Lee Kuan Yew on Leadership: The Harvard Interview (On Suzhou SIP)

Starting at 2:11:32

Ask you about Singapore’s experience with Suzhou. You called it a chastening experience in your memoirs. You would reflect on that of the attempt to transfer Singapore’s experience to a very different culture and how would you have done differently, or would you even consider?

Well, it was difficult to have avoided the mistake, because Suzhou was such an attractive place. It was run down when we saw it, but it could have been revived and made into a Venice again. River canals, beautiful gardens. And I had a deputy prime minister then who was an architect and a bit of an artist and he said, “We could do this.” We could make this a lovely place.”

But we built this industrial place outside the main town, don’t mar the main town. Do it on the green side, green field. 100 square kilometers, or 70 square kilometers. And we teach them, and it wasn’t a financially profitable job. There were two aspects to it. One was business where our developers would go in, build factories and get investors to operate in these factories and invest. The other was a G to G technical assistance. How to run a successful industrial township, complete with housing, shops, markets, schools, etc. green field. Because they came, they saw our industrial site, they were attracted by it.

And we reached the agreement at the very top. And they sent teams of people to study us. And then said Ok. We want your management, we want your planning, we want your labor management. We go on your politics. That’s fine. The idea was they would learn to run it, straight, no favoritism, no underhand, kickbacks or whatever. Each project to be assessed on its merits. But there are four layers between Bei Jing. We reached this with Jiang Ze Min, and before Jiang Ze Min, with Deng Xiao Ping’s son who got his father to say this is a good job, do it. We will refurbish this place. But from Bei Jing, it goes to Nan Jing, the provincial capital, it goes to Suzhou, then it goes to this new authority for the industrial site. Four levels. By the time it gets down there, the people on the job, their interest is not to go and learn how to replicate this to hundreds of cities in China. They didn’t see that as a task that would get them glory. What would get them glory was many many buildings and factories and jobs all of a sudden, using our brand name and our capital. So, we should have known that, we thought we spoke Chinese, they spoke Chinese; we eat rice with chopsticks, they eat rice with chopsticks, we would get on fine. It was totally wrong.

Would you do that again? Would you, similar vent, would you.. decide to pull out though you had some elements of success there at least measured in Chinese terms.

We are not pulling out completely, we are handing it over to them, we are just staying on to hold their hands, perhaps you want to do it this way. But would I do it again? Not at four levels. If I were to do it again, I would do it in Bei Jing there, where the boss is in charge.

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