Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s grandsons Li Shengwu and Li Hongyi are no longer on speaking terms, despite once being described as “very close”.
32-year-old Shengwu, the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew’s youngest child Lee Hsien Yang, revealed this and that he and his cousin Hongyi remain Facebook friends although they are no longer close, to Hong Kong–based Chinese-language digital news outlet Initium Media this month.
30-year-old Hongyi is Prime Minister and Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest child Lee Hsien Loong’s second son. He rose to fame, alongside Shengwu, when the pair delivered eulogies at their grandfather’s funeral a little over two years ago.
The cousins were both in the west coast of the United States at one point as Shengwu was pursuing his PhD at Stanford University and Hongyi was working at Google in Silicon Valley.
Initium Media reported that Shengwu wore a “bitter smile” as he said: “We are no longer on speaking terms, but he is still among my Facebook friends, I did not remove him.”
The rift between the cousins possibly occurred around the time the Oxley Road dispute broke out between Lee Kuan Yew’s children, following his passing.
The fued, over whether the Lee family home at 38 Oxley Road should be preserved or demolished, spilled into the public domain when Lee Kuan Yew’s younger children Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang made allegations that their elder brother is abusing his power as head of government to preserve their family home, against their father’s willed desire to demolish the house, in order to bolster his grip on power.
Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang also alleged that Lee Hsien Loong used state organs against him and that he was moulding his son, Hongyi, to enter politics.
Hongyi had responded in a Facebook post then and said, “For what it is worth, I really have no interest in politics.”
Shengwu told Initium Media that Hongyi’s comments on a potential entry into Singapore politics is “vague” and added: “He only said he has no interest in politics, but my uncle Lee Hsien Loong also once said he wasn’t interested in politics when he was in his 20s. These words can easily be taken back.”
Shengwu himself openly declared that he will “never go into politics” in the past and asserted that he is “completely unsuitable” for politics. Besides avowing his love for mathematics, Shengwu also said that he is not willing to lie about his beliefs, which he believes he will inevitably have to do if he becomes a politician:
“I believe I can become a top economist, my second love is mathematics, that’s where my interests are.
“As a politician, you will inevitably have to lie, I am not willing to lie about my beliefs, I am not up to it.”
Shengwu further said that the Singapore government is still using his grandfather’s name or political “halo” to increase their clout and asserted that Singapore no longer needs a leader from the Lee fold:
“I believe Singaporeans and the Singapore government should not constantly bring up Lee Kuan Yew, the institution should be larger than an individual.
“Singapore no longer needs someone from the Lee family as a leader, no matter which side.
“It’s like the US. Hillary is definitely better than Trump, but Americans no longer need another Clinton.”
Shengwu also reiterated that he has no plans to return to Singapore in the short term and disclosed that his parents have moved to Hong Kong following the Oxley Road saga.
A Junior Fellow at Harvard who is set to become an Assistant Professor next year, Shengwu has lived in the United States since he was a teenager when he left Singapore 12 years ago to study.
Shengwu’s decision to stay in the States is one that he has revealed before, when news broke that the authorities in Singapore are taking legal action against him for private comments he had made on his Facebook page about the Oxley Road saga. Shengwu had asserted that he will not return to Singapore to face charges.
He told the publication: “There are many people who can’t return to their home, it’s not such a big deal.”