Thursday, June 30, 2005

National Identity

National Identity

Tomorrow is 1st of July, the day when Hong Kong celebrates its anniversary return to China Mainland. It is also the day of “tradition” whereby democrats in Hong Kong will organize street protest and march to register their demand for more openness and democracy. The record attendance for the 1st July protest march is 500,000 people taking to the street to demonstrate their frustrations of the Hong Kong government's mediocre performance.

The 800 strong Hong Kong delegates have just chosen the new Chief Executive on behalf of Hong Kongers. Mr. Donald Tsang, a high level civil servant both in the British colonial Hong Kong administration as well as post-colonial Hong Kong government has been chosen to become the new Chief Executive for the next two years. Even though Mr. Donald Tsang is a “more acceptable” choice for both the democrats as well as Hong Kongers in general, the point of political argument is that he is not chosen based on universal suffrage. It is still being viewed as “selected” and “appointed” by the Beijing government, using the 800 delegates as proxies. This is against the fundamental principle and spirit of the Basic Law, Hong Kong to be governed by Hong Kongers, both in essence as well as in effect.

Thus, there will be Hong Kongers taking to the streets to stage their protest. The end results may be the same but the process of universal suffrage is of utmost importance to the spirit of democracy. This is what Hong Kongers are fighting for.

There are some Hong Kongers who are initially persuaded that Beijing Government’s selection of their Chief Executive isn’t that bad after all and it has taken Hong Konger’s general preferences into account. However, when the police come out with a list of 48 conditions for in-principle approval of the protest march, it has angered the masses and reminded them that there is still an invisible hand that want to tighten control or exert autocratic governance on Hong Kong. The reason being that this list of 48 conditions is double of the usual 24 conditions set for in-principle approval for past 1st July protest marches.

I listen to the radio call in program and it amazes me that Hong Kongers treasured their freedom of democratic expression so much. Many of them have claimed that they have decided to turn up for the 1st July protest march just because of the unjustified conditions imposed by the police on the organizer.

Many of us have thought that Hong Kongers are materialistic and “pragmatic” lot. However it seems that for something as abstract as democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, protest and march could be so appealing to them, so much so that they are willing to spend time, effort and even money to defend them. There isn’t much to be “gained” for those who turn out to protest, really. Not in terms of individual’s gains. They are fighting and defending something what we call “public goods” in economics. From another perspective, it takes people with altruism, passion, idealism and public spirit to do such thing.
Such altruism must be built upon a common identity as a group, society, nation or country. Based on this identity, they believe there are things that are good and meaningful for this identified group of people which must be done.

I have the very same feeling when I visited Taiwan during its Presidential Election period last year. There are Taiwanese who would take the trouble to fly back to Taiwan from other countries just to cast their votes in the Presidential Election. I have met these people in their airport, some with banners and flags. It is touching in every sense, regardless of which party they were supporting.

It makes me think about Singapore and Singaporeans as a whole. Our national day is just around the corner and it is timely for us to reflect upon ourselves what have we achieved for the past 40 years of independence as a nation, in terms of forging a National identity. Have we really created a solid National identity after all these years? If so, why are we suffering big brain drain, with citizens migrating to other countries? The report card is even clearer with rapid globalization of the world. How many people who have left the country to work overseas, decided not to come back to Singapore for the rest of their lives? Would any Singaporeans overseas ever bother to fly back to Singapore just to cast their votes during General Elections or even Presidential Elections?

When is the last time we, as Singaporeans, fought bravely and firmly on anything “non-materialistic” as a people and a nation? Has there ever a time in Singapore’s history that Singaporeans as a people, feel strongly that something as abstract but relevant as democracy, human rights and freedom of expression should be defended and preserved in this land? Yes, there was a time when all these have been fought for vigorously, ironically, by the PAP back in the 50s when they were in the opposition. And we weren’t even “Singaporeans” just yet! All were lost under the pretext of the war against communists’ threats.

National Identity is a crucial tool for a small country like Singapore to survive in this big wave of globalization. Altruism is a critical ingredient in forging National Identity. PAP itself has indirectly admitted that its ministers are not those people who would make great sacrifices but need to be enticed by million-dollar annual salary in order for them to step into politics and public service. If those at the top lack that sense of social altruism, public service and spirits, could we at the bottom cultivate that kind of social altruism and public spirits? We will only become calculative.

A Nation that has lost the spirit of social-political altruism is a Nation that has lost its soul. And Singapore is definitely a Nation that has lost its soul.

Goh Meng Seng

8 comments:

Thrasymachus said...

Thanks for informing me of the error on election deposits...

You seem to be quite up to date with matters concerning Hong Kong...But there are very different grounds and historical pre-conditions that makes comparision between HK and SG unfair. Roots of democracy? Maybe you should check history behind HK such as opium war and East India Company...historically, the Brits are famous for leaving sh*t in all their colonies...hk is no exception...so why have the only governor election just before the 1997 handover? and not for the 150 years of ruling?

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear Thrasymachus,

You are welcomed.

I travel between Hong Kong and Singapore frequently. As political-social issues are my interests, I have been keeping myself up to date on Hong Kong, as well as Taiwan.

Though there are certain differences between Hong Kong and Singapore, but there are also many similarities. Both were CROWN Colonies of the British Empire. Both are island based, depending heavily on logistics and trade.

Anyway, this will take a thesis to evaluate the similarities and differences between the two places.

What I did was to express my feelings when I come into contact with what happens in Hong Kong

Goh Meng Seng

Thrasymachus said...

Hi Meng Seng

Comments well accepted. By having two laymen Singaporeans arguing over the political background and historical pre-conditions of HK may not do justice to their rich history and resilient people. Anyway, hope to see you in the next GE.

Thrasymachus said...

Hi Meng Seng, can I add a link to your blog? Many thanks!

Cheers!
Thrasy

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear Thrasymachus,

You are most welcome to do so! :)

Goh Meng Seng

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Benny B said...

I went to Hong Kong during last years celebration it was amazing. I hopping to come out again later this year through work. Great blog btw