Malaysia’s new Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has indicated that he wants Malaysians working in Singapore to return to their homeland, in a recent interview.
Lim, a second-generation politician who has been detained under the Internal Security Act in Malaysia like his father, led the opposition in Malaysia for three decades before the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition won the historic General Election in May and toppled the Barisan Nasional’s six-decade grip on power.
Speaking to local journalist Sumiko Tan, Lim noted that Singapore has a knack for hiring their neighbours across the Causeway and said:
“You give employment to some of our best chaps … You look at so many industries, they’re all staffed by Malaysians.
“If we don’t value our own talent, do you blame other countries for helping them? What I need to do is to make Malaysia more attractive again…a place of hope…and I’m sure that Malaysians will come back.”
He added: “You can’t beat the food here, the space and greenery, the natural beauty. You can’t beat the people here, the heritage, the culture, everything.”
Last month, Lim told a group of entrepreneurs at an event that they can “beat Singapore at their own game” instead of “losing” to the little red dot “every time”.
According to Malaysian publication The Star, Lim shared that it is time Malaysia gave some economic competition to Singapore and that Malaysians must have a “can do spirit”. Lim is quoted as saying:
“For example, why must we lose to Singapore every time? Beat them at their own game, you can do it. Penang has beaten them many times.
“I’m not being anti-Singapore here but I’m just trying to motivate you that you can do it! After all if you look at Singapore, they use many of our people (talents).”
Noting that Singaporeans are good marketers who have claimed credit for dishes common to both Singapore and Malaysia, Lim added, “Chicken rice is theirs?…if you’re not careful fried kuay teow will also be theirs,” as the crowd laughed.
This is not the first time a member of Malaysia’s new ruling party has made jibes at Singapore, after the opposition coalition accomplished an unprecedented victory across the Causeway and ushered in Malaysia’s first transition of power since independence.
The man at the forefront of the stunning election upset, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, appeared to make a dig at the Singapore government in May.
Implying that the historic win he led across the causeway may have a ripple effect in Singapore, in an interview with the Financial Times, Dr Mahathir said: “I think the people of Singapore, like the people in Malaysia, must be tired of having the same government, the same party since independence.”
Dr Mahathir’s bold remark comes amid widespread speculation that his recent victory at the polls may have a dampening effect on relations between Malaysia in Singapore. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that he met Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for just 30 minutes after Lee travelled all the way to Putrajaya to congratulate him on his electoral win.
More recently, the 92-year-old’s announcement that Malaysia is postponing the widely anticipated KL-Singapore High Speed Rail project has contributed to talk that the strained relations Singapore and Malaysia shared before Dr Mahathir retired and came back might return.