SINGAPORE — At a celebratory dinner last night in honour of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s 90th birthday, which falls on Sept 16, tributes were paid to the former Prime Minister for his work in fostering closer ties between Singapore and China, as well as in emphasising bilingualism and biculturalism, which prepared the Republic to ride on the Asian giant’s economic growth.
The organisers of the dinner — the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and Business China — honoured Mr Lee for transforming Singapore from a small backward island with limited resources into a prosperous and developed nation today.
At a speech charting Mr Lee’s achievements, Mr Chua Thian Poh, who represented all three associations, said in Mandarin: “The Singapore model developed by Mr Lee has been highly regarded and widely replicated. This success model has resulted in our tiny garden-city state playing an instrumental role on the world stage ... I believe all guests present today are as grateful to Mr Lee as I am.”
Although Mr Lee was unable to attend the event, held at the Shangri-La Hotel, his son, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, represented him.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Press Secretary said he had wanted to come but doctors had advised against it as a precautionary health measure.
Attended by 800 guests, the dinner was graced by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, some present and past Cabinet ministers, as well as Chinese community leaders.
At the dinner, the younger Mr Lee spoke of the pains his Peranakan father, who learnt Mandarin only as an adult, took to maintain his proficiency in the language.
“To overcome this, he continues to take regular Mandarin lessons at age 90 ... Learning the language enabled my father to more effectively convey his ideas and rally political support for them.
“Without that, it would not have been possible (to) go down the path that has led Singapore to where it is today. It also gave him a window into China and the Chinese world view, building strong foundations for the strong bilateral ties and close cooperation that both countries enjoy today.”
A commemorative book, Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore-China Relations, commissioned by Business China and produced together with the Chinese Newspapers Division of Singapore Press Holdings, was also unveiled at the dinner.
The book, which includes many unpublished pictures, charts significant milestones in the development of Singapore-Sino ties and Mr Lee’s relationship with five generations of China’s leaders. He has visited China 33 times over 37 years.
It is not for sale to the public, but was distributed to all dinner guests. The book will also be given to members of Business China, of which he is a patron.
Mr Lee, whose birthday falls on Sept 16, was also conferred the Business China Lifetime Achievement award, in celebration of his work in fostering Singapore-China ties.