public quarrels between Singaporeans and foreign immigrants show that
the government’s policy of mass importing of foreigners to boost the
economy and correct a declining birthrate is going badly.
July 28, 2012
INSIGHT: BY SEAH CHIANG NEE
THE possibility of violent conflicts breaking out between locals and new immigrants is occupying centre-stage in the minds of the government in Singapore.
In recent years, the level of anger has been rising as public quarrels between resentful Singaporeans and provocative foreign immigrants increased in number and intensity.
It is an early indication that the government’s policy of mass importing of foreigners to boost the economy and correct a declining birthrate is going badly.
So far, few physical cases have happened and none is racial in nature but there is rising tension between Singaporeans and some immigrants from China, the Philippines and India.
Both sides have traded insults and vulgarities online or while travelling in trains and buses. Some included personal threats and one case reportedly ended in a police report.
In the only known physical case, a student from India was scalded by hot curry thrown from a flat by angry residents over noisy foreigners at night at a hostel.
With 5.2 million people squeezed into this small city, local anger has been building up against the government’s open door policy, with the 1.9 million foreigners bearing the brunt of it for taking away local jobs.
Most immigrants are friendly and law-abiding, interested only in earning a living, but a few troublemakers are – like their hot-headed Singaporean counterparts – stirring up trouble on the web.
In fact, many are worried that the rising heat may affect their continuing stay and work here.
At one time, two fierce parallel quarrels were proceeding between groups of Singaporeans and mainland Chinese and Filipinos.
One particularly vehement immigrant threatened to “peel off” the skin of his Singapore critic. “Lock all your doors and windows”, he warned over support from fellow citizens, one of whom exhorted:
“Keep fighting, don’t worry there is no law against us. We have to express our feelings here.”
Some Chinese students called Singaporeans “dogs” “pigs” and “stupid”. One exclaimed that mainlanders were giving Singapore “face” by working and living here.
Singaporeans retaliated by telling them to return to their “backward country”. Such exchanges add fuel to an already tense situation over locals complaining about losing jobs, promotion, inflation and overcrowdedness.
Some 78% of Singaporeans polled said they were anti-foreigners, a disturbingly high figure for a society whose forefathers were themselves immigrants.
A worried Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently warned his people of the danger of social friction between new citizens and locals.
Lee, however, shows no sign of wanting to make any dramatic change. Over the weekend he presented citizenship certificates to 350 foreigners in two batches within a week.
The PM said that although the new citizens might be ethnically similar to locals, they had come with different norms, habits and attitudes. He appealed to them to embrace Singapore values and to Singaporeans to help the immigrants fit in.
The Prime Minister reminded his people of the two racial riots of 1964, which left more than 30 dead, 500 injured and thousands arrested.
By referring to past violence, Lee appeared worried that the current public emotions, if not reined in, could result in possible violence.
Even as he talked, Singaporeans were angered by the flying of a China flag next to a Singaporean one in an apartment block as the republic prepared to observe its National Day. Police has called up the resident responsible for questioning. Flying a foreign flag in public without approval is an offence.
This is not the first time. During last month’s Philippines National Day, a Filipino flag was seen fluttering outside a residential home.
Recently, some Filipino technicians tied a note in Tagalog to announce that a lift was out of order. Such acts are stirring up further anti-foreigner sentiments. The government has generally maintained a dignified silence over such incidents.
A small number of Singaporeans is cautioning their fellow citizens not to target foreigners. “It is not their fault. They’re here only to seek a better life” is a frequent comment.
Few Singaporeans believe the republic is in any danger of becoming xenophobic.
They agree that the country needs immigrants for long-term survival, but only if their quality and numbers are controlled – not taking in large numbers of workers with dubious quality as has been happening here.
A “Singaporeans First” movement has also started to pressurise the government to offer jobs to locals before considering aliens.
A “true-blue” citizen said: “Singaporeans by far are good-hearted, timid and friendly. It is the government’s unabated import of foreigners that most Singaporeans are against.”
A former Singaporean now in America wrote: “I think Singapore is already a very tolerant and welcoming society. The issue isn’t the citizens, but the government.
“Singapore is a multi-racial society: Indians, Malays, Chinese and Eurasians have to feel at home.”
On PM Lee’s concern of new fault-lines, Ron Lim blamed it on the indiscriminate admittance of immigrants with their “strange habits and attitudes and their imported brands of cultures and lifestyles”.
The influx was implemented without the government first persuading, and psychologically preparing, Singaporeans for it, he said.
Despite the social friction, Singapore is set to grant 20,000 citizenships to foreigners every year.
In appealing for greater social integration, PM Lee wants new citizens to make renewed efforts to “make friends with Singaporeans”.
“They should (also befriend) (their) children’s schoolmates, and pick up Singaporean customs, lifestyles, norms and social rules.”
That could take another one or two generations to achieve even if the immigrants decide to stay long-term here. Realistically, the numbers are not very high.
o Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information