

  1. LCC said

    Hmm… While I agree with the analysis that MM Lee’s remarks could have negative consequences for diplomatic relations between Singapore and Indonesia, I, at the same time, think that it should be noted that diplomacy do not only entail the saying of nice “diplomatic” words to please other countries. It also entails honest criticism.

    Anyway, it would seems to me that if MM Lee, instead of criticising the Indonesian system, had praised the Indonesian system during his visit, I suppose there would be people who would insinuate that he, succumbing to pressure, did so to “please” Indonesia, in order to have the DCA ratified.

    Hmm… Damned if he do, damned if he don’t?

    That said, I must say that it is most curious that even though the U.S. also have a presidential (i.e. separation of powers between the legislative & executive) system in place, I don’t seem to recall MM Lee criticising their political system as being detrimental to their national progress.

  2. LCC, he didn’t have to make any comment about their constitution.

  3. scb said

    “It also entails honest criticism.” Unquote. If someone visits a friends’ house and finds it dirty and messy(literally) and not to his liking, that some one should avoid visiting the particular friend. He should(must) not visit just to give ‘honest criticism’ and constructive citicism if I may add. It will not be wrong for the Criticised Party to feel slighted and being interfered. Not diplomacy that I am concerned with but just basic manners.

  4. In Sun Tse Art of War, there is a common belief that “to know oneself as well as one’s enemy will allow one to win a hundred victories”

    Does MM Lee know himself as well as others to have the extra shrewdness to understand his own weakness – easily carried away by his own over-confident pet theories – to the extent of missing out on governing for the greatest good of the greatest number.

    If he has that extra ability or empathy to understand others then he would have been a great leader. So far it appears like he is only self-conscious of his own need to succeed and look good whether in dealing with people or understanding their needs and desire or handling of statecraft or foreign affairs. He is only a self-believer at the best.

    Because of his legal training he has been able to push through all the fallacious policies by sheer political muscle to wrangle through laws like GRC election process or ministers’ benchmarking of salary to a few lucky CEOs in the private sector and get away with fall-outs and objections from the people until NKF problems starting to hit back at him on rare occasions due to combination of circumstances like change of premiership etc.

    Apart from his legalistic wrangling he has not quite convinced thinking persons on any of his own pet theories imposed on the electorate from GRC or using of civil libel suits to undermine his own political opponents. Try to impose his ministers’ salary benchmarking on Badawi, he instantly got the rebuff. Try to teach Mahathir to be more multi-racial he got all the short ends of the bargains.

    In in reality, he could not influence much outside the little red dot despite all the seeming reputation or rhetorics.

    Does he convince any foremost western journalists or thinkers of his justification or excuse to clamp-down on political or press freedoms as something desirable even for a small red dot.

    The answer is quite clear – his rhetoric or legalistic wrangling does not work outside the little red dot.

    Whenever he tries to same rhetorics with any external parties from Taiwan Li Ao to suzhou local authority to Indonesian journalists he would be soundly rebuffed one time after another with his own local press doing damage control mostly making it look less bad.

    Therefore he has not demonstrated any special convincing logics or abilities apart from legalistic wrangling to override all fallouts or objections caused to the people.

    If he does not understand others as well as himself and understand only himself then he will eventually be exposed by more objective thinkers and powers of his own weaknesses in his own backyard

  5. dan said

    Lee is a complete jackass and a good example of a bad leader. What gives him the right to insult other governments, and even people? I remember this pathetic man giving racist comments about australians as well. He seems to think that he can say anything he wants because his authority is unquestioned and untouchable. That may be true in his “company” (singapore) but it certainly isn’t in the rest of the world. His comments make him look like a bumbling old man.

  6. Lai CF said

    He never learn isn’t it since the 90s bruhohaha over his “high crime rate” in Johor?

    he forgot that no matter what he said in this region; it will invariably ended up in attacks on SIngapore by demagogues of all kind…from left to right….

    he should play the elderly statesman and comment on anywhere, except Middle East, China, India and ASEAN.

    Leave Middle East and Idnai to GOh Chok TOng.
    Chian to Lee Hsien Loong,
    and ASEAN to George yeo.

    Lee Kuan Yew is more of a liability in regional politics and he still does not realise it yet.

