Memo – Lee Kuan Yew

In the excerpt Culture is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew, Fareed Zakaria carries out an interview with the former prime minister of Singapore¹. Mr. Lee is a strong leader who helped boost Singapore’s economy to one of the world’s strongest and an authoritarian regime. Throughout the interview, Mr. Lee brought attention to the overwhelming differences in cultures between the East and the West.¹ He stands by the fact that although the West leads the world in science and technological innovation, the East will not abandon its tradition in order to fully resemble the West. Although Mr. Lee has made a point that the East will not change its culture to assimilate with the West economically and politically, the interviewer explicitly implicates that he believes that culture changes will occur and change the course of development¹.  

Recently, the Singapore government has announced the use of new technology in airports that it will be scanning travellers’ eyes at some of its border checkpoints, reports state that this is currently an initiative to trial new technology which could one day replace fingerprint verification and improve efficiency at border checkpoints.² This marks one the first initiatives towards using facial recognition in airports.² Although concerns around privacy rights have been brought forth, the Singaporean government has spoken to the fact that they will protect the privacy of its citizens and travelers².

Does the implementation of new technology make Singapore more or less of an authoritarian regime?  

Although the Singaporean government may have affirmed that they will be protecting the privacy of its citizens, the implementation of this new technology also shows heightened security and control being imposed on the country’s citizens. Even though Mr. Lee instills some new hope for a democratic system, the regime remains highly authoritarian. This system may be even more threatening than the “perfect dictatorship” under the PRI in Mexico. Singapore has more control and less checks and balances, partly because of the way that their prime ministers are placed into power. Similarly, to the implementation of new technology, Iran went through a period of heightened authoritarianism when the United states imposed the shah before the Iranian revolution in 1979.

¹Fareed Zakaria and Lee Kuan Yew, “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 2, April 1994.

²”Singapore Tests Eye Scans at Immigration Checkpoints: Reports.” The Japan Times. August 2018

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