[TODAY]A role model for our candidates

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[TODAY]A role model for our candidates

Henry Kissinger once referred to the former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, saying there are many asymmetries in history. One of them is the inconsistency between the capabilities of Lee Kuan Yew as a leader and the power of the nation he ruled. Richard M. Nixon was more straightforward, saying that if Mr. Lee had been born in a different nation at a different time he would have been known as the Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli or William Gladstone, three noted British prime ministers, of his time.

The evaluation that Mr. Lee was overqualified to take charge of a tiny nation like Singapore is an imperfect judgement of his achievements. Mr. Lee nurtured Singapore into a leading nation in terms of political stability, economic strength, and the self-discipline of its people. During his 40 years in office, Singapore's public servants nurtured a reputation for unyielding integrity.

Mr. Lee did not accommodate himself to the sphere of a tiny nation; rather, he nursed the tiny nation in line with his enormous capacity. Taking into account the poor economic and geopolitical conditions in Singapore, his accomplishment was the creation of something out of nothing.

In 1990, Mr. Lee turned over his power to a new generation of leadership, and has since led a dynamic life as a statesman. He never won a Nobel Peace Prize, but he is respected worldwide as a sage. His lengthy book, "From Third World to First: The Singapore Story," is on a par with those written by international affairs specialists in terms of accurate analysis and keen insight.

I am discussing an able leader at the beginning of the new year because the race for Korea's presidency this December has already begun. Lee Kuan Yew comes to mind as a useful benchmark in determining which person among the presidential hopefuls I should vote for as the person best suited to run the nation.

Mr. Lee lived up to the saying that able leadership is not an inborn quality but is refined through one's endeavors. In 1968, his 10th year as prime minister, he took a two-month sabbatical at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He stayed in a dormitory with other students, participated in seminars, held debates with professors and students and associated with the power elite of the United States that is found at Harvard.

President Kim Dae-jung was a visitor for a couple of months at Cambridge University while he was a member of the opposition. Lee Hoi-chang, leader of the opposition Grand National Party, and Rhee In-je, senior adviser of the ruling Millennium Democrat-ic Party, also had brief sojourns in the United States after their defeats in the 1997 presidential election. I wonder if those Korean political leaders, with a lot of time to spare at that point, made efforts to broaden their horizons through intense discussions with the leaders and specialists there?

Lee Kuan Yew visited China almost every year beginning in the 1980s to study its leader's ambitions, motives and strategy for the future. He visited Harvard and Cambridge Universities regularly to respond to the changes of the times through discussions with professors and political leaders. He had frequent meetings with every United States president beginning in the 1960s and exerted significant influence on President Nixon's decisions on Asian issues, including the Nixon Doctrine announced in 1969 and Nixon's historic visit to Beijing in 1972.

The dialogue between President Kim Young-sam and Lee Kuan Yew in 1996 during the Korean president's visit to Singapore was an "asymmetric" conversation between a president who did not make any efforts to keep learning and a prime minister who did.

According to Mr. Lee, President Kim bragged that he jogs several kilometers every morning and that family values were a common merit shared by South Korea and Singapore. To that, Mr. Lee replied that the two countries share a commonality in the importance they put on the U.S. presence in their countries.

All leaders cannot be on a level with Lee Kuan Yew. He may be a paternalistic leader, taking into account that he learned to speak Mandarin when he was an adult, made his son learn Russian and forced his successor to take private lessons to improve his oratorical skills. He set a good example of a leader keeping up with the world.

The presidential hopefuls should take note that Mr. Lee's philosophy is based on the economic and geographic conditions of Singapore. The geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula will determine Korea's fate in the 21st century.

We should examine the candidates' global vision to determine their ability to lead. I recommend that presidential candidates read Mr. Lee's book.


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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