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The FP Interview: Singapore's Big Gamble

Lee Hsien Loong and Moisés Naím
Foreign Policy
No. 130 (May - Jun., 2002), pp. 32-43
DOI: 10.2307/3183486
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3183486
Page Count: 12
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Abstract

One of the world's most globalized nations. Its most trade-intensive economy. Its busiest port. Holder of the Guinness Book of World Records title for the longest human dominoes. A "little red dot." An "irritating pimple that refuses to burst". "Disneyland with capital punishment." Singapore has won more than its share of bouquets and brickbats. Why has this 646-square kilometer city-state of 4.1 million people attracted such outsized attention? Start with former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. After Singapore's debut as an independent state in 1965, Lee force-marched his "digits"-his term for Singapore's citizens-through the hoops of economic and social progress. Under Lee's leadership, an ever watchful state also regimented almost every aspect of Singaporean life and snuffed out sparks of political dissent, making Singapore the poster child for "soft" authoritarianism. The rewards: a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and living standards with few rivals in Asia, let alone the rest of the world, and a shimmering reputation for efficiency, enterprise, and economic openness. Today, however, Lee Kuan Yew is semiretired, and Singapore is recovering from recession. And there is some question about whether the methods of social and economic engineering that made Singapore a pint-sized global powerhouse can carry it further. Can economic and technological innovation thrive in a culture known more for producing faithful employees than freewheeling entrepreneurs? In the Information Age, can a nation maintain high levels of political control without undermining its social and economic potential? Those questions underlie many of the challenges facing Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew's eldest son and Singapore's likely next prime minister, who spoke with "FP" Editor Moisés Naím in Singapore earlier this year.

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