4 Qualities Every Aspiring Chinese Bureaucrat Must Possess
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

4 Qualities Every Aspiring Chinese Bureaucrat Must Possess

There is no doubt that China’s reform is entering the so-called ‘deep water’ zone, evidenced by Chinese leaders’ repeated warnings in recent years. The reason is that all the easy reforms have already been implemented; the remaining reforms will be extremely challenging for the Chinese government. In order to push through such reforms, thus, it is imperative for China to train and promote a new generation of government officials who are idealistic, brave, clean, and global-minded. After all, all reforms must be implemented by officials at all levels. These reforms cannot succeed if officials sit idle or resist them. There are already many reports that officials at all levels of Chinese government are directly or indirectly resisting reforms that hurt their interests. This is not surprising. The best strategy to deal with such a situation is to train and promote officials who have the following qualities.

The first important quality for officials is being idealistic. It might seem a bit strange for today’s China since for more than three decades China has mostly adopted a pragmatic approach toward politics. To use Deng Xiaoping’s words, “to get rich is glorious.” Thus, Chinese officials are evaluated by their ability to generate GDP growth, leading to China’s stellar economic performance but also a variety of problems such as social inequality and environmental pollution. But things are changing now. China is entering a new period of development and because of this it badly needs new ideas, new models, and a new political culture. Officials at all levels must adapt to this new reality; it will not be easy, but it is a necessary step for China’s future development.

The second important quality is being brave and responsible. Reform is never easy, in China or elsewhere. This is because reform by definition involves a redistribution of power and resources and, as such, leaves winners and losers. The losers of reform would make every effort to defeat their implementation in the first place. Unfortunately, for China, the success of economic development since 1978 has also created various powerful interest groups that have the ability to thwart reforms that hurt their interests. One can find plenty of examples in the energy and financial sectors. Such difficulties mean that governmental officials who undertake reforms will face all kinds of threats and even physical danger. Without courage and determination, government officials in China will only seek to protect their positions rather than push for reforms benefiting the people.

Another critical quality for Chinese officials is being clean. This is quite straightforward now as the anti-corruption campaign deepens. There is no need to detail the negative impact of corrupt officials on China’s development. In a word, corrupt officials will cause the collapse of the CCP and China. The top leadership in China now is very aware of this problem; and this is why they emphasize that the “anti-corruption campaign is always on the road.” Of course, to largely eliminate corruption in China, institutional mechanisms must be established to encourage people’s participation and monitoring. This process will be a long one given the complexity of the corruption problem in China. Nonetheless, training and promoting clean officials is a very important step in this direction.

Last but not least, China badly needs officials who are global-minded. The reason is very simple. China is a potential superpower and a superpower must understand not only its own region but also the whole world. China has been the biggest beneficiary of globalization for the past three decades; now it is China’s turn to contribute to globalization and the world. Unfortunately most Chinese officials lack global vision, despite their frequent trips overseas. This is part of the reason why China still lacks soft power. If a new generation of Chinese officials who are humble, knowledgeable about international affairs, and good at intercultural communication can rise up over the next two decades, then China’s hope to become a soft power country will increase significantly.

It is now a cliché to say that institutions are important for development. But people often forget that institutions are implemented and transformed by officials. Without the right officials, institutions cannot have their designed effects. This applies to all countries, but China in particular. If China cannot train and promote the right officials in time, then the likelihood of realizing the “China dream” will decrease, perhaps entirely.



The Barack Obama administration has been very busy dealing with nuclear negotiations with Iran, a war against the Islamic State, a new conflict in Yemen and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Yet the understandable focus on these other crises has obscured China’s efforts to speed up its militarization of the South China Sea. Now, Chinese progress has reached the point that senior Pentagon officials and Congressional leaders are demanding the administration do something about it.

