There are people who are born with humility and there are people who acquire humility as they progress in life and become matured. Humility comes as a second nature to the modest Prime Minister of China Wen Jiabao . His latest display of humility was centered around a small mistake concerning rocks. Many people would not have noticed it, but Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao felt the need to publicly apologise for it .
His public apology was given prominent publicity in our local Chinese paper Lianhe Zao Bao on 14th October 2009. The Straits Times picked it up and published it on 17th October. Premier Wen was on a visit to a middle school to celebrate Teacher's Day and mixed up his rock types in his talk with the students in an informal meeting. He immediately apologised in a letter to Xinhua News Agency the next day and the news disseminated by Xinhua captured the hearts and respect of the Chinese people. Premier Wen is affectionately known as the People's Prime Minister in China.
This is where our eminent Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew can take a leaf out of Premier Wen's book on humility. Singapore has no comparison with China in size, population and world renown. When the late David Marshall, when he was Singapore's Chief Minister, could sit at the feet of his political idol, the late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to imbibe political wisdom from him, there is no reason why MM Lee could not benefit by sitting at the feet of Chinese Premier Wen to learn humility from him. MM Lee will certainly endear himself to sceptical Sinagaporeans by becoming a more modest and caring person.
So far it is known humiliy is not his forte. He has never been known to apologisae for his mistakes. Two glaring examples in the past can be cited to show such a character flaw in him. The first occasion was when he made a scurrilous attack on my reputation at the Select Committee Hearings on the Legal Profession Act (Amendment Bill) on 9th October 1988. He knew it was an unfounded vicious attack but made no attempt at correction or apology. He could have been sued for libel but for obvious reasons it would have been an exercise in futility with heavy financial loss to me, especially when he was then the Prime Minister.
The second occasion was on 30th September 1998 when a lengthy poignant letter by Ms Tan Siok Choo, daughter of the late Tun Tan Siew Sin, former Malaysian Finance Minister, was published by the Straits Times in which she refuted, by remarkable patient reasoning, the disparaging remarks made by MM Lee against her late father in his memoirs. In particular she was able to rebut cogently the allegation that her late father had harboured covetous ambitions of becoming Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister.
The most decent thing, in the mind of right thinking Singaporeans, was for MM Lee to make a sincere apology for the damage and anguish he had cost Ms Tan by his disparaging remarks about her late father. But then his courage deserted him and he resorted to getting his press secretary to give a reply, a rather feeble one, which was neither here nor there and contained no apology.
MM Lee has quoted the Chinese proverb "When the coffin is closed you will have the verdict."
Future historians will find his lack of humility a factor which they cannot ignore and MM Lee may find his quotation prophetic.