Friday, February 22, 2013
Contradictions between people from Big and Small Countries – Root problem of New Migrants’ integration
The following is the translation of the previous Chinese article I have written with regards to the debate between Mr. Li Yeming and MP Mr. Low Thia Khiang. Special thanks and credits to Temasek Review Emeritus (TRE) for coming up with the translation which I have made various editing. However, any misrepresentation or mistakes found on this Translated article would be my responsibility.
Having read the exchange of words between Mr Li Ye Ming and MP Mr Low Thia Kiang for the past few days, I find it ironic that the differences brought out by this debate between Mr Li, coming from a mighty country, and MP Mr Low, who was born and bred here (a small country) are somewhat a miniature reflection of the difficulties and challenges faced by new immigrants trying to integrate into the core of Singapore!
First of all, I must clarify that even though I belong to the opposition camp, undeniably started my political venture from the Workers Party and I could even regard Mr Low Thia Kiang as my initial mentor in, but just as Mr Low himself had said during the Punggol East By-election rally, we no longer walk on the same path and we have nothing to do with each other now. Furthermore, I do not actually agree with the political views of the Workers Party with regards to the population policy. If Mr Li thinks that the views of the Workers Party are ‘radical’, then my political views on this issue may come across as being ‘extremely radical’ to him. Radical or not, it is just a matter of relativity. I see the political views of the Workers Party as being too lax and gentle. The views of PAP are actually so radical that they have ignored the welfare of the Singaporean people at large. But these are our personal views and they are relative. It’s pointless to argue on these terms.
In my view, Singapore has already reached a critical stage in all aspects, results of its aggressive import of foreign population and labour for the past ten over years. Not only should we have to restrict the influx of foreign population, we should also try to maintain the total population at present level (at zero growth) by systematically and progressively reducing the number of foreigners coming to our shores. This goes even further than the zero growth of foreign labour and the target of 5.9 million by 2030 proposed by the Workers Party. I’ll not go on about the basis for my views here but basically, the main difference between someone coming from a ‘mighty country’ and someone from a ’small country’ is that from a very young age, all of us have the basic sense that our country is very small, or simply put, just a little red dot. Land is scarce and everything has to be considered with this objective reality in mind. This is something that Mr Li will never be able to comprehend, having come from a vast state.
China is the most populous country in the world, with a population of 1.3 billion. Although Singapore is only a small country with a population of 5 million, but it we look at the population density alone, Singapore has already surpassed China by more than fifty times! Therefore the conflict arises between Mr Li, coming from a ‘mighty country’, and us from such a ’small’ country- the inherent perception of our objective realities are entirely different and thus, it’s no surprise that we will reach different conclusions! In China, if one can’t stand the crowded cities, one can always retreat to the villages to be farmer in the countryside and live off the land. But in Singapore, if we screw up on our population policy, there would be no hinterland that we can retreat to. Or are we expected to jump into the sea?
We oppose the continue import of foreign population not because we are xenophobic, but due to the consideration of the constraints imposed by these objective realities. We do not have the means to continue to import foreigners indefinitely. Perhaps we had really been a society of migrants in the past, but to put it colloquially, that was when ‘policemen wore shorts’! ( If as a new citizen Mr Li does not understand this phrase, please ask the true-blue Singaporeans around you!)
Mr Li claimed that he is not ignorant of the ‘White Terror’ era of our country, but I really suspect that he only possesses a superficial knowledge. Even for myself, as a Singaporean born and bred here, I cannot say for sure that I have really understood what this historical vacuum presented by the ‘White Terror’ was all about, let alone a new immigrant like Mr Li. And this is one of the reasons why new immigrants like Mr Li will find it hard to integrate into Singapore- they only have a half-baked knowledge of Singapore’s history, yet feel that they already have the history and conditions faced by Singapore all figured out.
As for Mr Li, he also has a half-baked knowledge of economic theory, and yet he has opened fire on the Workers Party so blatantly. He said that “If the Workers Party wants to put a freeze on foreign labour, then how will they propose to solve the current problem of labour shortage? The Workers Party is advocating lower economic growth, to bring down demand for labour, and yet they are asking for a rise in wages on the other hand, in order to encourage more people who are currently inactive to enter the workforce. They don’t seem to understand the contradiction presented by lowering economic growth and yet raising wages.” Such reasoning is actually fallacious. Rise in wages do not necessarily lead to greater economic growth, because if wages are raised on one hand, but the total labour force remains stagnant (as profits drop) or is reduced, GDP may not rise that fast. The GDP is the sum total of all wages and income. So, the stand of the Workers Party is not self-contradictory at all.