Territorial Disputes

There is no shortage of evidence of China’s rapid buildup of infrastructure and armaments in disputed territory far from its physical borders. Satellite photosreleased last month show that in the past year, China has built several entirely new islands in disputed waters using land-reclamation technology, and then constructed military-friendly facilities on them. In the Spratly Islands, new Chinese land masses have been equipped with helipads and anti-aircraft towers, raising regional concerns that Beijing is using thinly veiled military coercion to establish control in an area where six Asian nations have claims.


Admiral Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, sounded the alarm in a speech in Australia on Wednesday, calling the Chinese project “unprecedented” and saying that the construction is part of a larger campaign of provocative actions against smaller Asian states.

“China is creating a ‘Great Wall of Sand’ with dredges and bulldozers over the course of months,” he warned, adding that it raised “serious questions about Chinese intentions.”

For example, satellite photos taken by Airbus Defence and Space and published by Jane’s in February, show that over the past year China has built an 800,000-square-foot island on top of Hughes Reef in the Spratly Islands, where no island existed before. China also began a reclamation and construction project at nearby Gavin’s Reef. Both islands now have helipads and anti-aircraft towers.

China has also expanded its already created islands on the Spratlys’ Johnson South Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef and Fiery Cross Reef — the last of which can accommodate an airstrip, according to the U.S. military. Harris said China has created more than 1.5 square miles of “artificial landmass” in the South China Sea. China’s claims are based on what’s known as the nine-dash line, which if implemented would grant China 90 percent of the entire Sea.


Top Asia watchers in Congress have been asking the Obama administration to confront China on the issue and devote more attention to the increasingly tense situation in the region. In the late hours of the debate over the Senate budget last weekend, three senators added two amendments aimed at pushing the Obama administration to reinvigorate its so-called Pivot to Asia.

The first of those amendments, sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Robert Menendez, Cory Gardner and Ben Cardin, calls on the administration to develop and make public a comprehensive strategy to ensure freedom of navigation in the Pacific. It would also allow Congress to fund more training and exercises by the U.S. military and its Asian partners.

A second amendment, authored by Gardner, the new chairman of the Asia subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls for an independent agency such as the Government Accountability Office to review what the administration is actually spending on the Asia pivot and to make recommendations on how it might be better managed.

“It’s important that the American people have a full accounting of the resources that have been devoted to this important policy and whether they have been prioritized effectively,” Gardner told me in a statement.

These pieces of legislation are the latest effort by Congress to find out exactly what the administration is doing to counter China’s moves. On March 19, all four leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter calling on the administration to wake up to the graveness of the situation in the South China Sea. “Without a comprehensive strategy for addressing the PRC’s broader policy and conduct,” the senators wrote, “longstanding interests of the United States, as well as our allies and partners, stand at considerable risk.”

The letter points out that $5 trillion in global trade transits through the South China Sea each year. They assert that China stands in violation of 2002 agreement it signed with the ASEAN countries in which all parties pledged self-restraint and avoid actions that could complicate the situation or escalate tensions.

Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told me that the Chinese are taking advantage of the Obama administration’s focus on the Middle East: “China understands that where this administration is, it’s a place where they can in fact move ahead in the world.”

Asked about the congressional letter, State Department spokesman Jeff Radke insisted that the U.S. is increasing its coordination with countries affected by China’s moves and confronting the Chinese leadership privately. “We have consistently and frequently raised with China our concerns over its large-scale land reclamation, which undermines peace and stability in the South China Sea, and more broadly in the Asia Pacific region,” he said.

But  James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, testified to Congress last month that the Chinese don’t seem to be getting the message. He called their actions “aggressive” and said Chinese claims in the South China Sea are “exorbitant.”

“Although China is looking for stable ties with the United States, it’s more willing to accept bilateral and regional tensions in pursuit of its interests, particularly on maritime sovereignty issues,” Clapper said.

The Beijing government has stated clearly that it believes its expansion in the South China Sea is both legal and non-threatening, refusing to address the region’s concerns in any substantive way. It complained loudly when the U.S. and India took the relatively innocuous step of issuing a joint statement referring to their desire to address the issue.

