Sri Lanka’s mistakes taught Singapore to do different: Lee Kwan Yew

August 31, 2007 (LBO) – The mistakes of Sri Lanka and other newly independent ‘failed states’ made Singapore go in a different direction, its founding prime minister told the International Herald Tribune (IHT) in an interview. Lee Kwan Yew, now minister mentor, said when Singapore broke off from the Malayan Federation it had a hostile neighbor and a population made of Chinese, Malays and immigrants from the Indian subcontinent.

“The basis of a nation just was not there. But the advantage we had was that we became independent late,” Lee recalled in a wide ranging interview with the IHT published this week.

“In 1965, we had 20 years of examples of failed states. So, we knew what to avoid – racial conflict, linguistic strife, and religious conflict. We saw Ceylon.”

“Thereafter, we knew that if we embarked on any of these romantic ideas, to revive a mythical past of greatness and culture, we’d be damned.”

Lee was prime minister from 1959 to 1990 when he stepped down. Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Lee said the team that ran Singapore made a deliberate decision to use English as a working language and not focus on Chinese. At the time Singapore had Chinese, Malay and Indian sc