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Singapore Seen as Model for Life After Transition

Asia: China likes the example set by Lee Kuan Yew, former leader of another prosperous pocket in region.


HONG KONG — For different reasons, the Chinese government and Hong Kong's new leadership see the prosperous city-state of Singapore as a model for the future for the soon-to-be-former British colony.

Beijing likes the strict political control practiced in Singapore, where dissent is little tolerated and the press is heavily censored. Hong Kong's newly designated leaders--drawn from the territory's business elite--like the openness and vitality of the Singapore economy.

That makes Lee Kuan Yew--the former prime minister who was the architect of the Singapore model and is the leading exponent of neo-Confucian values--an important voice as Hong Kong enters its next phase.

Lee never hesitates to give his opinion about how both Beijing and Hong Kong should manage their affairs. Naturally, he is in Hong Kong to oversee the hand-over to China.

In a speech Friday before a regional business forum, he blasted U.S. and other Western politicians who support democracy in Hong Kong.

"There are two strikingly different views of the change that will take place at midnight on June 30," Lee said. "One, the conventional view expressed in the Western media, is that Hong Kong will be gradually overpowered by forces of darkness, and this little candle of freedom on the south coast of China will be snuffed out.

"The other view, held by the people of China, is that a bright era is beginning, not ending."

Lee--who retired as Singapore's longtime prime minister but still remains the most powerful political figure there and an influential voice in the rest of Asia--praised President Clinton's policy of "deep engagement" with China.

But he warned that the policy could be "disrupted by domestic politics in America," including efforts by members of Congress to "bring democracy to China through Hong Kong."

Delivering the keynote address before the Pacific Rim Forum, a leading regional business group, Lee advised Hong Kong residents to "never be confused over how to safeguard their own interests."

"They will hear many voices cheering them on to fight China for more democracy," he said.

Lee advised Hong Kong residents, each time they hear this, to remember the words of a former Hong Kong governor, Lord Murray Maclehose: "The power, reasonable expectations and rights of the Chinese government can be disregarded only at the peril of Hong Kong."

Lee reserved his harshest criticism for the Western media, which he accused of attempting to stir up another Cold War by advocating a "confrontational" policy with China, and for Hong Kong's outgoing British Gov. Chris Patten, who in the waning days of British rule attempted to establish democratic institutions in the colony.

Lee, who initially supported Patten's democratic reforms, has recently been at odds with the governor, reportedly engaging in a heated argument with Patten when they met earlier this week.

"Until Gov. Patten in the last five years," Lee said, "British policy in Hong Kong was consistent, one that understood and respected China's sensitivities. In return, China ensured that turbulence in China, whether the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution, did not spill over into and damage Hong Kong."

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