"You can already see that in the shipping volumes of Chinese ports," Lee said in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel. His comments were released by China's official Xinhua news agency Wednesday.
"In 50 years I see China, (South) Korea and Japan at the high-tech end of the value chain," said Lee, who was Singapore's first prime minister and father of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"Look at the numbers and quality of the engineers and scientists they produce, and you know that this is where the R&D will be done. The Chinese have a space program, they are going to put a man on the moon, and nobody sold them that technology," the article quoted Lee as saying.
Lee said it was "stupid to be afraid" of China's rapid development. He said the country would spread its influence through economic, not military, means.
"I think they have calculated that they need 30 to 40 -- maybe 50 years of peace and quiet to catch up (with the developed world)," he said.