No matter the state of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the Obama administration’s lack of response to China’s maritime aggression is worrisome. China is testing how far it can push the status quo before Washington does something. The Pentagon and  Congress are clearly telling Obama that the response needs to come before China’s military takeover of the South China Sea is complete.

To contact the author on this story:
Josh Rogin at joshrogin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net


‘The Art of War’ in 8 charts

graphThe Atlantic

The Art of War may be one of the most adaptable books of the past two millennia. There’s an Art of War for small businesses. There’s an Art of War fordating. There’s even an Art of War for librarians.

According to Jessica Hagy, author of the newest version, The Art of War Visualized, the book has spawned so many interpretations because it can be read as not really being about war at all. “It’s about creative problem-solving,” Hagy told me. Hagy, who doodles the quasi-mathematical logic of human foibles on the popular blog Indexed, found three copies of Sun Tzu’s classic among college textbooks and Tom Clancy novels while cleaning out her basement last year, and she saw in its short verses the kind of logic she likes to draw, as in this recent example from Indexed:

fixedThe Atlantic

“It was so much less hypermasculine and bloodthirsty and vicious than you think it is, and it’s very thoughtful,” Hagy said of The Art of War. “About the first read through I really saw that war was just a metaphor for hassles and problems and issues that people face in every scale of life from really petty, stupid things to really big, world-changing, ‘Should we invade this country?’ sorts of questions,” Hagy said.

Indeed, one under-appreciated feature of The Art of War is how much of it is devoted to avoiding actual fighting. “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting,” Sun Tzu wrote. Also: “[T]he skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.” He also explained why this is: “When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped.”

Or in Hagy’s updated interpretation: “Quit the awful job, or leave the dysfunctional relationship, or don’t sit in traffic, go around it. That avoidance idea is applicable in so many ways.” Pick your battles, as the cliche has it—which, at least the way I interpret it, is better phrased as “decline nearly all of the battles.”

Here are a few examples of what that looks like in Hagy’s charts and graphs, accompanied by Sun Tzu’s verses. stratThe Atlantic

“Sun Tzu said:

The art of war is of vital importance to the state.

It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.

Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

moreThe Atlantic

“When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened.

If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.”

triangleThe Atlantic

“In war, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.

Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people’s fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril.”

againThe Atlantic

“Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided.”

nasty cruelThe Atlantic

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war who can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.”

wisdomThe Atlantic

“The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming rats, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken.

Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.”

“Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.

Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.”


Read more: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/03/the-art-of-war-in-7-charts/387292/#ixzz3WX2MEdZJ

A Fiber-Optic Silk Road


Not even two years into what will be a ten-year tenure at China’s helm, Xi Jinping has already made his mark on China’s foreign policy, in particular with the launch of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, also known as the New Silk Road. This initiative will manifest in a vast network of transportation, energy and communication projects, all of which are supposed to boost intraregional trade and ultimately give China and its neighbors a sense of “common destiny.”

Although not as well publicized, the planned improvements in telecommunications infrastructure are as critical to business and economic development as the railroad projects that are to be technically and financially supported by China through its New Silk Road initiative. The virtual cloud of cyberspace relies on a physical infrastructure that constitutes the sinews of the Internet. Because cables can be laid easily along rail lines, the future Eurasian fiber optic backbones will benefit from the transportation infrastructure that will soon stretch along the Silk Road. For landlocked countries such as the Central Asian Republics, this will mean greater access to international data networks, at a cost averaging a tenth that of satellite communications and with a bandwidth significantly enhanced by fiber optic technology.

A number of projects are already underway. In 2006 the telecom giant ZTE was commissioned by Afghanistan to establish the country’s first fiber optic cable network, the same year that Huawei, another Chinese firm, received a contract from the government of Tajikistan. China and Russia have also partnered in building major terrestrial telecommunication links across the Eurasian continent, including the world’s longest terrestrial cable link, the Trans-Europe Asia (TEA), in addition to the Europe-Russia-Mongolia-China network, the TransEurasian Information Superhighway (TASIM), and the Diverse Route for European and Asian Markets (DREAM). The last of these is an ambitious Eurasian fiber optic communication land line whose launch was announced by Russia’s MegaFon in October 2013; it will be built with equipment supplied by China’s Huawei.

