PUTRAJAYA, Oct 3 (Bernama) -- Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Tuesday he has taken note of Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's letter apologising for the discomfort caused by Lee's remarks over the systematic marginalisation of the Chinese in Malaysia.
The prime minister nevertheless drove home the point that Lee's Sept 15 remarks were uncalled for, and expressed the hope that they would not be repeated.
"I've received his letter and I understand the content of the letter and I've taken note of it. But I feel...let me say this, that the statement that Lee Kuan Yew made in Singapore was uncalled for and not appreciated.
"I certainly don't agree, I certainly reject the premise upon which he made the statement," Abdullah told a news conference after chairing a meeting of ulama on current issues at his office here.
When pressed whether he accepted the apology, he said: "I've taken note of what he (Lee) has said in his letter, everything that he has said."
Abdullah believed that Lee's remarks about how Malaysia treated its Chinese community could not contribute to good neighbourly relations.
"It is important to remember that," he said when commenting on the letter delivered to his office, Monday.
The letter was in response to the one Abdullah wrote to Lee on Sept 25 seeking clarification over his controversial remarks that the attitude of Malaysia and Indonesia towards the republic was shaped by the way they treated their Chinese communities.
Lee, 83, had told a forum on good governance in Singapore that "My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful, they're hardworking and, therefore, they are systematically marginalised, even in education.
"And they want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese -- compliant."
The comments drew protests in Malaysia and Indonesia. The foreign ministries of both countries had also summoned the Singapore envoys to explain Lee's remarks.
In his letter of reply, Lee said that he had no intention to meddle in Malaysia's politics and that he did not have the power to influence it or to incite the feelings of the Chinese in Malaysia.
But Abdullah offered another perspective on the matter.
"Irrespective of whatever reasons he may have said, such a statement (Lee's Sept 15 remarks) can incite the feelings of Malaysians.
"So I think it is important that he has to ensure that such a statement should not be made again," he said.
Asked to elaborate, Abdullah said: "It could well incite the people, and the reaction may not be something that is good."
He refused to answer further questions on Lee's letter, saying: "I don't want to have a debate on it."
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 2 (Bernama) -- Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, in a letter of response to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over his recent claims about the systematic marginalisation of the Chinese community in Malaysia, said he was sorry that what he said had caused a great deal of discomfort to the prime minister.
He said after a decade of troubled relations with Abdullah's predecessor (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) it was the last thing he wanted.
"I am sorry that what I said has caused you a great deal of discomfort. After a decade of troubled relations with your predecessor, it is the last thing I wanted," he said in a letter dated Sept 29 forwarded to Abdullah's office in Putrajaya by Singapore High Commissioner T. Jasudasen Monday.
The copy of the three-page letter was faxed to Bernama by the Singapore High Commission here Monday night.
Abdullah had written to Lee on Sept 25 seeking clarification over the latter's controversial remarks that the attitude of Malaysia and Indonesia towards the republic was shaped by the way they treated their Chinese communities.
Lee thanked Abdullah for the letter and said he made the remarks in a free-flowing dialogue session with former US Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers before many foreign delegates attending the IMF/WB meeting.
He also included in the letter the transcript of the relevant passage as reported by Reuters.
"Let me sum it up nicely, why you must have a government in Singapore which is really firm, stout-hearted, subtle and resolute. My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese.
"They are successful, they are hard working and therefore, they are systematically marginalized, even in education. There are quotas to prevent you.
"So, you've got to make money to go abroad or go to one of the private universities which are being set up. And they want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese, compliant.
"So every time, we say `No' to some scheme to knock down the Causeway and build a bridge, he says, `Oh you're not cooperative, you're only thinking of yourself'. For no rhyme or reason, we knock down a causeway, nearly 100 years old, which served us well. He wants to build a bridge because it looks pretty and he says ships will sail and his containers can move from the East Coast to the West Coast via this.
"But we say no... So, we said, "All right, if you give us commensurate benefits, we'll agree". But you need a government who'll be able to, not only have the gumption, but the skill to say `No' in a very quiet, polite way that doesn't provoke them into doing something silly," Lee said.
He said that on the bridge and the half bridge to remove the Causeway, Abdullah made the position of the Malaysian government clear that Malaysia respected legally binding agreements and acted in accordance with international law.
"This made unnecessary a reference to ITLOS and the International Court of Justice that would otherwise have been unavoidable. This respect for the law is the basis for sound long-term relations between us," he said.
Lee said he was explaining to a liberal audience of westerners who wanted to see a stronger opposition in Singapore why the republic needed a strong majority government, not a weak coalition that would hamper it in defending its national interests.
"Singapore needs a strong government to maintain good relations with Indonesia and Malaysia and to interact with Indonesian and Malaysian politicians who consider Singapore to be Chinese and expect Singapore to be 'sensitive' and comply with their requests," he said.
Lee, 83, told a forum on good governance in Singapore on Sept 15 that "My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful, they're hardworking and therefore they are systematically marginalised, even in education.
"And they want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese -- compliant."
The remark drew protests in Malaysia and Indonesia. The foreign ministries of both countries had also summoned the Singapore envoys to explain Lee's remarks.
The Senior Minister said on numerous occasions Umno leaders including Dr Mahathir and many others had publicly warned Malaysian Malays that if they ever lost power, they risked the same fate as Malays in Singapore, whom they alleged were marginalised and discriminated against.
He added that from time to time when Malaysian politicians attacked Singapore fiercely over some bilateral issue, some of them told the republic's politicians privately to just accept that as a part of Malaysian politics and not to react to those attacks.
"Singapore understands the reality of Malaysian politics. We have never protested at these attacks on our multi-racial system or our policies, except to clarify our own position when necessary.
"But we have to explain to our people the root cause of these difficulties in our bilateral relations. Otherwise Singaporeans will believe that their own government is doing wrong either to our own people or to Malaysia.
"As for the international audience, with so many foreign embassy staff and foreign correspondents reporting on Singapore and Malaysia, plus tens of thousands of expatriate businessmen working in our two countries, these people will come to their own judgement of the true position regardless of what I say," he added.
Lee said he had not said anything more than what he had said many times before and in fact he had said less than what he had written in his memoirs published in 1998.
He said he had no intention to meddle in Malaysia and indeed he did not have the power to influence Malaysia's politics or to incite the feelings of the Chinese in Malaysia.
He said since Abdullah took over as the prime minister in November 2003, relations between both countries had much improved for which he believed both Singaporeans and Malaysians appreciated.
In his PS (post-script), Lee said the fact that Abdullah had written to him had been well publicised and he had been asked about his reply, he had to release his letter to the media after the prime minister received it.