Apparently, Singapore’s former Prime Minister and current Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew thinks North Koreans are ‘psychopathic types’ and their leader Kim Jong-il is a ‘flabby old chap who prances around stadiums seeking adulation.’
This was revealed as part of the most recent WikiLeaks move, which is set to involve the release of 251,287 classified cables between the US State Department and its embassies around the world. It seems Lee made these particular comments when he met US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg at the Istana (presidential palace) back in Singapore on May 30, 2009.
And what are Lee’s thoughts about the future leadership in North Korea? Again, his thinking is both amusing and scandalous: ‘Kim Jong-Il has already had a stroke. It is just a matter of time before he has another stroke. The next leader may not have the gumption or the bile of his father or grandfather. He may not be prepared to see people die like flies.’
Lee is quoted as commenting on many other issues in the region, such as the prospect of Korean unification and China’s attitude towards the two Koreas. But it’s his opinions of the controversial and reclusive North Korean leader that have captured global attention. And it’s also, unsurprisingly, the buzz amongst Lee’s compatriots in Singapore.
Many Singaporeans were surprised that Lee, a seasoned diplomat, would use such unflattering language to describe another leader. Some even commented on the irony that Lee and Kim are in fact seen as similar in many ways (although one difference between the two might be that if somebody were to call Lee a ‘flabby old chap’ in Singapore they could quickly face a libel suit!)
The cable reports exposed by Wikileaks proved once more that Lee, despite his age and less prominent role in Singapore’s government, is still a very influential and intriguing global public figure. Obviously, his views are highly valued by those in the United States. With this in mind, it's worth looking at what Lee told the Americans about China’s plans for the Korean Peninsula.
According to the WikiLeaks cable report:
‘MM Lee said the Chinese do not want North Korea to have nuclear weapons. At the same time, the Chinese do not want North Korea, which China sees as a buffer state, to collapse. The ROK would take over in the North and China would face a US presence at its border. If China has to choose, Beijing sees a North Korea with nuclear weapons as less bad for China than a North Korea that has collapsed, he stated.’
And what was Lee’s advice to the US on how to best deal with an aggressive China? Again, from the cable report:
‘MM Lee said the best course for the United States on China is to build ties with China’s young people. China’s best and brightest want to study in the United States, with the UK as the next option, then Japan. While they are there, it is important that they be treated as equals, with the cultural support they may need as foreigners.’
Will the US follow the advice given by Lee, particularly the point about being fair to Chinese students? Lee’s fellow Singaporeans, though impressed that their former leader is still mentally sharp and well regarded in the West, could well ask him first if Chinese nationals are being treated equally in Singapore.
And as the WikiLeaks ‘cablegate’ continues to rattle politicians around the world, the Singaporean government has added its voice of disapproval to the decision to publish classified documents. Will Wikileaks be banned soon in Singapore and other nations? If it is, at least we already know what Lee thinks about all those ‘psychopaths’ and their ‘flabby old' leader.