World leaders remembered Lee Kuan Yew as a political “giant” who crafted Singapore into a regional economic powerhouse and helped drive the creation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Lee, who died Monday at 91, was Singapore’s first elected prime minister, a Cambridge University-trained lawyer who led the nation after independence from Great Britain, from 1959 to 1990.
U.S. President Barack Obama said discussions with Lee in 2009 were “hugely important” in helping him formulate the U.S.’s policy of rebalancing to the Asia Pacific region.
“Lee’s views and insights on Asian dynamics and economic management were respected by many around the world, and no small number of this and past generations of world leaders have sought his advice on governance and development,” Obama said in a White House statement.
“He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one the great strategists of Asian affairs.”
Lee was hospitalized Feb. 5 to treat severe pneumonia, where he was sedated and put on mechanical ventilation. As leader, he crafted a legacy of encouraging foreign investment, averting corruption and emphasizing discipline, efficiency and interracial harmony. His elder son, Lee Hsien Loong, has been prime minister since 2004.
“The nation he leaves behind is an influential force for stability and prosperity and a friend to the United States,” former U.S. President George W. Bush said in a statement of the elder Lee. Bush’s father, ex-U.S. president George H. W. Bush, said he was proud to have called Lee a friend.
“I respected his effective leadership of his wonderful, resilient and innovative country in ways that lifted living standards without indulging a culture of corruption,” he said.
Singapore has been ranked by the World Bank as the easiest place to do business for at least eight years, and has Asia’s highest GDP per capita.
Lee “personally shaped Singapore in a way that few people have any nation,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement. “His place in history is assured, as a leader and as one of the modern world’s foremost statesmen.”
Leaders from Australia and New Zealand noted Lee’s contribution to the development of modern Singapore.
Lee was a “giant of our region” who 50 years ago led a “vulnerable, fledgling nation to independence,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday in a statement.
“Thanks to his leadership, Singapore is now one of the world’s most prosperous nations, a financial powerhouse, and one of the world’s easiest places to do business,” Abbott said.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key cited Lee’s work to set up the 10-member Asean, “which has offered cohesion and stability in a diverse region.”
“He was well known for his insights and foresight but what struck me most was his unwavering determination to see Singapore succeed.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon described Lee as a “legendary figure in Asia,” who was widely respected for his leadership.
“He helped Singapore to transition from a developing country to one of the most developed in the world, transforming it into a thriving international business hub,” he said in a statement on the UN website.