292. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Your Meeting with Lee Kuan Yew

Lee wishes to convey his admiration for your whole conduct of policy in Southeast Asia and also for your personal sacrifice of March 31. He doubtless recalls vividly your meeting with him in Melbourne, at which you reviewed the political prospects with some frankness, told him the Republicans would nominate Mr. Nixon, and pretty clearly hinted that you thought you could beat him. Lee probably agrees.

No doubt he would again be fascinated by a frank personal forecast of how the Nixon Administration, and above all, the American public will be looking at Southeast Asia in the next few years. He thinks—and probably rightly—his own life and future depend on that judgment. Past experience should give you confidence that he will keep what you say wholly to himself.

More specifically, the British decision to pull out of Malaysia and Singapore after the end of 1971 came after your Melbourne meeting, and has preoccupied him all through the year. He thinks, as we do, that a clear Australian stand, including the willingness to keep limited ground forces in the area, is the key to post-1971 security for him. And he is as baffled and dubious about Prime Minister Gorton as we are. I probed him at length on this when I saw him in Cambridge two weeks ago, and he came up with one interesting thought—that a continuing American military presence in Thailand would go very far to convince Gorton that he had to do his share in Malaysia and Singapore. The latest we ourselves have on this is that the Australians have made a general decision for a “forward strategy” rather than a “Fortress Australia” view; however, this appears to be very general, and he would [Page 647]doubtless welcome a frank exchange on what goes on in Gorton’s mind—as if anybody knew.

Another possible topic might be the future of ASEAN in view of the spat between Malaysia and the Philippines over Sabah. Again, his thinking is like ours—that Marcos has made a fool of himself—and his government has expressed blunt support of Malaysia’s position. The question is how to get Marcos off the hook and who can help.

In general, Singapore under Lee is continuing to do a superb job, and in the past year has scored some outstanding successes in attracting American investment. He thinks this is fine, and is also most anxious to have our Navy and Air Force use his repair facilities on a commercial basis. We have started this, and it is going satisfactorily.

You should know of one minor issue, although I doubt very much that he would raise it. Singapore (and the Philippines as well) wants a license to manufacture the AR–15 rifle—the commercial version of the M–16. Secretary Clifford has reservations about this, and we have not come to any decision. In the remote event he raises this, I believe you should be sympathetic but noncommittal.

On my observation and by all other accounts, Lee is in a relaxed and forthcoming mood. He should be good value.

On press handling, Lee understands that his call is being made public. However, he would strongly prefer not to be exposed to the press for the purpose of making any remarks. This is in line with his unofficial status, which he has observed with the greatest care in the month he has been here.

William P. Bundy
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL SINGAPORE–US. Secret; Eyes Only. Lee Kuan Yew was on a 2-month unofficial vacation/sabbatical in Canada and the United States from mid-October to mid-December. Rusk recommended that, as a matter of courtesy and gratitude for Lee’s support on Vietnam, the President see him. (Memorandum from Rusk to Johnson, December 4; ibid., POL 7 SINGAPORE) Rostow also sent the President a briefing memorandum based on this memorandum by Bundy. Rostow suggested that Johnson should congratulate Lee on the economic success of Singapore and the increased American investment there and tell him that U.S. military forces were beginning to use Singapore’s repair facilities on a commercial basis. (Memorandum from Rostow to Johnson, December 10; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Singapore, Vol. II, 8/67–12/68)