Singapore’s Lee says China, India to rival U.S. in this century

October 26, 2009 - 0:0

NEW YORK (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. may have less than a half-century left as the dominant global economic power before it will share top billing with China and India, former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in an interview.

“The first half of the 21st century, a large part of it, will still be the American,” Lee, 86, said in an interview with the Charlie Rose television show on the PBS network. “But I believe the second half you’ll have to share top places with China and also with India. Make space for them, too.”
Lee was the founder of modern Singapore and the country’s prime minister from 1959 until 1990. He now holds the title of minister mentor in Singapore’s government, whose current prime minister is his son Lee Hsien Loong. He spoke with Rose in the show’s New York studio.
“In 30 years they’ll have an economy, not per capita but in total terms, bigger than the USA,” and China is now building political and strategic influence to protect its economic growth, Lee said.
“People already treat her differently, because they know that this is going to be a big fellow around the block,” he said. China is handling its growing influence in a “very pragmatic, almost cold-blooded and clinical fashion,” Lee said.
“On the American side, there’s been some vacillation: first China is a strategic adversary, then China is a strategic partner, then China is a stakeholder, and then China is not carrying its weight.”
China’s role
He said that’s made it difficult for China to understand the role it’s expected to play as its economic clout grows.
India will take longer to challenge the U.S. position because it is more ethnically diverse than China, Lee said.
“If India were as well-organized as China, it will go at a different speed, but it’s going at the speed it is because it is India,” Lee said. “It’s not one nation, it’s many nations.”
“No prime minister in Delhi can at any one time speak in a language and be understood throughout the country,” said Lee. “You can do that in Beijing.”
Lee also said the wars that have bogged down U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are distracting it from focusing on its future place in the global economy.
“The major changes that are taking place is the recovery of China and to a lesser extent, India,” Lee said. He said that three centuries ago, the two countries accounted for 60 percent of the world’s economy.
The U.S. should strive instead to be “a benign stabilizer” in the world, he said.
“The 21st century will be a contest for supremacy in the Pacific because that’s where the growth will be,” Lee said. U.S. President Barack Obama, he said, must understand this.
“If you do not hold your ground in the Pacific you cannot be a world leader,” Lee said, “That’s number one.”
“Number two, to hold ground in the Pacific, you must not let your fiscal deficits and dollar come to grief,” he said.