Six months after his interview with Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Charlie Rose has sat down with his son, Lee Hsien Loong, the current prime minister of Singapore, who was in the United States last week for the nuclear security summit. In the hour-long interview, Lee fielded a wide range of questions on everything from Obama’s leadership to China, Iran and India. Here’s the China-specific portion of the interview which we found particularly interesting:
CHARLIE ROSE: China’s also experiencing — each leadership level,
each time they have a next leadership decade, they seem to be different.
And give us a sense, because you represent that in Singapore, how the
upcoming generation of Chinese leaders and other Asian leaders are
different from those they succeeded.
LEE HSIEN LOONG: This current generation — The generation before
this experienced the Second World War and the Japanese invasion and
occupation of China. It was an indelible impression for them and the
experience, the revolution as the communists took over China, and the first
really exhilarating years — the Great Hall of the People in 12 months and
all that went on in 18 months, and this tremendous sense of China standing
The current generation of leaders experienced the Cultural Revolution.
They know what a mess China can be — it was mismanaged — and how
important it is that China get its act together, what challenges China
faces internally, and how important it is for China to grow and improve the
lives of its people and to continue to do this for another generation at
The next — or maybe the next-next group of leaders, would be post-
Cultural Revolution. They will have grown up in 30 years of reform and
opening up. They will have lived in a China which is connected with the
Internet with people who know what’s — who are much better informed with
what’s going on throughout the world, where interests are expressed.
There will be tensions between different parts of China. And they
will have to run this whole system not as a central system but with a
market economy and with a coherent political framework on top of that. And
I think they will have a big challenge.
CHARLIE ROSE: What is it they see as a system that they would like to
have? I mean, is it evolving away from the system that Mao had? Clearly
it has in terms of its economy. But overall, is that an evolution you
believe is inevitable for China?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: I think it will evolve. I do not think they will
ever have presidential elections every fourth year like you do.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes.
LEE HSIEN LOONG: But it will have to evolve and it’s happening
slowly, maybe slower than it ought to, but they’re extremely cautious about
CHARLIE ROSE: And what are they worried about?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Instability. They have one Chinese word for it,
“Luan,” which is “disorder.” And having seen the Cultural Revolution, they
don’t want to go back.
CHARLIE ROSE: And then they saw Tiananmen.
LEE HSIEN LOONG: And they’ve seen Tiananmen, and they saw Falun Gong,
who appeared as a flash mob one day in front of the inner sanctum, and it
was the first they ever heard of Falun Gong, and that scared the daylights
out of them.
CHARLIE ROSE: It did?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Yes. That’s how they discovered it existed.
CHARLIE ROSE: But is that a threat to them?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: When they discovered who was in the Falun Gong and
how many of the senior officials had joined the secret group they were —
CHARLIE ROSE: they were what?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: They were shaken.
CHARLIE ROSE: And so therefore they have —
LEE HSIEN LOONG: So they are concerned about disorder, but at the
same time I think they though they have to allow for people to be engaged
in the system and to make able Chinese feel that this is a system which
reflects their interests and their aspirations and which they have some say
You may not vote for the president, but if you are a person with ideas
and whose views are relevant, they ought to carry weight and should be
expressed somewhere in your system in your policies and outcomes. I think
they know how that. How to get there, I don’t think they’ve worked it out,
and they are moving only quite slowly.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because they haven’t worked it out.
Do they want to be part of the existing international system?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Yes, but they would like to have their share of the
CHARLIE ROSE: Which is reasonable?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Which is reasonable. But how do they get their
share compared to where they are and what is the transition like, that’s
something that has to be managed.
CHARLIE ROSE: How would you define their share of the sunshine?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Well, they would tell you they have 1,300 million
And each one of them —
CHARLIE ROSE: That’s the fair share.
LEE HSIEN LOONG: And each one is entitled to so many kilograms of
CHARLIE ROSE: They do say that, that’s right. They say we have a
billion three and the world has six billion, figure it out.
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Yes. Well they know that they are not there because
they will also tell you that per capita income is very low, that there are
many people below the poverty line, that agriculture is abysmal by global
standards of productivity, and that they have to make major transformations
even to get to a modest middle-income level.
