Ladies and Gentlemen,
Day before yesterday, June 3, 2014 marked the 25 years anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen, China. The incident and the time till then of both China's and Singapore's history are uncannily similar.
Chinese thinking is to crack down hard on any dissent to their rule. In Tiananmen Square, when protesters challenged the government's authority, they were brutally crushed. In the entire long history of China, any attempt to challenge the authority of the one party Communist government will and must be crushed. Otherwise in Chinese thinking they will lose face and consequentially power.
Singapore did not have a Tiananmen but it did have JB Jeyaretnam, Chee Soon Juan, Chia Thye Poh, Lim Chin Siong to name a few of Lee's challengers. Although not shot to death like in China, every one of them was completely destroyed, and permanently removed from politics except for Chee Soon Juan, who has been sufficiently tamed to suit the Lee government. Just like in China, no one should be allowed to challenge the authority of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, his son or their ruling PAP, and get away with it. If they did, they would lose their Chinese face, in this case, Singaporean Chinese face, and consequently their authority and that simply won't do.
Both China and Singapore religiously follow the principle of the infamous political strategy of killing the chicken to frighten the monkeys.
This is how it works. You take a government opponent, and then you mercilessly destroy him before the eyes of the entire country. In Singapore's case, the punishment is almost always defamation law suit running into hundreds of thousands of dollars, bankruptcy, dismissal from professional employment such as lawyers license, vilification in the state controlled newspapers and denied employment.
While doing it, you give his punishment wide publicity with photographs of him widely spread out in the state controlled press.
In fact, curiously, the government in fact needs political opponents occasionally to play the chicken role. Only with their help, can the monkeys (meaning the citizens of Singapore) be sufficiently subdued, intimidated and obedient. This way, by slaughtering one chicken, Lee's helpless political opponent, you conveniently silence an entire population.
The Chicken and Monkey lesson worked very well in post Deng Hsiao Peng's China. The Chinese have been sufficiently intimidated and cowed. There hasn't been another Tiananmen incident since then. In Singapore it has worked well too. For a long time both before and after men like JB Jeyaretnam, there hasn't been any real threat to Lee Kuan Yew, his son or his PAP.
And then there is the carrot, both in China and Singapore. In China high ranking Communist Party members are given lucrative positions in employment and government. Many of them have become millionaires as a result. Singapore is no different. PAP support is a prerequisite to bestow lucrative jobs in the legal and every other profession. It is well known that only those supportive of the PAP establishment can ever hope to rise in Singapore.
But the one greatest weakness in this sort of reasoning is the presumption that as long as the government provides better jobs, better housing and better infra structure, the people would quietly obey them. Put in another way, the government will provide the jobs and the houses. In exchange the people have to accept their authority unconditionally. You have seen this playing out in both China and Singapore. In both countries, standard of living has risen exponentially. But the authorities in both countries have come down hard on those who question them.
If we are to accept that human nature is such that citizens would want a greater say in how their country is run no matter how rich they become, then crushing that desire portends trouble in both countries, only much worse for tiny Singapore.
China has nearly one billion people and the West needs China for business no matter how repressive their country is. Without China, American and Western business will collapse even if they are massacring their people daily. Therefore China will still survive despite their human rights abuses. True, many would leave their country for the West seeking more freedom, but this will not materially upset their ability to function, with a billion people in reserve. They can silence the Internet, they can prevent travel, they can do anything they want and still function.
Singapore on the other hand has simply no hope in the face of mounting desire for freedom. The island is too tiny. It has no more than perhaps 2 million local citizens. It has the lowest birth rate in the world and the highest emigration rate. Half of the people in the island are foreigners. It cannot silence the Internet even if it wants to, since this will hurt business which is it's mainstay. It cannot prevent free travel either. And worst of all, unlike China, Singaporeans know English, the passport to a life in the West.
And what is worse for Singapore is this. If Lee goes down hard on his people, all it takes is for a few foreign companies to pull out of Singapore to cause a total collapse of the economy. It is far too small.
If Lee Kuan Yew felt he could play the Chinese chicken and the monkeys game in Singapore, he is terribly mistaken. It simply cannot work in a tiny place which relies on international trade. Secondly he was gravely mistaken in thinking that normal rational human beings would be satisfied with good jobs and good housing alone. A dog might be quite contented but human beings are not dogs.
Unless and until Singapore's Lees understand that the Chinese style is simply not suited to a tiny island like Singapore and unless he realizes that the sooner he treats Singaporeans like human beings and not "digits" like Lee senior once called his citizen's, the island is on tailspin free fall and recovery is simply impossible.
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Fremont, California USA
Tel: 510 491 8525