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Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore

April 10, 1973

Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Vice President, ladies and gentlemen:

We have welcomed many very distinguished guests in this room, and I would say that none is more deserving of our respect and of being honored, as we honor him tonight, than the Prime Minister and, I may say, his wife.

I recall the occasions that we have met previously in his country and also here, and I recall also the enormous impression that the Prime Minister has made on various emissaries from the United States who have visited his country. The Vice President and Mrs. Agnew have had the opportunity to visit Singapore, Secretary Rogers and Mrs. Rogers. I have not, since coming into this office.

I think perhaps the best summary of the attitude of all of those who have visited Singapore during the past 3 to 4 years, since I have been having rather regular reports on the situation, was when Secretary Connally returned from his trip around the world when he was Secretary of the Treasury. He came into my office and said, "Singapore is the best run country in the world." And here is the man who runs it.

I would add to that, however, by saying that the best run country in the world could mean a country that was run very well without freedom, because I suppose that if you look at countries around the world, those that have the least obvious problems are those that have no freedom, and therefore, it would be the best run.

And the Prime Minister tonight deserves our honor and our respect, because in this relatively new country with a very old history and a very able people, he has been able to run it well, but run it with respect for the great traditions of freedom which our two countries both adhere to, and for this, we all, of course, hold him in very high regard.

On the two previous occasions he has been here since I have been in this office, he came alone, and, consequently, on one occasion we had a stag dinner. This time, fortunately, he brought Mrs. Lee with him. Now, I had read something about their courtship. I knew that, like Secretary Rogers and Mrs. Rogers, they had gone to school together, they had both graduated from law school in the same class, and so tonight, very early in the evening, when you saw me turning to Mrs. Lee, I said, "Mrs. Lee, tell me, is it true that you were number one in the class at Cambridge Law School and your husband was number two?" And she said, "Mr. President, do you think he would have married me if that were the case?"

But I probed further, and I found that, as a matter of fact, Mrs. Lee, our distinguished guest, did receive a first at Cambridge Law School. Her husband did also, but like a very loyal wife, she said, "He had a first with a star after his name, and that is something very special."

But the purpose of that is simply to say that we are very happy here to welcome our distinguished guests because of their personal qualities, because of their great ability, and because of the leadership they have given to their own country.

I would only add this: In the talks that I have had with the Prime Minister, in 1967 when we first met--at a time that neither he nor I had any idea that we would be meeting again today in this place---but in any event, in 1967 when we first met, on the other two occasions, what has impressed me enormously has been his profound understanding, not just of his own country and not just of Southeast Asia, of which his own country is a very important part, but of the entire world scene. In other words, we honor tonight and we welcome here a world statesman of the first rank, who has contributed, with his intelligence, with his understanding, to all of, us, in helping us to develop the kinds of policies that will maintain a world in which freedom can survive for larger countries like the United States and for smaller countries like Singapore.

There is no more articulate and intelligent spokesman for what I would call free societies in the world than the Prime Minister of Singapore, and for that reason I know all of you will want to join me in raising your glasses to Prime Minister Lee. Prime Minister Lee.

Note: The President spoke at 10 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Earlier in the day, the President met with Prime Minister Lee at the White House.

Prime Minister Lee responded to the President's toast as follows:

Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, ladies and gentlemen:

It is always a mild embarrassment when I receive such lavish praise. They say I run Singapore well. Well, it makes me worried because I am away so long and it is still running. It disproves the thesis that I am the man that makes it run.

It is a great pleasure and a privilege, as you have mentioned, Mr. President, to have shared several occasions we have had together, particularly that memorable one when you were just an American citizen and not the President of the United States.

My wife and I would like to thank Mrs. Nixon and you for the great warmth and friendship with which we are being received and for this dinner which you have arranged in our honor.

Perhaps it may be appropriate if I were to mention that when you were just an American citizen, we could speak more candidly, even brusquely, and now the courtesies of office sometimes have to muffle some of the rougher edges.

But few, I think, could have dared to predict the tenacity with which you pursued your declared policies of negotiations with the great Communist powers instead of confrontation. Even fewer would have dared predict the hopeful results that have emerged. But none could have dared to hope that even once you carried on these negotiations with both Peking and Moscow, you steadily, systematically, disengaged American troops from Vietnam in such an orderly fashion that, instead of a rout which so many people predicted would happen when there were too few to defend themselves, they ceremoniously furled up their flags and departed, leaving not chaos out of which a revolutionary movement would have seized power, but the South Vietnamese Government very much in charge.

As one who has not been in America in recent months, I had expected to meet a President of the United States who had become remote and a recluse. [Laughter] I must say I was greatly relieved to find that I did not have such a forbidding figure to meet.

Well, it was Southeast Asia's good fortune that there was a President in America who considered it his primary purpose to discharge his onerous responsibilities to America and to the world, and this fortune could be turned to permanent gains if, after the thumping majority that you obtained last November, Mr. President, you could complete your second term, complete the hopeful beginnings that you initiated in your first.

In the last few days in this country, I have discovered that any statement, any argument, however dispassionate, however blandly couched, which can be faintly directly or indirectly construed as in support of or in sympathy with any of the hopes, policies, or aspirations of this Administration finds very scant space in the mass media. [Laughter] So I was sorely tempted to couch my arguments in querulous, tendentious terms in order to get that scant space.

But perhaps there is more benefit in following your example, Mr. President, of the detached-the cultivated detachment of mind which enables you to pursue what is right in the long run, never mind what it is in the short run, whether it wins rapturous applause or otherwise.

I was privileged this morning to hear your frank overview of America's position vis-a-vis Asia, not just Southeast Asia, and placed in the context of the whole world, a global perspective. You were kind enough to make a reference to my outlook on these matters. Well, I have to.

We are a very small country placed strategically at the southernmost tip of Asia, and when the elephants are on the rampage, if you are a mouse there and you don't know the habits of the elephants, it can be a very painful business.

I was encouraged that you believed that this new balance, new world order in which there is greater peace, greater prosperity, could be achieved not by America in isolation but with the participation of America's allies, in particular Western Europe and Japan, and of course, particularly that there should be fairer and more equal terms of trade.

Now, if this negotiating package can be settled, and if that can be matched in negotiations with both the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China for a steady and a stable, continuing detente, then peace and prosperity without war is not just an American dream but a world vision of the future, reassuring for all mankind who have to live in this ever smaller, more interrelated, and more interdependent world.

I believe I now understand you better, what you meant when you stated over television, if I may paraphrase you, that you had to have a strong America if you were going to get concessions, for only a strong America can make concessions in return.

May I express this hope: that in your second term you will be able to complete the new chapter which you have started in your first term through the policies which you initiated with such great promise.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, may I ask you to drink with me to the health of the President of the United States.

Mr. President.

Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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