Many scholars concur US acceptance of Britain’s colonial policies during the Cold War, and therefore rarely study the phenomenon of American intervention in British internal affairs especially with regard to pre-independence Singapore politics. Moreover, because of popular perceptions of Lee Kuan Yew's anti-communist stance, scholars seldom question his relationship with Washington. Taiwan, due to its ethnic and ideological proximity with Singapore, was also widely believed to be friendly towards Lee. Using archival research, this paper reviews the relationship between Singapore, London, Washington, and Taipei during the 1950s, looking for different images of Lee Kuan Yew.
This paper finds that contrary to mainstream argument, there were serious debates within the Anglo-American sphere over Lee Kuan Yew's pro-Beijing tendencies. The UK, Singapore's then colonial master and therefore was familiar with Chinese identity politics in Singapore, disregarded Lee's words and deeds, believing him to be an opportunist and political chameleon and thus could be relied on as an anti-communist ally. The US, believing Lee to be a secret communist however, refused to cooperate with him, strongly opposed his leadership in Singapore, and supported the anti-communist Lim Yew Hock. At the time, Washington's reservations dovetailed with those of Taipei. For the same anti-communist purpose, Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo provided substantial funds to support Lim during Singapore’s 1959 general election in a bid to block Lee's road toward becoming Singapore Prime Minister.
This study explains Lee’s poor relationship with Taiwan and the US after he became the prime minister in 1959, and also finds that it was only after the failed US attempt to intervene in the 1959 election that Washington began to accept London’s plans for Singapore. Moreover, after Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965, Lee began to establish closer friendship with Taiwan and the US, and became ideologically much less pro-Beijing. Taiwan’s antipathy towards Lee therefore began to change in late 1960s, and gradually vanished due to bilateral cooperation beginning in the 1970s.
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