Tom Plate: Ignore Lee Hsien Loong, or his late dad & disaster beckons

PM Lee gives views on U.S.-China relations in Tom Plate interview

By Jonathan Lim | June 5, 2018

Who’s Tom Plate, you ask? In Singapore’s context, the American journalist-slash-author published the pretty-iconic book based on extensive, in-depth interviews with our late founding Prime Minister — Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew, Citizen Singapore: How to Build a Nation.

Author of Lee Kuan Yew book Tom Plate shares his views on Asian leaders and Asian cities

Plate recently visited his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at the Istana and quizzed him on his views on the upcoming Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, as well as the evolving relationship between the United States and China.

He documented the meeting in a piece for the South China Morning Post. In it, he wrote:

“Lee deserves to be listened to carefully, as was his thoughtful father. Ignore their wise input on China, and disaster beckons, even if the upcoming summit by itself is a roaring success.”

Here are the pertinent things PM Lee said in the interview:

On the “Us vs Them” mentality

“It is up to you how you want to see the world. The question is what conclusion you will reach. Do you conclude that the Chinese have to be like you, in order to be your friend? Or do you conclude that they do not have to be like you, yet you can still do business with them?

We do hope that you [Americans] can come to the second conclusion, because it is not necessary for you to be enemies just because you are different from them. They do not think less of you just because you do not have a Communist Party of the United States.”

On the American way of doing things and its consequences with China

“You [Americans] do feel that you have an idea how the rest of the world should be run… That is very worrying, because if you take a negative attitude to [Beijing] there will be a reaction. They are already suspicious of you, that you intend to frustrate their ambitions to greatness…

The Chinese do not feel they should be sat upon in judgment… The Chinese model is not our solution either, and we have to feel our way forward too because I don’t think our model automatically works [that well] as you move forward.”

On what Americans think of the U.S. trade sanctions against China

“When Mr Trump did his trade sanctions on the Chinese, it may have been initiated by Mr Trump or his Administration. But my feeling from our people and just reading the papers, is that it actually has quite wide support in the U.S.. Even [New York Times columnist] Thomas Friedman feels so… He is not a natural hawk… So there are people who do not have a lot of time for the Trump Administration, who agree with him on this matter.”

On what the Chinese think of Trump as President

“Some Chinese think so… saying this is a strategic opportunity for China as long as Trump is President… I would not be surprised if some Chinese officials might have such thoughts as well…

At the same time, they (China) are thinking strategically, whereas I am not sure whether America is thinking strategically about its relationship with China, or its role in the wider world.”

On straining U.S.-Sino relations

“It does not have to go that way. But from the trade frictions, it can easily develop into a wider mistrust. Because now, it is not just trade, exchange or currency exchange rates, but you are also blocking their investments, more than before. If you do not want to run a trade deficit with them, yet you do not want to sell them what they want to buy – either companies or strategic goods – then what is the outcome?”

Buy a Trump-Kim t-shirt:

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You can read PM Lee’s full interview with Plate here.

Top image from MCI

About Jonathan Lim

Jon is thankful that Singapore is interesting enough to keep a website like Mothership.sg up and running.

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