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Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s Foreign Policy: A Productive Iconoclasm

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s Foreign Policy: A Productive Iconoclasm

By Rajaratnam School of International Studies

25 March 2015


Lee Kuan Yew’s mark on Singapore’s foreign policy is that of applying counter intuitive strategies to improve the island state’s international standing. In retrospect, this has ensured Singapore’s long term viability as a sovereign nation-state.


AS SINGAPORE’S first Prime Minister and the point man in negotiating decolonisation from Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lee Kuan Yew carries an aura of being one of the pioneers of the island state’s foreign policy. His political personality appears to have been directly mapped onto his steer age of foreign policy: cold unflinching appraisal of one’s circumstances, and self-reliance indesigning one’s survival strategies, but only up to the point that external parties can be persuaded that it is in their conjoined interests to partner Singapore in pursuing win-win collaborations.

Lee’s autobiography reveals the profile of an energetic, enterprising young man who was confronted with a series of personal challenges in adapting to material scarcity and political brutality, especiallyduring the Japanese Occupation. This was a key formative influence for foreign policy born of dire geopolitical and geoeconomic circumstances.

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