Before I get to the issue of racial harmony in Singapore, let me touch on an issue that has been bothering me for some time – about being Chinese.
The latest from Hong Kong: Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters have marched to the Legislative Council building. They have also besieged the airport, causing hundreds of flights to be cancelled. First, they pushed against the extradition bill. Then, they pushed for an inquiry into police brutality. They are now pushing for universal suffrage, blocking roads and buildings. From the news reports, it looks like an absolute disaster. Meanwhile, the tanks and military trucks are amassing at their doorstep. Many Singaporeans are bewildered. Why are they not afraid?
Well, that’s because Singaporeans are not Hongkongers! And that’s why there is also a huge discrepancy in the way the majority of their experts and almost all of our experts view the never-ending protests. There is something really mind-boggling here. Why are Hongkongers, arguably some of the most ruthlessly pragmatic people in the world, doing something so self-destructive? Have they been bribed, hypnotised or mesmerised by some foreign powers? Well, if I were a mercenary, I certainly wouldn’t go to war without being armed to the teeth. Umbrellas? No way.
Almost every Singaporean (Chinese) above the age of 40 that I’ve talked to in recent weeks has some conspiracy theory about evil Donald Trump, the CIA, manipulative Taiwanese, business tycoons with some vested interest in the protests (whatever that means) or some other hostile foreign power (some even suspect ISIS) financing the protests or brainwashing the protestors. They cannot understand why Hongkongers are so unhappy or apprehensive about being under Chinese rule.
“Nothing wrong what. You see China so rich, so advanced and got high speed train so fast somemore. Protest for what? So stupid!”
That’s the usual “rhetoric” if you can call it that. Most people here, just like those on a restricted diet of Baidu and Weibo in mainland China, have very little understanding of the implications of China’s slowly tightening noose around HK. We in Singapore and China are so used to a top-down approach to governing that many of us don’t realise that doing so to HK will suffocate its vigorous social activity, kill its vibrant personality and unique identity. You can’t eat freedom and democracy, but taking them away is tantamount to taking away your way of life – your religion if you will. Thus, the marginally combative, seemingly self-destructive approach taken by the protestors.
And talking about self-destruction, I was under the same accusation 7 months ago when I had surgery done to remove my bunions. I was out of action for almost a month and my feet were swollen for more than 3 months. I got almost daily nagging from my mother chiding me for doing something so unnecessarily destructive. The mental torment was so great that I had to reject her calls. Fast forward (certainly not fast in real time) 7 months and I’m now not only able to wear properly fitting hiking boots, I managed to climb Gunung Lawu on National Day.
Had I listened to my mother, I would still be stumbling around in oversized shoes. The moral of the story? There is only one form of change that is painless – changing clothes. Whether you want to change your diet, change your face, change your job etc, sacrifice is inevitable. Singaporeans may not think much of rising sea levels and believe that they can leave everything to the government, but HKers are feeling the rising tide of authoritarianism besieging their territory and they won’t stand for it. Yes, protests will cripple the territory, but that’s the whole point. Businesses in HK which are badly affected by the protests will see an urgency to coax the Chinese government into acceding to HKers’ demands.
Faced with the same situation, a Singaporean leader would be peeing in his pants. Challenge China? Not for the kiasu, kiasi and gian png. A Chinese leader once observed with some amusement that Singaporeans see their own country as a 瓷娃娃。They are so afraid of “trouble” that they would just let the government deal with every single issue. HK is no 瓷娃娃. A few hundred cancelled flights will not kill it. Once settled and released, it can bounce higher than Singapore because of the liberal attitudes of the people and the sheer volume of ideas coming in from an intelligent, thinking populace. The process of fixing something so huge will take time and endurance.
However, the way that most Singaporeans see this saga is quite similar to how China sees it. Why can’t HKers let China do what it wants? Why can’t Taiwanese just surrender and submit to Beijing? This is not surprising, except that Singapore is less Chinese than either Hongkong or Taiwan. We are a multi-ethnic society.
I remember that when I was growing up, very few of my relatives here had any intention of visiting China. With memories of the communist insurgencies still fresh in their minds, they saw China as a dangerous place where people can disappear after expressing their views. But as China rose rapidly after opening up, attitudes changed. Many Singaporeans didn’t go forward. In fact, they seemed to have travelled backwards to a time long before I was born. Back then, our local Chinese papers classified news from China as 国内新闻 and local news as 本坡新闻. Our forefathers did not see Singapore as their own country. To them, China was home and Singapore was just a workplace. I thought we have come a long way, but no. Suddenly, you have supposedly true blue Singaporeans identifying themselves as 中国人 and even suggesting that the Chinese government should get tough on HKers. Suddenly, I begin to see a shamelessly subservient stand adopted by our own people who not only welcome China’s presence in the South China Sea but are totally elated with the Belt and Road initiative. So what if they are hegemons? They are on our side. Or are they?
The biggest threat to racial harmony and national security is not Malays becoming pilots and commandos. It’s how the Chinese identify themselves with the country of their forefathers. If Malays cannot be trusted when there’s a conflict with Malaysia or Indonesia, can the Chinese be trusted if there is a conflict with China? Frankly, I’m more worried about the latter.
I remember when I was travelling in China some 20 years ago when I told a Chinese man that I’m not 中国人 but 新加坡人. He insisted that there was no difference. Singapore developed from Third World to First World because of the Chinese, he postulated. Therefore, Singapore is Chinese. He stopped short of saying that Singapore belongs to China, but he insisted that Singapore was governed by 中国人 . And this ridiculous view is quite universally held by many people in China. Does it mean that the stronger that China becomes, the more it is going to treat us like a county? The writing is on the wall and the worrying thing is, many don’t mind as long as the wheels of commerce continue to turn.