    As the CHiense saying goes: ‘Teh older you are, the muddlier you become.”

  7. Gerald said

    I don’t think LKY went with the intention of insulting the Indons. If Indon were some far of land, he wouldn’t bother to comment. But because Indon is our gigantic neighbour whose progress (or failure) has significant bearing on Singapore, LKY probably felt by making certain statements, he could do something to improve things there.

    It’s kinda like your mother-in-law coming to your home and telling you how to put your home in order. Well intentioned but unsolicited advice.

  8. Dead Poet said

    I think we are grossly under-estimating the political shrewdness of the man. History has proven beyond doubt that he is capable of manipulating both allies and enemies to achieve his political aim. What ever the man says, it is calculated to achieve the desired results. While the DCA is doomed to fail, so will be extrediction agreement and the blame will of course be with the Indons. Without even having to disagree or taking his young cabinet’s action, he has vetoed it with a few short comments and speeches, ensuring the billions remain in Singapore. He is simply too brilliant for our neighbours to understand.

  9. Pui yee said

    It seems like we are paying an old gizzard and his offspring millions of money to create diplomatic mess for Singapore.

    And the reason why he thinks he can do that with impunity is that he and his family hold the purse-strings of our money – $100 billion. That is a helluva lot of money for subsequent necesary clean-up.

  10. Lai CF said

    In demagogeury, who cares about logic and truth?
    For Singapore to engage in “a balance of mutual benefit”, Lee Kuan Yew, a much hated figure amongst Malaysian bumiputera, Indonesians associate dhim with Suharto, how much of a shrewdness he has in the new REALPOLITIK in ASEAN?

    In China, he said: “We are Deferential; but not Submissive..”
    In Indonesia, he said: “We cannot allow changes..else…no rule of law??”

    it is not shrewdness but plain stupidity without udnerstanding the nature of your opponents who ahs an axe to grind with SIngapore; with present legalistic approach only make it worse.

    A change of tack is required…by first removing Lee Kuan Yew from ASEAN politiking.

    Do you mena that after 43-year sof nation-building, SIngpaore will collapse instantly when Lee Kuan Yew is no more in Government?

    Then, what the heck are tax-payers paying S$1.6-million per annum per person to George Yeo, Teo Chee Hean, Jayakumar and Lim Hng Kiang for?

    All four of them should be able to takeover Lee Kuan Yew’s job load in ASEAN Politics.

  11. LCC said

    Hmm… Don’t be mistaken. I am no die-hard fan and/or apologist of MM Lee; I am just trying to look at this whole issue from a non-partisan/objective standpoint.

    Okay, allow me to make 2 quick responses to the critical responses to my earlier comment.

    i) I may be wrong but it seems to me that it is not entirely clear whether MM Lee voluntary made those critical comments about the Indonesian Constitution or that he made them in response to a question. If he had made them in response to a question (e.g. “What do you think about the Indonesian Constitution?”), I suppose it would be a quite different situation from if he made them without external prompting.

    ii) Again, I may be wrong but I think MM Lee was invited to go to Indonesia to speak at an event, which was scheduled for earlier this year but postponed due to floods, organised by Citibank i.e. it was not a visit initiated by him. Thus, the point about how MM Lee should visit less of a country if he is displeased with it cannot really stand, considering that he was invited to go there. It is perhaps coincidental that MM Lee’s recent visit coincided with the current rough patch in Singapore-Indonesian relations. Of course, that said, I cannot deny the possibility that the invitation to speak at the Citibank event could perhaps be a “smokescreen”.

    Also, maybe it is just me but it seems that to sacrifice honesty for basic manners would perhaps be too big a sacrifice.

    And, similar to what Gerald said (i.e. “Well intentioned but unsolicited advice”), I think there is a Chinese saying, which can be roughly translated into “Honest words may be unpopular words”. (“Chong yan ni er”), that is rather applicable in this situation.

    Moving on, it is rather curious that while critical responses have been made in reply to the first part of my earlier comment, the second part of it have been strangely overlooked. Thus, I think I would just reiterate it (the second part) below.

    “Anyway, it would seems to me that if MM Lee, instead of criticising the Indonesian system, had praised the Indonesian system during his visit, I suppose there would be people who would insinuate that he, succumbing to pressure, did so to ‘please’ Indonesia, in order to have the DCA ratified.