While domestic networks are mostly terrestrial, underwater fiber optic cables carry the vast majority of international data traffic. Thus Asia and Europe are currently digitally connected, via the Suez Canal thanks, among other things, to the world’s longest submarine cable, the 39,000 km SEA-ME- WE 3 system. Digital packets transmitted from Western Europe to Japan either have to traverse Europe, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and the China Seas, or ride through the Atlantic, the U.S., and then the Pacific Ocean. The global undersea system experiences several hundred disruptions per year, especially at heavily trafficked choke points such as the Strait of Malacca or the Suez Canal, where too many cables pass through a narrow maritime passage. Regular disruptions occur when ships drag their anchors across cables lying on the ocean floor. In addition to increasing the connectivity of landlocked countries that stretch along the Silk Road, the envisioned terrestrial trans-Eurasian networks will alleviate the possible risks of disruption to maritime cables and add redundancy: Terrestrial cables also face disruptions, but they are easier to repair and maintain than the ones that lie 8,000 meters underwater.

The land digital highways will also increase the speed of data exchanges between Europe and Asia, a major challenge that telecommunication companies are racing to meet. Investors are willing to spend several hundreds of millions of dollars to gain a few milliseconds in highly profitable “high frequency trading” – a system where computers buy and sell automatically and electronically. By some estimates, a one millisecond advantage could be worth up to $100 million a year for hedge fund companies. Shorter routes are therefore the key to speed – and profit. The melting of the Arctic ice cap has created the possibility of opening new routes linking Asia to Europe and Trans-Arctic Ocean submarine cables are now being installed, with the aim of reducing by 30 percent the time a packet takes to travel from Tokyo to London. But maintaining the cables remains an obvious challenge and the Silk Road routes offer a sound alternative for customers looking for increased speed and reliability.

In addition to commercial motivations, the new fiber optic Silk Road could also have geopolitical and strategic implications. Russia and China evidently share a desire to shield themselves from U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies and probably believe that their own communications – both with one another and to and from Europe – will be better protected if cables run across their own territory rather than through the Indian Ocean or the U.S. The same motivation explains the announced Telebras cable, which will connect Brazil to Portugal without any U.S. technology, and the BRICS cable project, which will link Vladivostok to Brazil, via China, India and South Africa. There is a growing wariness among these countries that when their data traffic goes through hubs in Europe or the U.S., it incurs a greater “risk of potential interception of critical financial and security information by non-BRICS entities,” according to Andrew Mthembu, a South African businessman who is promoting the BRICS cable.

Together with planned roads, rail and pipelines, the fiber optic “Silk Road” will tie the Central Asian states more closely to China and Russia. These countries may also hope that the new cables will circumvent NSA attempts to eavesdrop on the data sent through U.S. IT companies. But they may well find themselves subjected to increased electronic surveillance by Beijing or Moscow, or both. Russia and China’s perceived security risks, reinforced by Edward Snowden’s revelations about the electronic surveillance carried out by the U.S. government through digital channels, will lead to more alternative routes provided by non-American companies, conceivably making it easier to seal off the global network if deemed necessary. Paradoxically, the emergence of alternative networks could eventually increase the digital balkanization of some parts of the world.

Nadège Rolland is Senior Project Director for Political and Security Affairs at The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). Prior to joining NBR, Ms. Rolland served as senior adviser to the French Ministry of Defense.


How the British and the Russians Drew the Afghan-Turkmen Border
An 1848 map of Central Asia.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

How the British and the Russians Drew the Afghan-Turkmen Border


Last week, The Diplomat featured an interesting piece about the border between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, noting that the Amu Darya, the river that forms a part of the border between the two countries, has been “steadily pushing southward,” leading to confusion and border disputes. This brings to mind the history of Afghanistan’s northern border, much of which was steadily pushed southward in the 19th century by the Russian Empire, and lies within today’s Turkmenistan.