Singapore is the most open country in the world with regards to its immigration policies. We are unlike China or Japan, where they only award citizenships to their own race, be it Chinese or Japanese. Singapore does not take into account racial differences. Even if anyone were to come from Latin America, as along as they meet the criteria, Singapore will award the citizenship to them. On the contrary, it is extremely difficult to obtain Chinese or Japanese citizenship if one is not of the same stock or race. I can definitely say that many new immigrants like Mr Li, who have given up their Chinese nationality to apply for Singapore citizenship, will not complain that China is being xenophobic because of this. I have also never heard of any Chinese national or new immigrant express any dissent over China’s “xenophobic” immigration policy. Therefore, I am extremely puzzled that Mr Li has slapped on the label of being “xenophobic” on the Workers Party. Has he ever protested China’s “xenophobic” policies? Then why is he kicking up such a ruckus over someone ‘fanning xenophobic sentiments’ in a small country like Singapore?
Any country in the world would look after the interests of its own citizens first, as its priority. This is only right. Any policy of the country should also ultimately be beneficial to its own people. And these benefits do not just refer to financial benefits, but also include factors relating to the citizens’ quality of life. Of course, if Mr Li has become a citizen, then the country needs to take his welfare into account as well. And these benefits are not just about economic growth. If the fruits of economic growth are not distributed evenly and bring little benefits to most citizens at large, but on the other hand the social costs of this growth has to be borne by them, then this is totally unacceptable. So, when Mr Li asked: ‘ Isn’t economic growth important?’ I simply think that his question is extremely narrow and naive. At present, we cannot ignore the problems caused by the foreign labour policies. Not only will these foreign labour policies depress the wages of some Singaporeans, it may even lead to serious inadequate or under-employment. If economic growth is achieved at such a cost, on top of inflation, increased pricing of houses, deterioration of the living environment and extremely crowded traffic conditions etc., we have perhaps paid too high a social cost for such economic growth!
The tirades of Mr Li against MP Mr Low for his views regarding the integration of new immigrants into the Singaporean core demonstrate the vast difference in understanding between people from a ‘mighty country’ and that of people from a ’small country’, which cannot be ignored. Our forebears had nothing when they first arrived in Singapore. They endured the hardships as coolies together, three years and eight months of the Japanese Occupation, the period of anti-colonialism, the tumultuous times of nation-building, racial riots …etc. They worked hard to learn how to live in harmony with other dialect groups and races; and faced the same external threats together. Back then, Singapore was not so crowded. The population did not even pass a million, so we still had the means to import more immigrants. It is really not an easy task for any society or country to forge a united citizenry or people within the framework of very diverse races. But we weathered the crises together, and reached certain consensus, we served NS together, endured the hardships together, and speak Singlish together…all these has not been simply a day’s work for such a small country like Singapore. This work required at least a generation or two to achieve our present status.
If many more new immigrants are injected within a very short span of time, this will have a very large impact on the initial core values that we had built up. This is not xenophobia but mere objective reality. In fact, the various troubles that have arisen so far have actually validated this point. New immigrants kicked up a big fuss because they were not used to the smell of Indian curry. They also kicked up a big fuss about funeral wakes being held downstairs of their homes, or the celebrations of the Seventh Lunar Month… and the native Singaporeans who were born and bred here were actually dumb-founded by all these complains. They simply could not understand what the fuss were all about! It is indeed not easy for immigrants who have come to such a small country from large, mighty ones to integrate into a multi-racial and multi-cultural society like Singapore. And the social impact which they have brought along is also an undeniable objective fact as well.
One’s cultural values will not automatically change just because he has had a change of nationality. Short of a shared experience, and the creation of a collective memory; to integrate new immigrants into this society is easier said than done! Even for Singaporeans born and bred here, we may have a sense that we are one country one people, but all of us also aware of the differences that we still have among one another. The key is to integrate in the midst of the differences, to co-exist with mutual respect and prosper together. Similarly, even though new immigrants have obtained their citizenship, they need to keep in mind the differences that exist between themselves and native Singaporeans. Without a recognition of the existence of such differences, how will they ever acknowledge and face head on the challenges of integration? And that is why I am in complete disagreement with Mr Li’s views that the act of MP Mr Low raising the differences of new immigrants is tantamount to fanning ‘xenophobic’ sentiments! This is as ridiculous as accusing me of being racist just because I say that Singapore Malays are different.
Stopping or even reducing the influx of immigrants for the greatest benefits of one’s own citizens is not xenophobic, but simply making the appropriate choice based on objective realities. How can it possibly be that a country does not put the interest of its people as a priority? If Mr Li has really become a Singapore citizen, then I have to ask him where his loyalty lies. Or do he has lingering ties and attachment with his former Motherland? He needs to at least have this very basic understanding that he should be fighting for Singaporeans’ interests instead of his former compatriots. If he is a new immigrant who is just having PR status, then he needs to realise that this is Singapore. It is only right that we look after our own citizens first. He has no rights to interfere in our internal politics.
I’ll stop here. As for the other more complicated matters relating to the population policy, I’ll leave it to the next time.
Goh Meng Seng