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Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World

Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World by Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill. MIT Press, 2013, 224 pp.

Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill artfully compiled Lee Kuan Yew’s interviews and selections into Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. Well educated and experienced to analyze China, the United States, and the World, Lee was prime minister of Singapore for 30 years and secretary general of the People’s Action Party. He led Singapore to become one of the wealthiest and least corrupt countries in Asia from extremely humble beginnings. He not only graduated from Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, the United Kingdom where he studied law, but also passed the English bar. Thus, Lee leveraged both his western and eastern education and extensive political experience in sharing his insights on China, the United States, and the world.

Lee tactfully answers a wide array of questions regarding eight sensitive topics. When he speaks, presidents, leaders, senior policy makers, commentators, heads of government, global corporations, and economic institutions of the world listen. As testimony to Lee’s incredible track record, in the foreword, Henry A. Kissinger, stated how Lee transformed Singapore where “per capita income was about $400” to how “it is now more than $50,000” (p. viii). Both readers of the book and listeners of the audio book should remember that Lee Kuan Yew seeks to challenge people’s long-held assumptions and precepts even if it is politically incorrect to do so.

Lee’s interviews covered eight topics: the future of China, the United States, US-China relations, India, Islamic extremism, national economic growth, geopolitics and globalization, and democracy. The insights and answers to each topic and the slew of questions within each subject are comprehensive, yet succinct. The central theme to his thoughts stems from experience and wisdom instead of idealism from fantasies far removed from reality. For example, Lee is unafraid to both adopt Western values and policy in his administration and offer constructive criticisms to Western beliefs that are not entirely perfect in practice. As another example, Lee states how he has “observed in the last 40 years that even with a poor system of government, but with good strong people in charge, people get a passable government with decent progress” (p. 32). On the other hand, “many ideal systems of government fail” because “societies did not have the leaders who could work those institutions, nor people who respected those institutions” (p. 33). Thus, Lee is not blind to any school of thought when he speaks because he provides original thoughts on issues.

While Lee speaks with conviction, he alludes early on that even he needs to be diplomatic in what he states in public due to the rise of China. Thus, the best gift Lee Kuan Yew bestows upon listeners is not what he has said in the past due to realism, but how one should read between the lines. Furthermore, Lee’s use of simple prose to answer complex questions is a testament to how he welcomes his logic to be challenged by anyone. Thus, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World is a must read for anyone serious about understanding Asia.

1st Lt David Chui, USAF

"The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."
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