In fact, this week – March 30 to be exact – marks the 130th anniversary of the infamous Panjdeh Incident, when the Russian Empire seized the then-northwestern corner of Afghanistan in 1885. If one observes a map of the northern border of Iran and Afghanistan with the countries of Central Asia, it is evident that it fairly evenly follows a straight west-east gradient from the Caspian Sea to China, except for an area where southwest Turkmenistan seems to plunge into Afghanistan. The western Afghan city of Herat is relatively close to the border with Turkmenistan today, but used to have a larger northern heartland. To see what Afghanistan looked like before 1885, observe this map and compare it to a modern map:


Afghanistan’s borders fluctuated greatly throughout the course of the 19th century, mostly due to the machinations of the British and Russians during their “Great Game” to dominate inner Asia. Modern Afghanistan was founded as a conquest empire in 1747 on the backs of the collapsing Persian and Mughal empires by one Ahmad Shah Durrani, an Afghan (then synonymous with Pashtun). By the end of the 19th century, however, Afghanistan was mostly a buffer state between British India and the Russian Empire, with weak administrative control over much of its territory.

Afghanistan began to weaken in the early 19th century when the Punjab region in the eastern part of its empire broke off and formed the Sikh Empire. The Sikh Empire then seized Peshawar, the winter capital of Afghanistan in 1818 (all Sikh territory was annexed by the British in 1849). The British attempted to intervene in Afghanistan several times during the course of the 19th century, sometimes to the benefit of that country and sometimes to its detriment, but always because they feared the growth of Russian power in the direction of their empire in India.

While the disastrous invasion of Afghanistan from 1839-1842  is well known (and is the subject of an excellent study, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 by William Dalrymple), Britain also succeeded in hiving off much of eastern Afghanistan through the establishment of the Durand Line in 1893. Britain also enabled Afghanistan to stretch further west than its administrative capabilities could handle by preserving its de jure control over the western city of Herat, which really functioned as a de facto independent principality for much of the nineteenth century. Herat had been the most important eastern Persian city for many centuries before Afghanistan seized it. Persia tried several times to regain Herat in the 19th century, only to be thwarted by British action again (1838) and again (1856).

It was in this loosely controlled northwestern corner of Afghanistan that Russian encroachment on Afghanistan’s northern border began. North of Afghanistan lay three Turkic-controlled Central Asian khanates: Khiva, Bukhara, and Kokand. While their raids annoyed their northern neighbor Russia for many years, Russia decided to conquer them once and for all to compensate for its loss in the Crimean War and regain its pride. The three Central Asian khanates fell in due course in the 1860s and 1870s. The conquest of Central Asia also brought Russia closer to British India and, as a bonus, to a warm water port, the ultimate dream of the Russian Empire.

After the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), the British installed a sympathetic ruler on the Afghan throne, fearing Russia’s southward expansion, which reached the northern border of Afghanistan after the conquest of Merv (now in Turkmenistan) in 1884. The British demanded that the Russians halt any further southern advance and both the Russians and British agreed to a delineation committee for determining the border between Afghanistan and Russia. However, before the committee could meet (the Russian commission was conveniently delayed), Russian forces decided to push their advantage to the last extent possible by attacking an Afghan garrison on the west bank of the Kushk River on March 30, 1885. Over 600 Afghan soldiers were killed and the Russians seized the Panjdeh oasis south of the river. These lands were south of the traditional borders of Afghanistan and the entire region’s traditional boundary with Central Asia.

The British were alarmed and there was talk of war, but a final boundary agreement was hammered out and the Russians were allowed to keep Panjdeh after promising to stop any further encroachment on Afghanistan. Later on, in 1895, Afghanistan was compensated with some new territory on its eastern frontier, including Wakhan, the strip of land that connects the rest of Afghanistan to the Chinese border, preventing the British and Russian Empires from actually touching. Afghanistan did not want Wakhan but accepted it as a “gift” arranged by the British Empire.

