Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Real Challenges of Low Thia Khiang’s Speech and the Option for Singapore

    Low Thia Khiang made a “cogent and balanced” speech during the Budget debate.   However, what are the real challenges that Low is trying to tell Singaporeans, especially the lack of Mandarin policy? On Singapore’s interest and perspectives, we have only one option for the future - the western style open, transparency and accountability governance.  

Unfavourable trend

    Since taking over from Goh Chok Tong, we have seen the following trends under Lee Hsien Loong:

  • Our command and standard of Chinese language goes from bad to worst. There are too many mistakes and wrong translations, wrong interpretations in public.   
  • In recent years, Singapore’s reputation in China has turned from reliable to doubtful. In Chinese social media, there even have hate speeches against Singapore.
  • Among local population, we have also developed the dislikes of Chinese, Indians and other foreigners.  However, these are the places that promise opportunities for Singapore.
  • Kinship development moves from traditional Chinese Singaporeans to newly arrived Chinese from all over China.

Key points

    Low did not point out the unfavourable trends but it is a fact that we have almost lost all Chinese cultural DNA. Even there is Chinese century or (later) Indian century, how can Singaporeans benefit from it with our half-past-six language ability?   How can we stay relevant and be useful?

    Low suggests learning Mandarin (and perhaps dialects) as an overall strategy for Singapore.

    It is really too late, too challenging for Singapore as our children have developed a mindset of “hate Chinese”, look-down attitude, and English is my mother tongue.
    This, perhaps, is the trade-off and price for being a multiracial and multicultural city state. While a common language can create utility returns, better productivity and efficiency.

When you gain some, you also lose some. We gain from productivity but we lose our cultural DNA.
断章取义 Picking an advantage point

    Facing the Chinese challenge, and trying to project a common ground within Singapore, Lee conveniently picks up a point that indicating Low also agrees with his foreign policy towards China.

    Look at Lee’s comment:

    “It illustrates how domestic politics must stop at our shores, and we must all take a unified national position dealing with the external world.”

    Lee wants to create a united front that his foreign policy is supported by the oppositions too. Lee is too happy to hear Low’s comment on China: Will China seek to turn the tables on its experience of European imperialism and become an imperialist power itself?

    It is not clear Lee is using this opportunity to tell the Chinese or Singaporeans.

避重就轻 Avoiding the key point

    Lee intentionally avoids the Mandarin issue. Under his charge, from the promotion of Chinese B to bad translation and sub-standard Mandarin, Singapore’s Chinese strength and cultural DNA has reached a point of no return.  

    Low clearly wants a Mandarin policy:

    “...the learning of Mandarin should be part of the overall strategy of anchoring Singapore as a Global-Asia node, as it will help us to connect to the 1.3 billion Chinese. I would even go further to argue we should also learn our dialects as well.”

    Without proficient Mandarin, how can we benefit from the rise of China? How can we develop kinship with China?

    In fact, a Global-Asia Singapore has no Mandarin policy or strategy to take advantage of the 1.3 billion Chinese market in the Budget.  Low also reminds that “We had reaped a lot of benefits from this first-mover advantage. But this advantage is now irrelevant.”    

    Our better connections with the world, whether trade or finance, technology or environment planning, are losing comparative advantage when China further open up their market for the world.  

Option for Singapore

    In Global-Asia, Singapore will continue to be a multiracial and multi-lingual city. English will continue to be our first language. Our institutions will remain a western based philosophy.

    It is impossible for us to have a strong Chinese cultural DNA, tradition and even kinship.  

    This means to stay competitive Singapore must follow the successful examples of western cities, be it Seattle, London, New York, Boston, Berlin or Sydney.  The governments must open for discussion, transparent and accountable. The society and community must highly involved in all important decision makings.


    The recent debate between Workers’ Party and PAP about the GST timing and suspicions is a backward development for any advance and successful city. The PAP wants to restrict discussion and debate based on their own agenda. They do not allow suspicions and always use credibility as an excuse for discussion or defamation.

    Like our first-mover advantage in China, we now need to think and come out with a new strategy to engage China. The PAP too has lost their first-mover advantage in Singapore and must also come to the reality that open debate and discussion, whether inside or outside Parliament, is good for Singapore. Otherwise, the ministers will find only debating among themselves!

    If the PAP continues to use the strategies of the past to engage Singaporeans and the oppositions, Singapore will find no way to be relevant in the world, Global-Asia or belt and road. New ideas, technology, solutions are appearing everyday. It is impossible to know all these developments and so we need to engage more people to widen our knowledge base.

    The GST suspicion debate also let us see the quality of PAP 4G ministers, are they any better than the oppositions?

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