LKY ‘worked 7 days a week’: Alan Chan, who received China’s Reform & Friendship Award on late LKY’s behalf

He almost didn't become Lee's Principal Private Secretary because of his Chinese grades.

Martino Tan | December 23, 2018 @ 03:08 pm


On Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, China honoured Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew with a Reform and Friendship Award, to recognise Singapore’s and Lee’s long-standing and substantive support for China’s development over the years.

Lee Kuan Yew honoured posthumously by China on 40th year of opening up

Lee was one of the only 10 foreigners who was given the award at a ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to mark the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up.

Two Japanese — former prime minister Masayoshi Ohira and industrialist Konosuke Matsushita — also made the list.

Other awardees include the former president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the founder of the World Economic Forum.

Another 100 Chinese nationals were given the China Reform Pioneer Award for their outstanding contributions to the past 40 years, among the recipients were Jack Ma and Yao Ming.

Former Principal Private Secretary to LKY received the award on Lee’s behalf

On the same day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced that Alan Chan Heng Loon, Chairman of the Land Transport Authority and Chairman of the Singapore-China Foundation, was to receive the award on behalf of the late LKY at the award ceremony.

Chan was Lee’s Principal Private Secretary (PPS) from 1994 to 1997 when Lee was the Senior Minister.

Chan was the man seated on the left of Lee when he celebrated his 91st birthday dinner at Japanese restaurant Kuriya Dining at Great World City on Sept. 16, 2014.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, also Lee’s former PPS, was seated on the right of Lee.

Lee Kuan Yew celebrated his 91st birthday at Kuriya Dining at Great World City

Chan recalled his first encounter with Lee

Chan first met Lee when he was being interviewed for the position of PPS.

That was what Lee first said to Chan after looking at Chan’s CV:

“Chan Heng Loon, you don’t qualify. That’s the end of the interview.”

Shocked, Chan asked Lee the reason why.

Lee replied:

“Your Chinese is no good. You have a C6 in Chinese. I am looking for a PPS who is good in Chinese.”

Chan explained that he was strong in Chinese and had been reading Chinese newspapers, magazines and books since the age of six.

He mentioned that his low grade was one of his biggest disappointment personally.

In the end, Chan was successful in getting the PPS job.

More importantly, Lee decided to test Chan by asking him to go to Taiwan with him together with George Yeo.

Chan was asked to take the minutes during Lee’s long discussions with then President Lee Teng-hui and then Premier Lien Chan.

Lee also requested that he wanted the notes verbatim the next day, so that he could share with the Cabinet.

Chan worked through the night and handed Lee the notes the next morning at 9am.

An hour later, Lee told Chan that he had “passed the test”.

Reflections of Lee published in a book

Chan’s reflections of his time with Lee was published in a 2016 book, Up Close with Lee Kuan Yew: Insights from colleagues and friends, a year after Lee’s passing.

The book aimed to showcase a more personal, intimate perspective of Lee by people who worked and interacted very closely with him.

Chan revealed that he would accompany Lee to China once or twice a year during his stint as PPS.

His stint took place during the time of the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) project.

Chan also shared anecdotes of Lee’s personal life.

For instance, Chan said that Lee worked seven days a week even though there were no personal staff members around on Sunday to attend to him.

On Sundays, Lee would get his security members to drive him around the housing estates.

He would then send a note to Chan on Monday mornings detailing his observations.

He added that Lee was a “night bird”, and would usually sleep at 2am or 3am.

On his last day of working with Lee, Lee thanked Chan for being “an efficient PPS”.

It is high praise from someone who is well-known for his own efficiency and diligence.

About Martino Tan

Martino’s parents named him after an Italian priest, Vatican's 1st ambassador to S’pore. He's inspired by the lives of Robert Kennedy & Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the words of George Orwell & William F. Buckley Jr., & the music of the Beatles.

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