Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a political rally on Oct. 12, 2015. Lee says Yale's partnership with National University of Singapore needs to "adapt" to Asia. Reuters

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Yale University's partnership with one of the country's biggest schools needs to adapt to Asia. He made the comments Monday at the inauguration of the campus of Yale-National University of Singapore College, a three-year project that has been criticized for perceived compromises on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

At an event in the New Haven, Connecticut, campus last year, Yale was criticized for agreeing to Singapore rules against campus protests, Yale Daily News reported at the time. At the event, an official of the Human Rights Watch watchdog group said Yale agreed because of potential money that could be made from Asian students.

While Lee did not refer to the controversies, he and his late father Lee Kuan Yew, who founded modern Singapore, have not been shy about silencing critics in what some describe as a capitalist authoritarian state. Their leadership has made Singapore one of the richest countries in the world.

For Yale to play a role in Asia, the school needs "to respond to the zeitgeist, the issues, the priorities of a rising continent; also to experiment, and to adapt the Yale model to Asia," Lee said in a speech published on his official website. "This will not succeed if Yale-NUS is just a carbon copy of Yale in New Haven."

"Yale-NUS therefore needs a curriculum and a college ethos that respond to this regional context," Lee said. "Its graduates have to understand these countries, have a feel of how they work, what they need, how they can move forward."

Also last year, a professor and a lecturer at Yale's main campus in New Haven criticized the head of Yale-NUS College for even seeking the Singapore government's permission to show "To Singapore With Love," a documentary about exiles from the city-state, the New Haven Register reported at the time. The government, which had banned public screenings of the film, gave the school permission. But that didn't happen after the filmmaker opposed any showings in Singapore in protest of the ban.

"Asia is different from America," Lee said. "The countries are not converging on a single universal social or political model that will best deal with these challenges under all circumstances, because each country is different, and has different situations – different natural endowments, different historical experiences, different geopolitical circumstances, different social structures, cultures and values."