So their thoughtful leaders have that prominently in their minds and
therefore are quite cautious about over-asserting their arrival. But not
all young people are quite as careful about it.
CHARLIE ROSE: Your father told me once that Deng Xiaoping came and
was appreciative of what happened in Singapore and sent some people from
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Yes, many.
CHARLIE ROSE: Many, exactly, to observe, and said we want to do that.
How do we do that? What are they looking at now to say, we want to do
LEE HSIEN LOONG: They looked at many things. They came, they looked
at our schools, they looked at our water conservation, the way we recycle
waste water and turn that into new water which we can use again for
industrial and drinking purposes indirectly.
They look at the way we manage our financial system. They look at the
way we manage our housing. They look at our health care system. They are
interested in many of the pieces we are doing.
But most of all they want to know, how do you run a system where the
government can have legitimacy and there’s order and there’s continuity
over a long period of time? And the system works and is incorrupt and
And that’s a secret which is — they think it’s a secret. In fact,
they can see how we do it. But to be able to translate what we do, 3
million people in a tiny little island to 1,300 million people, one quarter
of humanity, that’s not so easy, which is not to say they haven’t learned.
But it’s to say it means what we do in Singapore, it’s a model they
can look at, it’s very interesting. But they have to work it out how they
make their own model in China.
CHARLIE ROSE: Are they becoming creative, innovative, less as we used
to have this image of China as being more sort of —
LEE HSIEN LOONG: They are not like that at all. If you visit you
will see it’s a very diverse, very vibrant place. Many arguments and
debates, very open discussion of many issues, except far few taboo areas.
CHARLIE ROSE: Which are politics.
LEE HSIEN LOONG: The Communist Party, Taiwan, Tibet, Mao Tse Tung.
CHARLIE ROSE: But politics —
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Other aspects of politics would be discussable.
CHARLIE ROSE: But what’s not discussable?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: What’s not discussable is that the Communist Party
is ruling China.
CHARLIE ROSE: So any dissent from that is not allowed?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: That’s not allowed.
CHARLIE ROSE: That’s a giant insecurity, isn’t it?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: So Google, how do you explain Google?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Google operated in China, and they decided to move.
I mean, one of the founders —
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, they decided to move because they refused to
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Because one of the founders changed his mind. Brin
CHARLIE ROSE: Sergei Brin.
LEE HSIEN LOONG: — who to start was not keen but allowed himself to
be persuaded. After they got hacked he persuaded the other people in
Google and particularly Eric Schmidt, and they moved to Hong Kong.
Practically nothing has happened because you can still get Google in
China, except now it’s censored by the Chinese rather than by Google!
What’s the difference? Google is still in China. Their web search is
not in China, but their R&D is still in China, their business is still in
China. So in fact it’s really from our point of view, it’s not helpful to
their image, but it’s not earth-shaking.
CHARLIE ROSE: But on the other hand, some people are applauding
Google for standing up, for Sergei Brin saying “I don’t want to be part of
this.” But you don’t agree with it?
LEE HSIEN LOONG: He had to make his decision. These are decisions
Google had to make. They were on an edge. A small thing happens which
makes them tip a different way.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes.
What should we learn from the Chinese experience? What should
Singapore, since they are learning from your experience and perhaps from
LEE HSIEN LOONG: I think firstly that sense of drive and desire that
tomorrow must be much better. It’s overwhelming. If you talk to the
Chinese or the businesspeople or the bureaucrats or the young people in the
schools, that drive to make tomorrow better is tremendous.
And that willingness to explore and examine alternatives — what
should we change? What should our system be? How should we make our
health care work or our pensions? Or even anti-pollution measures? And
try and work a system which, if it doesn’t work, well, we will change it
They are — I don’t know that they can do this across the country, but
where they do this it’s very impressive.
CHARLIE ROSE: And they feel that way. Their own self-esteem has
grown and they really want to say we’ve been around for a long time and
look at how good we are now.
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Especially after the Olympics and now after the
Shanghai Expo which is going to —
CHARLIE ROSE: Starts May 1st. That’s their symbol to the world that
“We have arrived.”
LEE HSIEN LOONG: Yes, or “We are arriving.”