"The first thing you learn as a small country is to act small and humble. If you go around telling people what to do, they will say, 'You're out of your depth, you don't understand my problems.'
So we keep our mouths shut unless we are asked..." Lee Kuan Yew told the delegates of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association on Sunday.
So has the octogenarian finally learnt his lesson? Most of the neighbouring countries long suffered his uninvited barbs, such as the Philippines, who was insulted as a democracy gone overboard. When he ventured in unsolicited advice on the China-Taiwan issue, Deng Xiaoping, supposedly his ardent fan, told him off in no uncertain terms, "This is between family, you are not family."
But just before the audience thought he had finally mellowed, he's telling the international gathering of legal minds that Shanghai is missing the command of English to become a global banking centre. "You have the brains, and you'll have all the accountants, lawyers and none of yours will be able to speak and work in English and the banking business is in English," he told a lawyer from Shanghai. Someone else then reminded Lee about Tokyo's financial prowess despite its apparent lack of English speakers. Hmm, Korea is doing quite well in their national language too, thank you. Like his French countrymen, who'd rather have a tooth pulled than speak English, Jean-Pierre Lafon, president of the Bureau of International Exhibitions (BIE), even delivered a speech at the Shanghai Expo opening ceremony in Chinese.
And what if China, with the strengthening yuan that they refused to revalue, decides to establish a new world banking order? Won't IMF and the like have to start learning Mandarin? China just spent US$30 billion for the Shanghai Expo, if that doesn't draw the attention of the banking community, what will?
Lee narrated the conversation a Singaporean, not an official, had with a Chinaman. In the evening, he was drinking with the Chinese friend, China-Chinese friend, and the China-Chinese says, 'How old is your country?' '40 years.' 'Mine is 5,500 years.'
Lee should learn from that man, ("They got 5,500 years of experience, what more do you want?"), and keep his trap shut.