It's not true that Singapore inspired China's economic recovery, academic asserts

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The Cable News Network (CNN) in reporting on the impounding of Singapore’s armoured vehicles by the Hong Kong customs reported that “Singapore, with its brand of government-led capitalism, has also been held up as a role model in China, especially under Lee Kuan Yew, whose vision was said to have inspired China’s economic rise.”

A Nikkei Asian Review article written in March 2015, went a step further and credited Lee Kuan Yew, not Deng Xiaopeng, for China’s economic rise.

“The man who guided China toward becoming the world’s second-largest economy was not the country’s former top leader, Deng Xiaoping, but rather Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Or at least this is one way future historians might describe China’s rise.”

A dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Donald Low, had strong words for people who made such assertions. He said that if China was inspired in anything at all about Singapore, it was in how the Republic “maintained law and order, political stability and one party rule in an ostensibly democratic environment.”

If you can’t read Mr Low’s post, this is what he said.


The Singaporeans who think that the current kerfuffle with China shows that the Chinese government has forgotten that it was Singapore that inspired China’s economic modernization (beginning with Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Singapore in 1978) really need to get their heads (and their understanding of economic history) checked.

First, the Chinese never forget.

Second, it is simply not true that Singapore’s development story was of great relevance for China. China’s development experience of the last thirty years has a lot more in common with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan’s experience: export-led industrialization through home-grown firms rather than MNCs, industrial policy aimed at developing indigenous capabilities rather than simply importing technologies from abroad, maintenance of tariff barriers (rather than the free trade that Singapore practised) for relatively long periods to benefit local companies, financial repression rather than a liberalized capital account, relatively weak rule of law, government-business relations that are quite corrupt, etc. All these practices are more reminiscent of China’s northeast Asian neighbors than of Singapore. So it’s simply not true that our development experience was an important role model for China; it’s delusional for us to think we are—then, or now.

To the extent that the Chinese were interested in the Singapore experience at all, it has more to do with how the state maintained law and order, political stability and one party rule in an ostensibly democratic environment.