Singapore—Speaking on the last day of the Singapore Bicentennial Conference on October 1, Tuesday, noted historian and Sinologist Wang Gungwu highlighted the similarities between Singapore and Hong Kong, both of which are former British colonies.
And while Singapore seems to have found its identity in the world, the historian said that Hong Kong seems to continue to wrestle to find its own.
Professor Wang is recognized internationally for his studies concerning China and South East Asia’s history of civilisation. He made the remarks comparing the paths Hong Kong and Singapore have taken in a session called Separations and Connections.
He asserted that a part of Hong Kong’s difficulty in finding its way is that even during its period of being a colony of the UK, its connections and dependence on China as a hinterland remained profound, the Straits Times (ST) reports.
But for Singapore, two historic separations made forging its way easier, in a manner of speaking, said Professor Wang.
The first separation he mentioned was after 1819, when the British colonizers endeavoured to separate Singapore from Malaysia and the archipelago which was under the control of the Dutch, which prepared the way for Singapore’s eventual independence much later on, as well as its evolution as a global city.
Its second separation occurred in 1965, upon Singapore’s independence when it split from Malaysia.
He said of this historic period, “The people who managed Singapore somehow managed to grasp the idea that connecting with the distant and separating from the near was actually quite a good formula.”
However, he averred that Hong Kong had not really separated from China even in its days as a British colony.
“All the people in China were actively involved in Chinese affairs and China was actively involved in Hong Kong affairs from 1840 right down to the present. It never really stopped.
That connection is so close that it is so difficult for Hong Kongers today to try and seek and find their own identity.”
And when the British finally left the territory, the connection to China came back in full swing.
Professor Wang said, “In the past, it was a connection between two worlds – a balance between connecting with China and connecting with Britain.”
But in Singapore, by the time the UK tried to reconnect Singapore within the Asian context in the 1860s, the “British Malaya” endeavour proved to be an unsuccessful effort.
Professor Wang, however, explained that these separations have not completely been to Sinagpore’s advantage.
“Two centuries of separation has developed a habit of mind which makes it much easier for Singapore to connect with distant places – the farther away the better – whereas connecting nearby is somewhat less comfortable.”
Therefore, the historian said, the county must still exert effort in forging closer bonds within the region even as it maintains strong ties with distant connections, which takes a deep rethinking about separations and connections.
“Reconnection is not impossible but it is a challenge being part of South-east Asia, as a new nation in the middle of 10 other nations, right in the middle of something much more complicated as the world shrinks and the superpowers focus on this part of the world.
This challenge requires Singapore to do both – to connect with places far away in order to survive economically, politically and security-wise, and unless it reconnects with the neighbourhood, with the nearby states, it will find it extremely difficult to face the next two decades.”