It may be showing irreverence to portray the honourable Minister Mentor in the category of a chameleon. His metamorphosis from a Sinophobe to a Sinophile is remarkable by any standards. Perhaps the saying that there is no permanent friend or enemy in politics is apposite in his case.
China, post- Mao Tse-tung, was an emerging as an economic juggernaut under the dynamic leadership of Deng Xiaoping and the whole world was gravitating to jump on the bandwagen. MM Lee, who was then Singapore's Prime Minister, was astute enough not to miss the boat and overnight became a Sinophile. He had unabashedly extolled the virtues of the People's Republic of China and its dynamic charismatic leaders, especially Deng Xiaoping.
MM Lee (or PM Lee) was so besotted by the charisma and charms of the celebrated Communist Chinese leaders that it could have possibly germinated the idea of a Speak Mandarin Campaign in his mind. And so was born the Speak Mandarin Campaign, probably much to the delight of Communist China. It was supposed to appeal to Chinese Singaporeans, especially those who were not bi-lingual. With MM Lee's exhortations, it took Singapore by storm and Chinese Singaporeans, even some enthusiastic non-Chinese, were blithely, and maybe proudly, rattling off in Mandarin. This is a feather in MM Lee's cap and is so far-reaching that Mandarin is spoken in all Government offices dealing with the public and in hospitals. But how this campaign with its chauvinistic overtone is viewed by non-Chinese Singaporeans is a moot point.
Perhaps this saying is appropriate here: Can you have the cake and eat it? While the Speak Mandarin Campaign is a success, the standard of English has suffered as a result. It has reached a stage where MM Lee exhorts Singaporeans, especially the youths, to speak grammatically correct or proper English. The Singapore youths speak atrocious English but are otherwise Singlish-savvy. This trend is worrying and, if allowed to continue, will have an adverse effect on the international reputation of Singapore as a country with a very high standard of English. So MM Lee has now come up with a Speak English Campaign. But the Minister Mentor will face an uphill task as the youths are too deeply entrenched in their Singlish habits to pay any heed to MM Lee's appeal. Could this aspect of the language problem have been neglected all these years because of too much emphasis on the Speak Mandarin Campaign. There is a appropriate Chinese saying:"It is not too late to repair the pen after the sheep have escaped", which is meant to indicate that it is not too late to remedy the situation whatever it takes.
Proficiency in Mandarin may stand a person in good stead in his business dealings in China and maybe Taiwan. But English is the language that is pivotal in business and social intercourse with the world, especially the West and USA. Can one imagine any of our future leaders speaking Singlish here and overseas but MM Lee would probably not be around to see it.