Singapore—In a ministerial dialogue with around 700 students at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Finance Minister and Prime Minister presumptive Heng Swee Keat emphasised how important it is for the country to stay open to people from different cultures around the world.
This, he says, will give them the confidence to interact with people of different cultures, races and languages, the Straits Times (ST) reports.
He said that if Singapore becomes too exclusive, this will be to the country’s detriment.
ST quotes Mr Heng as saying, “We don’t want a world where people build walls around themselves.
Our pledge – regardless of race, language or religion – is not to be taken lightly… but really as a way of life for Singapore.
Beyond that, we ought to deepen our understanding of other people… whether they are new immigrants, our immediate neighbours, students from NTU, National University of Singapore or other universities.”
The Finance Minister answered a number of questions at the forum at NTU, ranging from topics as broad as meritocracy, the population, and technological disruption. However, the importance of staying broad-minded and open when it comes to multiculturalism was one of his main points.
Mr Heng narrated a story about one of his constituents who expressed that they were uncomfortable with having foreigners work at the company.
He said, “On the one level, many Singaporeans understand, rationally, we should have more people join us because our workforce is declining. But at the same time, emotionally, we don’t feel comfortable that there are people who appear a little different from us and I would like to keep this to my circle. This almost tribal feeling is a very deep one.”
The Finance Minister also mentioned the saying “Teochew nang kaki nang.” (Teochew people, we are the same people.) he said that Singaporeans should hold on to aspects of culture and identity, without the idea that only the people who are similar to Singaporeans should be considered “our people.”
He emphasised that this is important for economic development as well. “Asia and the world are our hinterland, and how we can add value and create value – not just for Singapore – but for the entire hinterland, will define our market. And with e-commerce, the market is no longer selling door to door. If you have a great product that can be on a great e-commerce site, you sell around the world.”
He told the students that it is good to mingle with those from different countries since this can open doors for them later on in life. “In your university days, it is the time when it is best for you to really meet your future partner,” since he himself had met his wife while at university.
When ST reported this story, some netizens seemed to be none too pleased with the Finance Minister’s comments.
One unhappy netizen named Joseph Tan wrote, “My grandparents and my parents fought hard work hard (sic) to make Singapore what it is today and we go through our NS to defence it. (sic) Your documentaries or TV dramas are always showing how this country was came through (sic) during those fishing village days how great your government is. Now, why are we inviting these people who contribute nothing but are coming in to eat the best fruits our ancestors had sweat blood and tears to grow it (sic). For this, even money can’t buy them these luxury. This is for true blue Singaporean only (sic).”
But another netizen wrote back, saying that at one point, even Mr Tan’s grandparents were foreigners. “Another reason was your grandparents were not true blue Singaporean, whatever that means. at one stage they were also foreigners. they were welcome by true blue Singaporeans back then and that’s how it was. it’s time you pay back their debts. True blue Singaporeans always welcome new settlers and immigrants. have been doing so for centuries.”
Other netizens chimed in to remind Mr Tan of the privileges he gets to enjoy as a Singaporean that foreigners do not.
And others still reminded him of the contributions of hardworking foreigners.
One commenter, whose parents came from Fujian, wrote about his own experiences.
However, there were many other netizens who seemed to share Mr Tan’s sentiments.
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