Hong Kong— The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that while demonstrators have faced off against the police in different universities in Hong Kong since earlier this month, quotes from Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew have been circulating on Whats App, with some speculating on what Mr Lee would have done concerning the increasingly violent demonstrations.
SCMP reports that in 2005, Mr Lee had said to Time magazine what he told Li Peng, the former premier of China who had earned the moniker “Butcher of Beijing” for his crackdown on student protests, moves that included declaring martial law.
When he was relatively new at governing Singapore and was faced with student protests in the 1950s and ‘60s, Lee Kuan Yew had depended largely on the protesting students’ own parents.
He told Time, “When I had trouble with my sit-in communist students, squatting in school premises and keeping their teachers captive, I cordoned off the whole area around the schools, shut off the water and electricity, and just waited.
I told their parents that health conditions were deteriorating, dysentery was going to spread. And they broke it up without any difficulty.
I said to Li Peng, you had the world’s television cameras there waiting for the meeting with [then Soviet Union leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, and you stage this grand show. His answer was: ‘We are completely inexperienced in these matters’.”
In 1961, the student union and Chinese middle-school students at then-Nanyang University, staged a boycott of yearend exams, with masked students picketing schools and preventing other students from entering.
Mr Lee continued, “This was part of the general turmoil the communists sought to create. They wanted the Chinese school students into the act … but we refused to use the police to break up their picket.”
The government spoke to the parents instead, with Yong Nyuk Lin, who was the education minister at that time, telling parents to “assert their parental authority by going to the picket lines and taking their children home. It is not the government’s intention to give communists an excuse to say that police are manhandling students”.
This resulted in parents helping children gain access to where the exams were held, with almost two-thirds of the students completing their exams.
In the years that followed, Singaporean authorities successfully quelled other expressions of student activism, even amending the University of Singapore Act in 1975, which annulled the autonomy of student unions in universities.
But student protests in other Asian countries such as South Korea and the Philippines over the decades have been very different, with university campuses being “highly politicised,” SCMP quotes Nanyang Technological University Alan Chong as saying.
In Hong Kong, Mr Chong says, “you are dealing with intellectuals here and Beijing cannot say these are hoodlums, gangsters or troublemakers”.
Therefore Mr Lee’s practices in quelling student protests may not work in Hong Kong today, since there are a number of social ills that have left many in the city deeply dissatisfied, Mr Chong says.
He believes that the founding Prime Minister of Singapore would have asked for a national dialogue. Mr Chong told SCMP, “if parents, grandparents and pro-democracy legislators are quietly supporting the protests, protesters are not going to be terminated by the use of force. You have to use the soft-power approach.” -/TISG
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