THE PRESS IN SINGAPORE NY TIMES 1990
BANGKOK, Thailand, Oct. 15— On the day that The Asian Wall Street Journal decided to stop circulation in Singapore because of press restrictions, Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, blamed television reporting for the deaths near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June 1989.
Mr. Lee made the remark today in Hong Kong, in a speech to the Commonwealth Press Union, before leaving for China. His trip there will be his first since Singapore normalized relations with Beijing in August.
Mr. Lee said Chinese students had been seduced by television coverage of demonstrations in the Philippines and South Korea into believing that they could alter conditions in China.
Such coverage, more than any desire for freedom, he said, encouraged Chinese students to protest.
''China's students forgot that China was a very different country from either the Philippines or South Korea, two countries with close links with the United States, where the media and Congress wield immense influence.''
Television Is Blamed
Television was responsible for this amnesia, he suggested, saying, ''I believe it is this contextless television experience that led to the tragedy of Tiananmen on June 4.'' On that day, the Chinese Army attacked demonstrators and killed at least several hundred in the streets around the square.
Mr. Lee, who was educated in Britain as well as Singapore, has often spoken of the damage done to Singapore's Asian nature by the individualism of Western values, and often praises his own understanding of Confucianism as a system of communitarian hierarchy and respect.
In a similar fashion, he criticized China's students for not understanding the need for patience and circumspection in their dealings with their aged leaders.
''They had achieved a dialogue with Government leaders,'' he said. ''If they had been patient and circumspect, they could have contributed over 10 years to the gradual opening up of the system, which had already started.''
Mr. Lee, 67 years old, is stepping down as Prime Minister in November after more than 30 years in office. A blunt and combative man, he enjoys annoying journalists and challenging their assumptions about how Asian societies function.
Hong Kong Press Criticized
In this vein, he also criticized ''the foreign press'' in Hong Kong, a British colony, for trying ''to foist Western values'' on the citizens there. He said the Western press had ''crusaded for their vision of democracy'' in Hong Kong and had thus caused the Hong Kong stock market to fall after the killings in Beijing.
By the Western press, Mr. Lee seemed to have in mind The Asian Wall Street Journal and its sister publication, The Far Eastern Economic Review, both owned by Dow Jones & Company, which have been regular targets for his criticism and libel suits in Singapore.
The Journal and the Review, whose reporters are not allowed to work in Singapore, are the only regional publications in Asia that try to provide Western standards of objective journalism to the societies there. Mr. Lee has had running battles with both publications since 1987, when he restricted the Journal's circulation in Singapore from 5,000 copies to 400, contending that the paper was interfering in Singapore's internal affairs.
The Journal had published an article about Singapore's plans for its stock market but refused to publish the entire text of a 1,500-word letter the Government wrote in response. Singapore also limited the Review to 400 copies for its reporting on political opposition in Singapore and the treatment of dissidents there. In response, the Review stopped its circulation altogether, causing Singapore to alter its copyright laws to allow a local, advertisement-free reprint of the Review to be sold.
Paper Halts Circulation
The Journal fought in the courts to restore its circulation. But after the publication of new regulations on the foreign press, approved by Singapore's Parliament on Aug. 30, the Asian Journal announced in an editorial today that it, too, was halting its circulation in Singapore.
The regulations require foreign publications to post an unspecified security deposit against legal judgments and obtain an annual permit if they distribute more than 300 copies in Singapore and carry articles on politics or current affairs in ''any country in Southeast Asia,'' a requirement that will also apply to the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, partly owned by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Mr. Lee's announced successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, has also said that foreign publications may be required in the future to sign a waiver of rights under the Singaporean Constitution in lawsuits, the Journal's editorial said.
''What worries us is the purpose to which, five years of experience warns us, these powers will be put,'' the paper said. The Singaporean Government wants the foreign press ''to practice self-censorship,'' it continued. ''A facade of factual reporting will be allowed,'' it said, but nothing to disturb what the Journal called ''the political monopoly of the People's Action Party or the pretense of democracy.''
Tonight in Hong Kong, Mr. Lee called the Journal's decision unimportant. ''Besides,'' he said, ''anything of importance is immediately faxed to anyone who's got an interest in knowing it.''