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Wayang Party Brotherhood: History revisionism the Singaporean way

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The Wayang Party Brotherhood press posted this today, pointing out that the state engages in historical revisionism:

When I read this over breakfast today; I promptly puked over the cat – yes, the art of hype and spin is truly alive – Suzhou the death rojak rat was a resounding success! Are you kidding me! Here check it out.

“One example of foresight that he cited: How Singapore, seeing that China was rising, had gone out of its way to be helpful, such as with the Suzhou industrial park. The experience has given us “an entree into all the cities of China”. “They are sending their mayors, about 111 of them, to NTU (Nanyang Technological University), learning how to manage a city. So everybody in China at the city level knows of Singapore, and businesses from Singapore will find open doors.”
MM Lee Kuan Yew, as reported by Today(CNA video)

This is certainly not the first time that misadventures have been embellished with selective coloring of the truth – but this is nonetheless the most provocatively fitting adornment of the naked truth so far; as on this occasion the Suzhuo investment is even singled out as a stellar example of “foresight.”

Indeed, a look at Wikipedia’s entry on the Suzhou Industrial Park brings up a 1998 Economist article:

After a visit to Suzhou in December, Singapore’s elder statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, made an unprecedented attack on Chinese officialdom and problems at the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). Mr Lee’s comments suggest his government’s commitment to Suzhou may be in doubt. “This matter has to be clarified,” he said, “because our credibility is at stake, and the credibility of the Chinese government as well in endorsing the SIP at a very high level.”

Mr Lee’s gripe is that the authorities are developing a rival economic zone, the Suzhou New District, to the west of the town. This is supposedly at the expense of the SIP, which is to the east. The result, he claims, is a contest for investments by multinationals, which has cost the SIP dear.

Mr Lee criticised local officials for persuading foreign investors to come to the New District, not the SIP . He also attacked the central government, for failing to spot “municipal shenanigans”. And for good measure he threw in criticism of flip-flops in central-government policy, notably an imminent about-turn on tax exemptions for imported machinery. “In a period of less than one year,” remonstrated Mr Lee, “you turn left, and then you turn right.” Singapore, runs the undercurrent of Mr Lee’s comments, did not prosper by doing things so inconsistently.

This is particularly disturbing.  How dare the Chinese government betray the trust of Singapore?  How dare they renege on their agreement?  Troubling indeed, until you read the following also from the Economist:

Closer inspection, however, reveals holes in Mr Lee’s charges. The New District began fully three years before the SIP, as a way to move 130 or so industries out of Suzhou’s city centre. It is hardly an upstart. Indeed, Singapore chose not to join forces with the New District, deeming it to be too small for the Lion City’s ambitions. Moreover, the favouritism runs resoundingly the SIP’s way. It has political support from the Chinese president down. It has freedoms, such as autonomy over planning and land use, which are unheard of elsewhere in China. And tax revenues that accrue to the park do not have to be handed up to the provincial and central authorities.

The New District, on the other hand, cannot rely upon political powers to help persuade multinationals to set up shop, and it has fewer tax advantages. So it must fend for itself. That “commercial” attitude, as Suzhou’s new mayor, Chen Deming, puts it, makes its marketing more effective. The SIP, meanwhile, may be tempted to bask in a state of government grace. In this light, many of Mr Lee’s charges of chicanery-he says, for instance, that the New District’s website address looks damagingly like the SIP ‘s-appear petty. 

There you have it.  One can’t blame the Chinese for wanting to upstage the Suzhou Industrial Park agreement (which they didn’t).  After all, the Singaporean government had intended the park to be a developmental foothold in China, a micro-cosm of Singapore in the heartland of China, an early claim of a  piece of the economic pie China looks slated to enjoy in return for the Singaporean government educating the Chinese on how to grow an economy.  Of course the Chinese are smarter than that.  If that isn’t enough the last bolded sentence of the paragraph above highlighted the reason why the Chinese New District succeeded at SIP’s expense.  Even as early as 1998, it was becoming increasingly obvious that there are limits to capitalist dirigisme economic growth.  The SIP was a poignant reminder of that.  Ten years later in 2009, it appears nothing has changed.

Indeed, even before the SIP saga, state initiatives pioneered by the Singapore government has its share of failures too:

Nor is Suzhou the only place where Singaporean initiatives have stumbled. Ambitions at another government-sponsored zone in Wuxi (like Suzhou, in Jiangsu province) are likely to be scaled back. And a Singaporean company that contracted in 1995 to build the “Friendship” bridge across the Yangzi River at Chongqing, in Sichuan province, recently pulled out, citing too much red tape. It is all evidence that the infatuation between Singapore and China, based on a belief that they hold cultural and political values in common, cannot survive the grubby necessity to make money in what is still a difficult land.

And in hindsight it appears the Chinese had clearly out-maneuvred Lee Kuan Yew:

One year after Singapore lowered its stake [in SIP], the park made its first profit of $3.8 million[4]

Add to this Singapore Technologies’ 1997 failed investments in Micropolis by then CEO Ho Ching:

The big question is whether Ho has the management talent to get the job done. Some contend that being CEO of Singapore Technologies is not like running a real company because it uses Defense Ministry research labs, saving on what would otherwise be huge research and development costs. And Ho’s performance at ST was called into question in parliament following the 1997 collapse of Micropolis, a subsidiary that made high-end disk drives. Its failure cost Temasek $340 million. Dhanabalan insists Ho was right to shutter Micropolis and cut its losses.

One can conclude from the above there are genuine limits to state-directed economic growth.  Lee Kuan Yew shouldn’t resort to historical revisionism to cover up his administration’s failures.

Written by defennder

April 10, 2009 at 12:18 PM

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