Singapore’s late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was honoured on Tuesday (Dec 18) for his role in pushing the city-state’s “deep involvement” in China’s reform and opening-up journey.
Mr Lee was one of 10 foreigners who were awarded the China Reform Friendship Medal at a ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People to mark the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up.
The other foreigners honoured on Tuesday include Mr Werner Gerich, the first foreigner to run a state-owned enterprise in the reform era; Mr Konosuke Matsushita whose Panasonic electronic company became the first Japanese corporation to invest in China; and former Japanese prime minister Masayoshi Ohira, who played a pivotal role in normalising relations between China and Japan.
One hundred Chinese nationals were given the China Reform Pioneer Award for their outstanding contributions to the past 40 years of reform and opening up.
Among those who were on stage to receive the awards were Alibaba founder Jack Ma, former NBA basketball player Yao Ming, search engine Baidu’s founder Robin Li and former World Health Organization director-general Dr Margaret Chan.
Chinese leaders lauded Mr Lee’s critical role in promoting Singapore’s participation in China’s reform journey since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping declared in December 1978 that China would modernise.
Deng’s watershed speech came just one month after his first and only official visit to Singapore, where he met Mr Lee for three hours.
He also visited the Housing and Development Board and the Jurong Town Corporation to learn about Singapore’s public housing and industrialisation programme.
When Deng embarked on his famous nanxun, or tour of southern China, in 1992, he also exhorted Chinese cadres to learn from Singapore’s social governance model.
“They managed things quite strictly,” he said. “We ought to use their experience as a model, and we ought to manage things even better than they do”.
Chinese leaders have long regarded Mr Lee as the principal architect of Sino-Singapore relations. He was also one of a handful of world leaders who met all five of China’s top leaders – from late chairman Mao Zedong and Mr Deng, to former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, and President Xi Jinping. Mr Lee met Mr Xi in 2008 when the latter was vice-president.
A keen China watcher, Mr Lee visited China 33 times over 37 years.
Singapore-China Foundation chairman Alan Chan Heng Loon noted that since Mr Deng’s call, some 56,000 Chinese civil servants have been trained by Singapore.
The Republic has also responded by transferring knowledge in various aspects of city and industrial park management to China, said Mr Chan, who received the award on Mr Lee’s behalf.
Mr Lee was also the main force behind Suzhou Industrial Park, the first government-to-government project between Singapore and China that started in 1994.
Mr Chan, who was Mr Lee’s principal private secretary from 1994 to 1997, recalled how Mr Lee took a deep interest in the project, travelling to Suzhou in Jiangsu province up to twice a year in the early days to review its progress.
“Whenever there were any bottlenecks, he would actually take it upon himself to meet up with the Chinese leaders to clear them,” Mr Chan said.
“It is indeed a great honour for Mr Lee, but Mr Lee has done a lot for the Chinese since Mr Deng’s visit to Singapore in 1978, when he saw what a group of overseas Chinese can do for a country, and that inspired the Chinese leadership.”