(Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in the 2009 Rajaratnam Lecture on April 9, 2009*)
Touching on Singapore's relations with Malaysia near the end of his speech on "The Fundamentals of Singapore's Foreign Policy: Then and Now" Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said: "Singapore is a multi-racial meritocracy. Our neighbours organise their societies on the supremacy of the indigenous peoples, Bumiputras in Malaysia and Pribumis in Indonesia. Though our neighbours have accepted us as a sovereign and independent nation, they have a tendency to externalise towards us their internal anxieties and angst against their own minorities. This is unlikely to go away."
Later, replying to a question he said that the heated rhetoric about Singapore that comes out from Malaysia, for example in some newspapers there, is not reflective of the official policy of Singapore's closest neighbour.
There is a lot of close collaboration on the ground, he said, although fundamental differences on both sides remain.
He cited collaboration between the two governments in the areas of security and law enforcement as an example.
“On terrorism, on drug smuggling, there's very low-key but very close collaboration, because it is in both our national interests, and that goes on all the time,” he said.
The question was posed by Foo Chi Hsia, a Foreign Ministry official, who asked for his views on the paths both countries will take and areas they could work on.
She noted that since Separation in 1965, both countries had embarked on very different social, cultural and political paths, resulting in divergent outlooks.
Said Lee: “There's a clear division between the public rhetoric and the quiet official national interest.
“The public rhetoric from Malaysia, especially for the Malay newspapers, is that Singapore is a troublemaker and everything we do is wrong.
“That view is not shared by the Chinese or Indian papers.”
Still, he felt that both sides “will become very divergent societies” because they hold fundamentally different views on what a nation should be, with one believing in meritocracy and the other, a race-based political system.
Back in the early 1960s when Singapore was part of Malaysia, Singapore leaders had urged the establishment of a Malaysian Malaysia — as opposed to a Malay Malaysia — and was told to leave in 1965.
“When we parted after less than two years in Malaysia and at the raw end of the minority race, we decided to do the opposite,” Lee said.
“For the last 44 years since 1965, we have assiduously insisted on 'regardless of race, language or religion' in everything we do: schools, housing, health, jobs, education, promotions. So we are becoming an integrated society.”
The emphasis on English as a common language created a slightly more cohesive society in Singapore, although Lee was unsure it would stay so in a time of stress.
Malaysia, by contrast, had segregated vernacular schools, which meant communities grew up separately, and had differential yardsticks for jobs and contracts.
“It's openly a Bumiputera country,” he said, referring to the preferential treatment of indigenous groups.
“I've often said this about Malaysia ... If you would educate your Chinese and your Indians like we do our Malays and others, you will equal if not surpass us.”
Can the countries simply acknowledge they are organised on different principles and yet seek to work together in areas where their interests converge?
Replied Lee: “You are assuming they can have two compartments in their minds.
“With the Malaysians, if you read the Malay papers, there's a certain regret that they allowed us to be independent.
“They didn't expect us to succeed. But we have, and our very existence is a challenge to their policies.
“And so they say, look, our Malays are dispossessed, are oppressed and so on. But they come down (to Singapore) and they know it's not true, that the Malays are completely part of our society,” he said.
“They share the same benefits in housing, health, education, everything. They have their mosques, they're not deprived of any freedoms as Malays. So the angst is there (in Malaysia).”
*Go here for the full lecture.