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Lee Kuan Yew, Grand Master of Asia

Authors: Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, and Graham T. Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
March 1, 2013
National Interest


On his desk in the Oval Office, President John F. Kennedy kept a small plaque that reminded him of the vicissitudes of life, even for the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. It read: "Oh God, my boat is so small and thy ocean so large." In the turbulent sea in which statesmen, corporate leaders, investors, and the rest of us are trying to get our bearings in international affairs today, where can one find wise coordinates?

In thinking about the rise of China, the stumbling of the United States, the potential of India, or the claim that the twenty-first century will belong to Asia, whom should we look to for insight about this uncertain future? Among the seven billion inhabitants of planet Earth today, only one has created a modern Asian city-state whose six million citizens now enjoy higher levels of income than Americans. Only one individual has been called "mentor" by Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who initiated China's march to the market, and its new leader Xi Jinping. Only one individual has been called upon for counsel about these developments by every U.S. president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. That individual is Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore.

Over the past 18 months, we have been privileged to engage Lee Kuan Yew in a series of interviews and conversations about these issues. Having listened, reviewed what he has written and said in other settings, and then returned to follow up, we have been able to drill down in ways that capture many of his most penetrating strategic insights.

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