Lee Kuan Yew met then vice-chairman Deng Xiaoping in China in November, 1978. Photo: Xinhua
For years, China’s leaders have been obsessed with learning from Singapore’s success.
The city state has maintained single-party rule with popular legitimacy, retained good governance with an uncorrupted bureaucracy, and delivered inclusive growth with equal opportunities for its people in a harmonious, multiracial society.
But beyond its success, what makes Singapore most attractive to China is the special bond between the two states, nurtured by their respective patriarchs Deng Xiaoping and Lee Kuan Yew.
In November, 1978, Deng, then senior vice-premier, made an official visit to Singapore during which both strongmen statesmen sowed the seeds to cultivate that special relationship, historians say.
Lee developed a keen understanding of China and its leadership during 33 visits starting in 1976, when he shared a brief handshake with the ailing chairman, Mao Zedong .
In the four decades since, Lee maintained cordial relations with five generations of Chinese leaders. Only former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger can boast the same.
Singapore’s success as an overseas Chinese-majority society made the tiny city state all the more relevant to China as it opened up its economy with market-oriented experiments in the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s and ’90s, said Zhuang Guotu , a Southeast Asian affairs expert and dean of Xiamen University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.
China’s leaders embraced the “learn from Singapore” slogan as they tried to fathom the secrets behind the island’s good governance and successful socio-economic policies including housing, health care and welfare.
They have been particularly drawn to the Singapore model of “managed democracy” or “benevolent dictatorship”, viewing the Southeast Asian country as boasting the world’s most successful authoritarian rule, according to Zhuang. South China Morning Post