Chan Chun Sing: “Is it because I’m Chinese” remark reveals certain things S’poreans should be aware of

There would have been very different consequences if the comment was made in the 1960s.

Kayla Wong | February 15, 06:24 pm

The now-infamous “Is it because I’m Chinese?” comment made by the female passenger in the Go-Jek incident reveals deeper sentiments among some Singaporeans, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Feb. 15.

Calling the remark a “classic statement”, Chan said:

“We may laugh at it. But sometimes, whenever pressure comes to the crunch, people fall to certain markers of their identity which perhaps reveal certain things that we should be aware of.”

Chan made the comment in response to a question posed by a member of the audience after his speech at the Asia Pacific Programme for Senior Military Officers Alumni Distinguished Speakers’ Lecture.

In his speech, he talked about how Singapore is adapting its approach to meet the new security threats that have emerged in the present age.

Feb. 15 is also the day when Singapore marks Total Defence Day every year to remember the time when Singapore fell to Imperial Japan in 1942.

Multiracial & multicultural S’pore

Chan added that if this remark was made back in the 1960s, there would have been “very different consequences”.

That was when racial riots broke out due to tensions between the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Malays.

And this is why Singaporeans are trying to collectively “weave a stronger rope together”.

In a response he gave to another question, Chan mentioned that although the Housing & Development Board (HDB) ethnic integration policy was a “painful” one, due to the setting of quotas and making sure every race mingles together, it was necessary.

It is a policy that Chan said epitomises the government’s efforts at promoting multiculturalism in the country.

Chan also said although there is nothing wrong in people wanting to stick together with others of the same race, Singapore would be a very different country altogether if it allowed these ethnic enclaves to exist.

Fortunately, he said Singaporeans are learning to embrace their national identity as Singaporeans first before their racial identities.

Still, Chan noted that it is a “work in progress”.

Earlier in his speech, Chan also spoke about cultivating among Singaporeans shared values and ideals, such as “incorruptibility” and “meritocracy”, regardless of race and religion.

Here are some of the key points he made during the two hour-long session.

4 fundamentals that have helped Singapore survive

Chan said it is not easy for Singapore to be independent.

This is because historically, it is not easy for small city-states to be successful without a hinterland.

He raised the examples of the Republic of Venice and the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, saying they did not have the means to secure their lifelines, or the strategic lines of communications where trade, goods and services flow.

Chan then gave the four fundamental principles that have helped Singapore survive.

1. The ability to defend itself and maintain its lifeline to the world.

2. To be able to take care of the country’s economic well-being, in terms of job creation for the people.

3. To stay together as one people despite being rich or poor.

4. Ability to keep finding capable and committed people who are prepared to serve and “stand in the gap”.

Mastering the cyber terrain

To keep up with the times, Singapore must understand the changing terrain, Chan said.

He also said that as a small country, Singapore must do it well, and faster than anyone else.

Chan, who was Chief of Army before entering politics, also mentioned “Digital Defence”, the sixth pillar of Total Defence, which was announced by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Thursday, Feb. 14.

The addition of the sixth pillar is how Singapore’s national security approach is evolving to meet new challenges.

And for Singapore, the cyber terrain is both an opportunity and a challenge, Chan said.

“The cyber terrain, just as the physical terrain, is neutral. Whoever masters it wins.

With the greater digital trend, managing resultant challenges to societal cohesion and stability will be even more critical.”

Chan added that Singapore’s “small size, openness, and relatively short history” have always made it challenging for the country to mitigate the external influences on its systems.

However, it is “not practical nor possible” for Singapore to shut its doors as its connectivity is its lifeline as a country.

Therefore, Singapore, a small city-state with no hinterland, has to continue building its connection to the rest of the world, and remain vigilant.

This is where psychological and social defence have become even more critical.

What happens outside of Singapore affects Singapore too

Chan said that being able to see things from others’ perspectives and understand why they are doing certain things help Singapore read situations accurately, respond effectively, and for it to remain relevant.

“We are where we are because of our historical circumstances. And we should never forget that where we go will also depend very much on what is happening around us beyond the shores of Singapore.”

Chan added that as Singapore becomes more successful, there is a danger of it becoming more “insular”.

“What happens in Singapore is certainly important.

But what happens in Singapore cannot be divorced from what’s happening elsewhere.

And unless we keep a keen eye on what’s happening elsewhere, we might be blindsided by our circumstances no matter how well we do internally.”

And Singapore is under no illusion that it is free from external influences, Chan said.

“People might not be purposefully targeting us per se, but sometimes whatever they do, even if it’s not targeted at us, we can become collateral in the process.

For example, the ideological contest and power play in the Middle East is so far removed away from us, but we are never absolved from the consequences of that.

I’m sure that whatever happens in China, the U.S., and Europe, will find a way into our social fabric in different ways.

We just have to be conscious that there are such challenges.”

Total Defence involves the whole nation

In his concluding remarks, Chan said that Total Defence “involves the whole nation”.

“We have seen generations of Singaporean families supporting their sons through National Service.

We know our people are striving hard to keep our multi-religious and cultural social fabric strong.

Our businesses are sharpening themselves to ensure that our economy remains vibrant and competitive and our people continue to enjoy good jobs.”

And he hopes that generations to come would continue to hold on to the resolve of defending Singapore and keeping it safe.

Top image via S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS)

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