Singapore— Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam ended a speech in Parliament on Tuesday (May 11) by challenging Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai to a debate on CECA, the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.
Mr Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party, has in the past called for a review of the agreement.
In the wake of a hate crime last Friday (May 7) when a 55-year-old Singaporean-Indian woman was kicked in the chest and called racial slurs, racism and xenophobia were discussed in Parliament.
Mr Shanmugam is quoted by CNA as saying: “If we go down this route, eventually all Indians can be a target of hate.”
He then went on to say that some websites foment racism on purpose, with derogatory descriptions of Indians.
“This bad behaviour and open expression of racism – I invite all here to condemn. There have been several canards about CECA, promoted by a whispering campaign.”
Any MP who believes that CECA is the problem may put up a motion for debate, he added.
And then he addressed the PSP NCMP.
“I am looking at you, Mr Leong. I invite you to put up a Motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false.
“I hope responsible opposition parties will take a stand on this, notwithstanding that many of these sites that promote xenophobia support you,” he added.
The NCMP clarified later that neither he nor the PSP is xenophobic, but “We are just stating the economic effects (that) some of these free trade agreements have had on our economy.”
Mr Leong added that he plans to take up the minister’s challenge to a debate at “an appropriate time in the future”.
As for the Workers’ Party chief, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, he also made it clear later that “There is no place for racism in Singapore – no ifs, no buts.”
On Wednesday (May 12), lawyer and opposition leader Lim Tean responded as well, saying that the People’s Voice Party should be at the debate too.
He also questioned why the debate should only be in Parliament.
In a Facebook post, he wrote, “PV is the original anti-CECA Party and the only one which has called for its abolition. No debate is worthwhile without PV.”
Mr Lim added that he hopes he would not be excluded from the debate again, as he said he was during the general election last July.
Even if the People’s Action Party had numerous representatives in the debate, this would not bother him, given that he faced several lawyers on his own when defending Messrs Leong Sze Hian and Terry Xu, who were sued by PM Lee for libel.
“We shall demonstrate to the Singapore People how this absurd treaty has beggared our own local workforce and how our economy has become dulled and unproductive as a result of an over-reliance on cheap foreign labour brought about by pseudo free-trade agreements such as CECA. So bring on the debate Shanmugam. PV is more than ready!”
Mr Kumaran Pillai, publisher of The Independent Singapore, commented on the issue as well:
“Some of our readers have expressed concern over the delay in closing our borders to high-risk countries. It is unfortunate that there have been racial flare-ups over the weekend involving an elderly Indian woman. Racism has raised its ugly head again and it is deplorable to see people trying to capitalise on this humanitarian crisis to advance their own agendas.
“I just got off an interview with the chairman of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry about their fundraising efforts to help the hospitals in India. Dr Chandroo said that many local businessmen, including those from the Chinese community, have stepped forward to help out. Our society is not as fractious as they make it out to be.
“It is easy to point at the fault lines – what we need now is not more identity politics; we need our political leaders to call for calm and we need to work together to overcome the current crisis.”
Mr Pillai is also the media spokesperson and a member of the central executive committee of the PSP.
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