Excuse Me, Are You Chinese?

Amid growing competition, and workers hungry to learn in places like Chengdu and even further away such as Russia, Singapore must not only protect its lunch but steal other people’s lunches, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged.

In this regard, youths in Singapore must especially be on their toes, he said in a discussion with union leaders about the future of jobs in Singapore held recently at Mediacorp.

Happy Labour Day. We all know that stealing is without doubt a crime, but used in our Prime Minister’s context, it’s probably not. Hungry foreigners have been stealing our lunch. Now, we’re encourage to steal back. Such interesting advice, but I guess it’s not our fault that we’ve never been taught to steal. It’s probably also not our fault that we pay for our lunches with SGD while some others may be paying in rupees, taka or even ruble.

On a trip to China many years ago, I got so frustrated with some serious lack of coordination leading an administrative error that I made the nasty remark: “左手不知道右手在干什么”。 The episode below could be a perfect example of it.

On 27 November 2015, Guo Hong, the director of the management committee of Zhong Guan Cun 中关村 in Beijing (known as the Silicon Valley of China) announced that he had a pilot project called Huayika 华裔卡(Huayi card). According to the announcement, the card would be issued to any qualified person of Chinese origin so that he/she could stay in China as a permanent resident and enjoy almost all privileges of a “Chinese Citizen”.

The purpose of Huayika is to invite the overseas Chinese professionals and entrepreneurs back to help Beijing to develop Zhong Guan Cun as it was unable to get enough talents.

In Zhong Guan Cun today, there were 2 million entrepreneurs, both foreign nationals and “returned overseas Chinese”, consisting only 1.5%, while in Silicon, 36% of the personnel were from overseas.

10 years ago, China had introduced the Green Card system but its implementation was strict. Within ten years, only 10,000 people succeed in getting it. The Huayika in fact is a special type of Green Card which has a racial bias.

This piece of news provoked as much excitement as it did anxiety. Many overseas-born Chinese holding the citizenships in various countries all over the world must have seen an opportunity to stay for months and even years in China to ride on China’s economic wave. Some saw business opportunities which they could exploit if there were fewer restrictions. Others saw a convenient second home with what could be effectively dual citizenship.

Ghost Town_Bodie CA

For the nationalists and policy makers, however, that would have been most worrying – especially for Singapore which is already suffering from serious brain haemorrhage and an acute shortage of cheap talent – so much so that our policy makers are prepared to roll out the red carpet and offer all sorts of enticement to attract foreign professionals and immigrants, especially those from China. Of all the Southeast Asian countries, Singapore is not just the smallest nation but also the only one that has an ethnic Chinese population that is still pretty much Chinese. As least, we are a lot more Chinese than our cousins in Thailand and Indonesia. What if …

The results may be devastating for Singapore. With better offers and opportunities in China, we could have seen a flood of talented Singaporean Chinese reversing the direction of immigration taken by their forefathers. I often wonder what those folks who have been trying to bait talent from China with scholarships and other goodies are thinking. Can you bait elephants across oceans with peanuts when they have fields of sugar cane back home? Aren’t they aware that this reverse immigration has already started? Take a look at this budding rock musician from Singapore.

She discovered her roots, found out where she came from and she now knows where she’s going to. No mention of her upbringing in Singapore. I wonder how many more Singaporeans would have to go through the same act to get a leg up in these competitions and performances. Tanya Chua really surprised me with her diction. When she first started off, she could hardly speak Mandarin. Now, she can pass off as a mainland Chinese but I guess we can still hang on to the hope that she might accept an invitation to sing at our NDP in favour even if it clashed with some grand performance in China.

Yes, things are bad enough as they are. The performers and celebrities are visible on YouTube. Talents in other fields like engineering and computing are not. Even without any incentives and with barriers to boot, talented Singaporean Chinese are already struggling with language, identity and condescending to break into Chinese markets and society. Offering the huayi card will lower the bar and create a flood of wannabes. If we take a transfusion of from China, China would still be all right. If China takes a transfusion from us, we’ll die of shock. Talk about stealing lunches, what about stealing citizens? As it turned out, those who counted their chickens before they were hatched were soon to be disappointed.

Huayika was planned to be introduced in early 2016, but it was criticized. In March 2016, the head of the OCAC declared that the scheme was misunderstood, it would not be implemented.

Misunderstood? Probably not. Criticised? Very likely, but who or what saved Singapore (or Malaysia) from certain doom?

March 2016

China has no plans for now to introduce an “overseas Chinese card” that will allow foreigners with Chinese ethnicity to enjoy permanent residency treatment and other benefits, said a top official.

Ms Qiu Yuanping, head of the State Council’s Overseas Chinese Affairs office, said China will instead focus on relaxing its permanent residency rules and coming up with new initiatives to make it easier for foreigners – including ethnic Chinese – to work, study and live in the country.

“We are not thinking presently of issuing an ethnic Chinese card,” she said, when asked on Sunday on the sidelines of China’s annual national legislative session.



© Chan Joon Yee

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