Mid-East events will affect S-E Asia: MM

Singapore will not be immune, he warns, while urging a distracted US to pay attention to Asia.

SOUTH-EAST Asia’s 250 million Muslims will be affected by the outcome of the violence and bloodshed in the Middle East, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said.

And Singapore will not be immune.

He also noted that with the Bush administration focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Islamic terrorism, Washington has less time for Asia now.

MM Lee made these points when he delivered the Willis M. Tate Lecture at the Southern Methodist University, the alma mater of Mrs Laura Bush, wife of US President George W. Bush.

His message on Thursday to the 2,000 students, faculty and guests in the packed university auditorium was clear: Asia’s revival will unfold over the next 50 years and the US has to pay attention.

He highlighted the region’s economic credentials:

South-east Asia was likely to do well in the next few decades. Japan’s economy has recovered from a decade of sluggish growth. China’s and India’s rapid growth will lift the whole region for the next 10 to 20 years.

Japan, Korea and Taiwan are not only investing heavily in China, but are also keen to do the same in India, Vietnam and the rest of South-east Asia.

MM Lee said: “These economic revivals in East Asia and now in South Asia would not have happened without the presence and participation of the United States.”

He said it is the dynamism of the US system – free enterprise, free market, and inclusiveness and openness – that made its economy the most dynamic in the world.

“This dynamism has spurred growth and development in South-east Asia and East Asia, as it did in Europe after World War II with the Marshall Plan.”

But the Minister Mentor noted that Washington’s time and resources are now concentrated on the Middle East – a region that also presents challenges for Singapore and the rest of South-east Asia.

“The outcome of the violence and bloodshed in the Middle East will affect the attitudes of Muslims in South-east Asia, (numbering) nearly 250 million in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines,” he said.

“So the outcome of the problems in Iraq and Iran will affect Singapore.”

On Iraq, MM Lee said that the US did not realise the depth of the faultlines in Iraqi society – tribal, ethnic and religious – that divided the Kurds and Arabs, and the Sunnis and Shi’ites.

But the alternative to each group accepting one another was a “destroyed Iraq” that would involve all its neighbours.

He maintained that only US leadership could convince the Shi’ites in Iraq that they had to accommodate the Sunnis and the Kurds.

The US could also influence the outcome of a new balance of forces between the Sunnis and Shi’ites in the region. The previous balance between a Sunni-governed Iraq and a Shi’ite-governed Iran – which was aspiring for leadership of the Muslim world – had dissolved.

“The direction Iraq takes will settle this new balance between Iraq and Iran, and between the Sunnis and Shi’ites throughout the Gulf and the wider Middle East,” he said.

Now in its 25th year, the Tate lecture series has seen several prominent speakers, including former US president George Bush, former British premier Margaret Thatcher, former American secretary of state Colin Powell, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the world’s most famous living scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking.

MM Lee, who is in the US on a two-week working visit, arrived on Monday last week with his wife and senior government officials.

He has been to New York and Washington, where he met President Bush and top administration officials.

He left Dallas for Las Vegas yesterday.

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