Therefore, if you have ever been left wondering about the origins of Afghanistan’s strange borders, they are mostly a product of British and Russian imperial vagaries, leftover from their Great Game. The Panjdeh Incident epitomizes the extent to which British and Russian interests shaped contemporary borders.


Lee Kuan Yew’s Enduring Legacy

In Nepal, prime ministers often do not rule for long, and their reign is often chaotic, and in the end, inconsequential. But they often begin with grand proclamations. In particular, many have begun their terms with a promise to turn their country into the “next” Singapore. And Nepal is not alone. Throughout Asia, Singapore’s success has long fascinated and inspired leaders and visionaries. And one man embodies that success – Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Indeed, few Asian leaders are as revered as Lee. Witness the outpouring of praise for him upon his death. Fewer still have made such an impact on Asia’s rulers by ruling over a tiny city-state. Because of Lee, Singapore has, like America, like Japan, transcended boundaries to become an idea that stands for something unique and powerful – an oasis of peace, stability and prosperity in a neighborhood that is often racked by turmoil. Lacking any significant natural resource, Singapore instead turned towards educating its population and cleverly exploiting its unique geostrategic location. Lee was a visionary, but he was also a pragmatist. He understood the limitations of his tiny country just as well as he understood its potential for greatness. He saw clearly the trend towards globalization, and how his country was uniquely situated to take advantage of it. All it needed was the right infrastructure – and he helped to develop it. He opened the economy and made Singapore a notable financial center. He developed its port – until recently the busiest in the world. He built an international airport that has long been considered the world’s most efficient and hassle free.

Lee would remain a pragmatist throughout his life. In this, he much resembled another leading figure: China’s most towering post-Maoist leader Deng Xiaoping. In fact, for Deng, tiny Singapore provided a sort of blueprint for developing his own country. During the Maoist era, China was often messy and violent. Singapore, by contrast, worked smoothly. Its people were prosperous and there were no disturbances. Lee, whose grandparents came from Guandong in Southern China, seemed to have created a perfectly harmonious society in Singapore, one that even Confucius might admire.

Singapore is far from a perfect society. Its harmony can seem a little forced. But to his credit, Lee was unafraid to admit that his country, like many others, needed a guiding hand. Lee never tried to claim that he had developed the perfect democracy. At heart, he was a conservative who believed that family, above and beyond anything else, was the true building block of society – certainly more than the individual. Family provided the support to the individual and the moral fiber of society. In an interview he gave Fareed Zakaria in 1994, Lee deplored the erosion of the “moral underpinnings” of society in the West. This happened partly because in the West, the individual became removed from family and society. Yet, even as he retained a deep faith in familial values, and in the power of culture and society to restrain aggressive individualism, Lee was willing to allow changes to occur in society if that seemed to improve overall welfare. A very good illustration of this was his decision to allow casinos to operate in Singapore. As a traditionalist and a strict disciplinarian, he was fundamentally averse to gambling. Yet, with his blessing, they were finally allowed to open in the city state – albeit under tightly regulated conditions. The objective, as always, was to find a pragmatic, middle path. Gambling can bring in needed revenues, but it could have severe social costs on Singaporeans themselves. But the compromise that Singapore devised was to pass laws that do not explicitly bar natives from visiting casinos, but to impose significant costs on them so as to discourage them from the habit. The compromise attitude towards gambling contrasts with the uncompromising attitude towards drugs. Singapore has one of the world’s harshest drugs policies – even small amounts can be used as evidence of intent to distribute. In fact, Singapore has long had one of the highest per capita execution rates of any country on earth, and the majority of these are related to drug trafficking. Visitors to the country are told in no uncertain terms that the punishment for drug trafficking is death. Punishments for other crimes are also relatively harsh. In fact, severe punishments for violations of norms begin in schools. Caning, for instance, is permissible and even encouraged in schools as a method of controlling unruly children. Lee wanted to impress order and discipline into the very fabric of his society. To do that, he needed to start with the young.

