Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had sought to find out why Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had made certain remarks recently about the state of ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. On 2 Oct 2006, Mr Lee wrote back to Mr Abdullah, to explain both the context and the reasoning behind what he had said. The following is the text of his letter:
Dear Prime Minister,
Thank you for your letter of 25 September 2006.
I made the remarks in a free-flowing dialogue session with former US Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers before many foreign delegates attending the IMF/WB meeting.
To put what Reuters reported into context, I set out the transcript of the relevant passage:
"Let me sum it up nicely, why you must have a government in Singapore which is really firm, stout-hearted, subtle and resolute. My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful, they are hardworking and, therefore, they are systematically marginalised, even in education. There are quotas to prevent you. So, you've got to make money to go abroad or go to one of the private universities which are being set up. And they want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese, compliant. So, every time, we say 'No' to some scheme to knock down the Causeway and build a bridge, he says, 'Oh, you're not cooperative, you're only thinking of yourself'. For no rhyme or reason, we knock down a causeway, nearly 100 years old, which served us well. He wants to build a bridge because it looks pretty and he says ships will sail and his containers can move from the East Coast to the West Coast via this. But we saw no ... So, we said, "All right, if you give us commensurate benefits, we'll agree". But you need a government who'll be able to, not only have the gumption, but the skill to say 'No' in a very quiet, polite way that doesn't provoke them into doing something silly."
On the bridge and the half bridge to remove the Causeway, you made the position of your government clear that Malaysia respects legally binding agreements and acts in accordance with international law. This made unnecessary a reference to ITLOS and the International Court of Justice that would otherwise have been unavoidable. This respect for the law is the basis for sound long-term relations between us.
I was explaining to a liberal audience of westerners who wanted to see a stronger opposition in Singapore why Singapore needs a strong majority government, not a weak coalition that will hamper us in defending our national interests.
Singapore needs a strong government to maintain good relations with Indonesia and Malaysia, and to interact with Indonesian and Malaysian politicians who consider Singapore to be Chinese, and expect Singapore to be 'sensitive' and comply with their requests.
On numerous occasions UMNO leaders, including Dr Mahathir and many others, have publicly warned Malaysian Malays that if they ever lose power, they risk the same fate as Malays in Singapore, whom they allege are marginalised and discriminated against. And from time to time when Malaysian politicians attack Singapore fiercely over some bilateral issue, some of them tell us privately that we should just accept this as part of Malaysian politics and not react to these attacks.
Singapore understands the reality of Malaysian politics. We have never protested at these attacks on our multi-racial system or our policies, except to clarify our own position when necessary. But we have to explain to our people the root cause of these difficulties in our bilateral relations. Otherwise Singaporeans will believe that their own government is doing wrong, either to our own people or to Malaysia.
As for the international audience, with so many foreign embassy staff and foreign correspondents reporting on Singapore and Malaysia, plus tens of thousands of expatriate businessmen working in our two countries, these people will come to their own judgement of the true position regardless of what I say.
I have not said anything more than what I have said many times before. In fact I have said less than what I had written in my memoirs published in 1998. I had no intention to meddle in your politics. Indeed I do not have the power to influence Malaysia's politics or to incite the feelings of the Chinese in Malaysia.
Since you took over as Prime Minister in November 2003, relations between our two countries have much improved. Singaporeans and, I believe, Malaysians too, appreciate this.
I am sorry that what I said has caused you a great deal of discomfort. After a decade of troubled relations with your predecessor, it is the last thing I wanted.
Lee Kuan Yew
Singapore has also moved to placate Indonesia after similar comments made by Lee Kuan Yew on Jakarta's treatment of its ethnic Chinese, a Singapore official has said.
Indonesia summoned Singapore's ambassador last week to seek clarification of reports that Lee had told a forum that ethnic Chinese minority communities in Indonesia and Malaysia were being systematically marginalised.
In a diplomatic note, Singapore said it had no wish to interfere in Indonesia's domestic affairs and was aware of the improving situation for Chinese in Indonesia, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin told AFP.
"So (the note) was about acknowledgement of the positive situation in Indonesia with respect to the Chinese, and the second point is that there was not at all any intention to interfere domestically," he said.
"There is a wish to maintain good relations with Indonesia," he added.
The spokesman said that the remarks had not taken into account "the changing situation in Indonesia, and that's why we were a bit confused".