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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Singapore forges ahead with right spirit Nov 9

S'pore forges ahead with right spirit: Tony Blair

Ex-British PM praises S'pore's ability to move on despite the past
By Cheong Suk-Wai, Assistant Foreign Editor

BRITAIN today, for all its multicultural and cosmopolitan glory, would do well to have the spirit of Singapore, said former British premier Tony Blair here on Friday.

Speaking to an audience of about 1,400 at the University Cultural Centre in Kent Ridge Crescent, Mr Blair, 54, said: 'Singapore was achieved in part because whatever your past was... you were prepared to go out and forge a new future for yourselves.

'And you did it by saying, 'Look, maybe the world was unjust to us... maybe we have all these problems, but we're not going to worry about that. We're going to concentrate on building our own lives in a strong way.'

He then stressed: 'And the thing about a country like Britain today is that we've got to have some of that spirit.'

In contrast, he rued, his countrymen tend to hark back to halcyon days when Britain had a global empire, instead of 'going out to compete on our own merits'. As he put it: 'We should be proud of our history but not live in it.'

So he said the role of leaders today was to find their country's place in this postmodern world, which is why he lauded Singapore's leaders, in particular Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, for having 'thought ahead' to build a country which he called a 'remarkable and incredible achievement'.

He noted: 'Your leverage economically and politically is so much more than it should be given your geographical size and population.'

Indeed, before launching into his lecture about challenges facing the world today, Mr Blair paid tribute to Mr Lee thus: 'He is one of the most remarkable people in recent history and I think there are very few occasions in which you can say that the intervention of one individual's leadership qualities transformed one country. Lee Kuan Yew is one of these leaders.'
Recalling his first meeting, in the early 1990s, with Mr Lee, he said: 'I thought I might as well be cheeky about it and said to him: 'Just tell me what you know about politics.' Which he did, actually. And very useful advice it was too.'

It is understood that he got to exchange views with the elder statesman again after his talk on Friday, having met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier in the day.

Dapper, tanned and brimming with his famous self-deprecating charm, Mr Blair called it a 'signal honour' to have been invited here to speak by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
He went on to pinpoint globalisation's challenges today, including terrorism, energy policy, climate change, immigration and the tragedy of Africa - all issues which were 'barely on the agenda' when he became Britain's longest- serving Labour premier in 1997.

And his solution to these challenges? A commonly agreed global agenda led by the world's richest countries and supported by grassroots civil groups, with everyone united by a shared set of moral values.

Opting out was not an option, he stressed. 'Because of the way change is happening and because the world is interdependent, it doesn't really matter whether you want to be involved, because you are.'

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