    Hmm… Damned if he do, damned if he don’t?”

  12. Pui yee said

    lcc, you very funny leh… you said “to sacrifice honesty for basic manners would perhaps be too big a sacrifice”. you never looked into sg history izzit? old harry is not known for his honesty, but his manipulative way. go on, look into the recently de-classified british documents.

    to answer your second part of your earlier comment: lky and his cronies hor, always find foreigners critising spore deplorable, inflammatory , and “sue-able”.

    *Edited to remove personal insults

  13. LCC said

    Nahh… I no need to … and was not trying to … (was just trying to provide my own viewpoint without, … insulting those who disagree with it).

    *Edited to remove personal insults and reference to genitalia 🙂 We are a family-oriented blog. 🙂

  14. scb said

    “Hmm, damned if he do, damned if he don’t?”. LCC, me think you underestimate LKY, he is the one that is perpetually qualify to damn others. Robert Teh said it very clearly at Post 4 and you(LCC) are finding reasons which you are not too sure to make guessings of possibilities. Maybe…you admire his gut.

  15. LCC said

    Hmm… Okay… Perhaps I am but just one quick question: when you said “maybe you admire his gut”, whose gut are you referring to? Mr. Teh’s or MM Lee’s?

    Apologise for asking this seemingly obtuse question but I am really confused.

  16. scb said

    Although it is obvious that I meant LKY whose gut I incidentally admire very much too though not his ruthlessness; with your question, I now doubt if LKY has got your admiration. Maybe I was wrong and do forgive me if I am wrong, regards !

  17. scb said

    Btw, one is damned for doing or not doing a thing when the deed benefits nobody except the perpetrator.

  18. LCC said

    Hmm… Okay… MM Lee is a partial role model (his good attribues are worth modelling after)to me.

    However, it seems that, to some out there, saying anything nice about MM is equivalent to trying to bootlick him.

  19. What is leadership, talents, insight, foresight or all the assumptions like meritocracy or contribution of foreign talents?

    Are such concepts or assumptions even practicable or are they just some kind of self-promotion to glorify one’s oneself?

    Is such a leadership system liable to abuse of power where the so-called leader is able to override the wishes of his subjects and even oppress good people who could otherwise contribute to the greater good by their diversities.

    Is he a good leader who keeps talking about his own leadership, vision, foresight and who keeps increasing costs of living by taxing and profiteering on lands and facilities owned by the people?

    Is he a leader who keep suing his political opponents for the slightest criticism in the course of electioneering through legalistic wrangling of the civil libel?

    Could such a leader actively motivate his people to participate in his rule to produce the mass participation in practical knowledge application to benefit all citizens.

    Is he a good leader who ignored people’s complaints for years about malpractices like the nkf or shin corp unwilling to serve them with accountability, procedures, processes, codes of corporate governance, passion, moral uprightness or nobility of spirit?

    What kind of leadership qualities did citizens expect from our leaders today ?

    Despite all the feedbacks of the citizens, what we are seeing is a system of legalistic wrangling of laws and regulations aimed at taxing and recovering fullest costs depriving people of essential services in housing, transportation, utilities and medical care.

    The ordinary citizens are suffering from dropping wages, loss of employment opportunities due to rising costs of doing business with a domestic economy being squeezed out by such rising costs and by government’s getting into businesses of all sorts to compete with its own citizens.

    What happen to all the talents of our own citizens or do we have no talents?

    The Asian Financial crisis has exposed self-centredness as the ultimate cause of financial instability.

    Why is it that during the Asian Financial crisis none of our so-called second generation or present team of ministers were able to take action to restructure the economy but instead were seen as blaming the crisis on the people and not their inability to motivate the people due to their own individualism and self-centredness resulting in malpractices in all the NKF going on in so many organizations.

    Apparently something has gone wrong with the team since ministers like Dr. Goh Keng Swee or Lim Kim San, Dr. Toh Chin Chye have left the scene being retired early for perhaps deeper reason like being unable to get along with our supremely self-centred leader.

