I thought it was an April Fool when I read about the so-called ‘uniquely Singapore’ values.
Knowing English and knowing Chinese is a uniquely bilingual ability of Singapore?
Understanding the West and understanding China is the uniquely bi-culture expertise of Singapore?
What Lim Swee Say tried to explain was 1 + 1 = 3. Our uniquely bilingual and bi-culture speciality can create more values than other countries as other countries can only add up the sum but we can double the sum. Therefore, China and the western countries will appreciate and value our existence and contributions.
To double up the uniquely values, Singaporeans will have to have better understanding of Chinese as well as western languages and culture, so do in areas of business practices. This is very difficult to achieve. And importantly, any less understanding of Chinese or the western languages and culture will not affect the uniquely Singapore values.
This means that the uniquely Singapore values will not be achieved under the circumstances of 0.5 + 0.5 = 3 or 1 + 0.2 = 3 or 0.2 + 0.8 = 3. But the reality in Singapore is this is the actual situations. We may have better command of English, mathematics and science than the average Americans or Europeans, but it will be very difficult to beat the average Chinese in these areas, not to mention the Chinese language. The Chinese scholars that we have attracted to Singapore are not the first rate students is a proofing example.
I wonder how Singapore is able to create uniquely values based on our language and culture capability, especially the proficiency of Chinese language.
Therefore, it is quite confusing to read:
[Mr Lim said: "Try not to impress the Chinese that you can be as Chinese, or even more Chinese than them.(Channelnewsasia, 31Mar12)]
How many Singaporeans will dare to say they have a better command and understanding of Chinese than a Chinese in China. If it is true, the Business China forum for the 1,200 students will have to be 100% conducted in Mandarin not the uniquely Singapore way of English and Mandarin. Students who are exposed to the Mandarin environment will have full benefits and first hand understanding of business practices in China. But the forum seems to suggest otherwise. Is it because there are students who are not proficient in Chinese?
Let assume we really have Singaporeans who command better Chinese than the Chinese. If this is the case, their number will be small and cannot represent the larger population. Otherwise there is no need to have the Lee Kuan Yew Bilingualism Foundation for children and the Ministry of Education is trying so hard to encourage students to learn Chinese. For Chinese educated Singaporeans, they know too well about the richness of Chinese culture and history and will not pretend to be a Chinese expert.
It is confusing to learn about the analogy of ‘better Chinese than Chinese’. If we are really so good in Chinese, then what was the need for this Channelnewsasia’s headline: Lim Swee Say urges students to take greater interest in Chinese language.
Since Lim was discussing doing business in China, it is better we focus on Singapore’s contributions to China in the commercial world.
What can Singapore offer to China? What type of values that we can create and others cannot?
Offshore business base
We may add values to China outside the greater China area.
Perhaps Singapore’s only strength is being the offshore business centre for Chinese enterprises and state owned enterprises (SOEs). Activities like IPOs at Singapore stock exchange, business base for South East Asia, international arbitration, and even our casinos may help in some ways. Of course, we are fighting very hard for the Chinese Yuan (RMB) clearing and exchange centre, and want to attract more RMB denominated stocks and shares, bonds and other financial products to Singapore.
Even this area, we are fighting very hard with Hong Kong, London and New York. As you can see no major SOEs are listed in SGX. What does it mean?
However, the key point is Business China supposes to assist and help Singaporeans to venture into China either for work or business. Has Lim given a good advice?
Don’t follow GLC way of doing business in China
Lim, as a minister, can give advices to government linked companies and not more than that. His background and experience is good for government sponsored projects.
His following message to students is half right half wrong:
[In other words, my own philosophy is that when I'm in China, I try to let them see the difference between us.](channelnewsasia, 31 Mar 2012)
If you are Temasek, GLCs or even MNCs, the above seems correct. Anyway, because of your differences, China needs your money or technology. But to a small business or a Singaporean looking for job in China, the more different you are, the more you are moving away from the business centre.
Chinese guanxi is built on inclusiveness not exclusiveness. If you want to be different, want to be away from them, then you are not in their inner circle.
Students can learn more if local companies like Da Vinci Furniture (regardless of whether we like or don’t like the way they conduct their business in China) can share the experience with students. These are hard truth of doing business in China.
What Lim discussed about were the PAP’s way of doing business and the problems they faced in China - the experience in Suzhou, Tianjin or Capital Land projects in different Chinese cities. These are government to government experiences.
But Lim cannot share with students his experiences as an opposition, as a small private investor or as a job seeker. Just like the PAP government cannot understand the difficulties and obstacles they give to the oppositions in Singapore. They also cannot understand the suffering of the SMEs in Singapore, and in China.
What Lim told students is just one side of the story. GLCs or the likes are not practising entrepreneurship in China. For real entrepreneurship, it has nothing to do with bilingual or bi-culture.
"If I am monolingual and expert only in Mandarin, I think I would be limited use to the Chinese because as I said, there are 1.3 billion of them. They do not need one more." (Channelnewsasia, 31Mar12)
Lim’s above analogy is very strange. He seems to forget ‘do the right thing and do it right’. Even the monolingual, with entrepreneurship and drive, can do the right thing and do it right in China.