Singapore: Blasting Off

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Then, said Lee, there was the recent matter of the U.S. doctor. "Somebody very dear to me was ailing," Lee said, and a British doctor in Singapore recommended an American specialist in New York as the best man to perform surgery. He asked the U.S. Ambassador to see whether the specialist could fly out to Singapore, was told that the doctor was going to Geneva for a convention and would be glad to treat Lee's patient there. This enraged Lee, and last week he was still ranting about "the impudence and impertinence of it." Lee failed to add that the State Department eventually persuaded the doctor, a gynecologist, to fly to Singapore. By that time Lee was so indignant that he turned that offer down also.

The time: last month. The patient: Lee's wife, Geok Choo, 38, a practicing lawyer. Her serious illness, added to Lee's other strains since the breakaway from Malaysia last month, undoubtedly sharpened Lee's savage attack on the U.S.

"Fools, Fools." The U.S. response to Lee's main charge of espionage was prompt, predictable—and unfortunate. A U.S. official intoned that there was "absolutely no truth" in Lee's whole tale of intrigue gone awry. Next day an angry Lee, muttering "fools, the fools," under his breath, herded surprised newsmen into his office and pulled out a copy of Rusk's letter of apology in April 1961. "The Americans stupidly deny the undeniable," he stormed. With that, Washington took a deep breath and about-faced, issuing a minimal statement admitting that "this incident" had indeed taken place.

Lee's blast at the U.S. neatly served a variety of pressing purposes. In his new independence, Lee is far more concerned with his image in the Afro-Asian world than with U.S. regard. The Afro-Asians have been, to Lee's mind, disturbingly slow to recognize his new nation. The millstone around his neck in achieving neutralist status is the presence of those 50,000 British troops based in Singapore.

But the British are a neocolonialist target Lee cannot yet afford to shoot at. He needs the tommies for protection against Sukarno, and he needs the money they pump into Singapore's Lilliputian economy—roughly a third of the tiny nation's G.N.P. Forced out of Malaysia and still dependent on the British, he is a neutralist in search of a role to prove his nonaligned credentials. The U.S. is a time-honored target for just that. It also satisfies domestic opposition, largely overseas Chinese anxious to trade with Indonesia, Red China and Russia. Moreover, Lee no doubt is also shrewd enough to suspect that however much he tweaks Uncle Sam's nose today, Washington will probably let bygones be bygones when he comes running for help tomorrow.

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