    In the fast-paced age of technology, we need leaders who could command the whole organization and population to use their respective leadership and talent to produce maximum results instead of giving excuses and denying problems like NKF or Nicol Highway collapse instead of self-glorifying bigots who only talk about policies and hardly able to translate them into coordinated work processes to reach results.

    We need leaders who talk less but are more committed to down-to-earth broad-based technology and knowledge application by the masses.

    We need leaders who could translate diverse challenges and decisions into attainable work processes which allow staff to take actions with broad-based knowledge application and teamwork.

    We need to leaders who could solve the “20 major major government policy errors” as posted to the Feedback Unit since 2002.

    We need ministers and civil servants who could take comprehensive actions to restructure the economy to value-adding technology-driven economy talked about for years.

  20. raymondchua said

    Robert Teh Kok Hua ,
    what we need is really a change in government. Rather than fix so much existing and inherited problem, it is better to start from new. Just like a car that cause so much problem after 7 years, one better off buying a new car.

    Our gov’s problem is not worth fixing because for every fix you put in, endup more things to fix.

    The system itself is a liabilities and fixing it doesn’t make it any more an asset.

    Gov that in constant denial is actually a form of protectionism for themselves. This has been going on for decades, and near impossible to even change.

  21. raymondchua said

    For every feedback we give to gov, all we get back is more committee, more regulation, more rules, more money from us to spend on admin cost, more talkRot, more problem than solution.

    The problems are simply throw back to you citing you is the problem, therefore solution lies within you !

  22. raymondchua said

    Of course, it is idealistic to even change the gov because LKY say that military will interfere. With so much to lose, the only change that acceptable is those that fit LKY’s agenda.

  23. Raymondchua,

    What you have suggested is a total revamp, which include a change of government which is now in a state of denial or protectionism due to their entrenchment of power through legalistic wrangling of laws and regulations to suit their own agendas.

    I agree with you fully that the government is now in a state of denial using hypocrisy and look-good presentations to mull over people’s problems.

    Let us hope people the next generation of leaders other than the few current crop of MPs and connected elites will come forward to make change happen by registering themselves, making their voices heard and standing for election with proactive actions taken through legitimate means.

    This website is a small way of identifying such views, and getting people interested and involved to effect such change.

  24. scb said

    Although it is very heartwarming to read substantial, knowledgeable and enlightening materials posted by the many intellectual bloggers in Cyberspace, I still do not foresee any political changes in the near future. The opposition parties in Singapore have to face the crippling strategies and castrating ploys of the Ruling Party. They are also not able to attract much people to support them or join them though the Blogging Community seems to have many capable men that they(opposition) can and should recruit or forge partnerships. On the other hand, although there are much sound and fury, the sociopolitical bloggers themselves are not actively involved in political affairs though they are very concerned with state(social/people) affairs. Personally, I am very disappointed that capable Singaporeans have chosen to be so apathetic to local politics. Many have in fact left the Land for good; it could be due to total lack of confidence in themselves to cope up with the sociopolitical culture. Or simply no confidence in the future of the Country itself as there is no denial that it is resourceless, overcrowded, expensive and overdeveloped. In our ideals of living, many of us will appreciate space, freedom, landscape(scenery) culture and arts. And for Singaporeans staying put here, they will not get to enjoy them. A new phenomenon has also emerge lately, likely an inculcation of money-loving culture, the people are getting greedy and depraved; at least the signs have been around since the 5Cs were in vogue.

  25. lesile said

    If indeed materialistic Singaporean who want to achieve the 5C will be better of migrating to other countries where it is more easily obtainable without huge liabilities.

    In Malaysia, cars and petrol are so cheap, but you better show off getting cheaper cars in case it might be stolen, and bungalow is such a commodities that it takes someone who work 2 years accumulating $120,000 to cash buy the house for a similar house that cost greater than a millions dollars here. And you don’t have to bloated down by loan of 30years ! Country club ? You have ample choice to choose from.

    I not comparing anything but just to let people understand that there’s more life than simply chasing the 5C blindly.

    It is highly that most chase the 5C in order to fill the empty void and aimlessness of being a Singaporean here.

    Many choose to migrate because they feel that not only Singaporean did not get respect from gov, they also marginalised by its people around.

    There also lack of unity among Singaporean and it is all-man to themselves because the bond of a nation is never there in first place, let alone nation building.

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