Above all, Lee deplored chaos. And having developed in Singapore an ordered, even conformist society, he was not afraid to prescribe similar solutions to other countries that faced the threat of chaos – countries often vastly larger and more complex than his. Had anyone other than he done that, it would have been considered overreach. Which other leader of a country of a few million tucked in one corner of the world is taken seriously? But under Lee, the success of Singapore had been so striking that there was almost no option but to listen. Herein lay his claim to greatness – that his “model” was applicable not just to his city state – but to the world at large. And his model essentially was a pragmatic alternative to the Western democratic ideal. In an interview he gave to the German magazine Der Spiegel in 2005, he stated that he could not base “his system” on Western democratic norms, but had to “amend” to suit “his people.” He noted especially how in a multiethnic society like his, Western democracy was bound to result in stalemate and foster chaos. Thus, in such a society, there was no alternative to strong leadership that would guide democracy in the desired fashion. That was why he so often discarded the notion that India would be able to catch up with China. India was a multiethnic state where the people often identified less with the state than their own ethnicities or communities, leading to fractiousness and political paralysis. For this reason, Lee greatly admired Indira Gandhi, considering her to be a more forceful leader than Margaret Thatcher. Given his disdain for India’s messy political system, it seems natural that he would support a strongly authoritarian leader like Gandhi who could bring order to the chaos. Moreover, in an interview with the conservative American journalist William Safire in 1999, Lee deplored the sudden collapse of the USSR, arguing that the power vacuum there gave rise to chaos and widespread crime. One could thus argue that he wasn’t a mere “pragmatist.” Clearly he believed that society had to be restrained – by the family at the individual level and by the strong hand of the state at the larger level.

Of course, Lee was not the only one in Asia who thought that Western-style democracy brought more problems than solutions. Many leaders in the region believe that the kind of “guided democracy” that Lee implemented in Singapore is especially appropriate to their societies. Many think that Western models of democracy are neither appropriate nor applicable in Asia. Yet, for all their enthusiasm for the Singapore model, few leaders have been able to emulate its successes. Singapore’s success owes to Lee Kuan Yew’s exceptional ability to control and guide his small country in the direction he wanted to. With the very noticeable exception of Deng Xiaoping, Lee’s admirers and followers have been unable to follow his lead.

Meanwhile Lee himself became aware of the shortcomings of his model when applied to more complex societies. Where once he had looked at India’s messy politics with a measure of disdain, he began to show some respect for what the world’s largest democracy had accomplished. And he was put off by questions of nepotism – never quite managing to explain why in a meritocracy his children held such powerful governmental positions. When William Safire asked him if his son, Lee Hsien Loong, could have deputy prime minister if he was just an ordinary citizen, Lee wittily replied that he would have been the prime minister instead. The fact that his son was deputy prime minister, he further added, was entirely due to his own merits. It was a clever, but unsatisfying answer.

Even more unsettling was the social unrest that occurred in 2013. Because it was quickly put down and was not repeated, that particular case of rioting was deemed an isolated incident by the authorities – yet it may be a sign that it is not enough for a country to have law and order alone. Singapore’s new leaders may have to deal with new problems, and look with new eyes at old problems. Lee’s reputation is secure, but new leaders will have to add to his achievements and perhaps do things differently. Lee has left behind a monumental legacy, but time does not stand still, and his successors will have to adapt to newer times, problems and circumstances. They have to show themselves to be as flexible and perceptive as he was. Singapore’s success began in an era in which globalization was only beginning. Today, it is a much more potent force. If the dynamics of globalization are correctly understood and harnessed, this force could lead the little city-state to ever greater heights; if not, it could lose its luster as the “next” Singapore emerges, perhaps in the most unexpected of places.

Manish Gyawali is a graduate of Miami University and Kathmandu University. He is a consultant and writer.