- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

SINGAPORE — China is going to become a major player in the world and there is nothing the United States can do to prevent it, Asias senior statesman Lee Kuan Yew said.
The biggest threats to global stability, said Mr. Lee, will be "the challenges to the status quo from China and India" while the "tinderbox" is Islamist extremism coupled with "a Muslim nuclear weapon that will travel."
Independent Singapores Founding Father and a close friend of the United States for the past 40 years, Mr. Lee explained in an interview why China is now the worlds second most powerful nation.
"There is nothing" Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have done "that China cant do better in the years to come," Mr. Lee said. "You cannot stop [the Chinese]. Shanghai is now a city of almost 15 million and still streaming in, as well as into Shenzhen. Its new Silicon Valley is the cream of the crop. … Take your Ivy League and West Coast universities and multiply by five and then imagine that concentrated in two cities."
Chinese generals who have talked to U.S. congressmen about the "inevitability of war" with the United States sooner or later are reflecting their own military "mind-set," not Chinese policy, he said.
"No Chinese leader can afford to work or plan on the basis of [war with the United States]," Mr. Lee said, but he made clear that China indeed would go to war if Taiwan opted for a unilateral declaration of independence.
If the United States decided to draw a line across the Taiwan Straits, Mr. Lee said, no East Asian nation believes it can be "held for very long."
"It is clear China wants to avoid conflict," Mr. Lee stated emphatically, "and go into the [World Trade Organization]. Given their size, wealth and competence, it is quite logical that they will want a bigger say in how the neighborhood is run."
"We are gradually moving toward a very different [security] system, in which China becomes the largest player on this side of the Pacific," he said. "Not suddenly, but over two or three decades."
"The Oracle of the Orient," as he has been dubbed, believes that President Bushs statement that the United States would defend Taiwan by any means necessary encouraged Taiwan to conclude that there was no need to discuss eventual reunification with China.
The United States quickly made clear that it had not changed its "one-China" policy.
"China genuinely wants dialogue and negotiations," Mr. Lee said, but Taiwans governing party stands for independence and concedes only that the "one-China principle is a subject for discussion."
Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian, Mr. Lee said, "does not accept that talks with Beijing should be about how to reunite the mainland and Taiwan, even though the U.S. and all other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and all countries in the U.N., except 20, recognize one China."
China is actually helping to make Taiwan more competitive by encouraging Taiwanese investments to exploit the mainlands cheap labor, land and resources," he said. "A more prosperous Taiwan means not just more investments in China, but an even stronger desire among a majority of Taiwanese not to upset the status quo."
But in the same interview, Mr. Lee conceded that the Taiwanese would opt for independence "if they could do so [with impunity]. … For all intents and purposes, they have been independent since the Japanese left in 1945."
Pluralism in China? Not until the current crop of Western-educated Chinese who are now in their 20s reach political leadership age in their 60s, Mr. Lee said, though the Internet, global TV networks and globalization in general probably will shorten the time frame and bring about some form of "participatory democracy."
At first, Mr. Lee believed that Falun Gong was the same phenomenon that had sprung up in rapidly changing societies when people developed a sense of "rootlessness" and sought "eternal truths and spiritual solace."
A ranking Chinese official told Mr. Lee that Falun Gong threatened stability much the way the Boxer Rebellion did.
"Since that conversation, I must admit I have a big question mark against Falun Gong," he said. "For no rhyme or reason, they started demonstrating in Singapore. … They caused a public disturbance and we told them to disperse. They refused, so we arrested them. Interestingly enough, most of them were Chinese mainlanders who were working in Singapore. We were then bombarded with e-mails from all over the world. So I do not believe this is simply a deep-breathing, meditating exercise. Its a heavy breathing political exercise."
Asked about headlines in Singapore that depict the United States at odds with the rest of the world — especially with its recent ouster from the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the International Narcotics Control Board — Mr. Lee said U.S. unilateralism was to blame.
"Theres a growing discomfort at the unilateralism that has been accentuated since the Bush administration came to power. It was already there with [President] Clinton, but Clinton was a master wordsmith and managed to disguise his real intentions. Bush is a straight talker who speaks whats in his mind. Even when he doesnt intend to, it still comes out."
"People feel squatted upon," Mr. Lee explained. "and the message [to the United States] is 'enough is enough."
The biggest threat to global stability, Mr. Lee concluded, will be the challenges to the status quo from China and India.
After that, "I would say the [Persian] Gulf, when those regimes change over the next few years, a transition that will be aggravated by the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
"That is the real tinderbox in the foreseeable future. The Muslim nuclear weapon — which already exists in Pakistan — will travel to other Muslim countries in the years to come. Rational people dont worry me. China is rational, so is India, America and Europe and the rest of the world. But not the Islamist fundamentalist extremists. I am very worried because this fanaticism is growing in Indonesia, which is next door to us."
Distributed by United Press International.


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