SINGAPORE (AP) - Asia's economies and businesses cannot thrive without strong and courageous political leadership, a senior Singapore Cabinet minister said Monday, citing the success of China, India and his own country.
''An army of rabbits led by a lion is superior to an army of lions led by a rabbit,'' Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told the closing session of the two-day World Economic Forum on East Asia.
Goh said the best example of courageous political leadership was China's late supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, who dared to ''break the iron rice bowl'' of communism to allow a free market economy.
He also paid tribute to India's late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who dismantled decades of state-controlled socialist-style economy, and to his predecessor and modern Singapore's founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, who turned the former British colonial outpost into Southeast Asia's richest country.
In democracy, ''if change does not bring benefits to people quickly, the government can be thrown out,'' said Goh, who served as Singapore's prime minister from 1990 to 2004 and now advises the government.
But courage should be accompanied by pragmatism, said former Prime Minister Goh, citing the example of Singapore, which dropped its long-held ideological opposition to gambling to allow casinos to be set up in the city-state.
Singapore was no longer able to rely on manufacturing and financial services to compete in a global economy, and had to come up with ways to attract investors, Goh said. The answer was casinos.
Singapore lifted the ban on casino gambling in 2005 and awarded contracts to two casino companies—Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Genting International PLC—last year. Construction has started at both casino resorts which are expected to be ready in 2009 and 2010.
Goh, however, promised that gambling will not be allowed to destroy the social fabric of this tightly controlled country, nor will it ''eat into the hardworking attitude of Singaporeans.''