Long-time Singaporeans resent new immigrants form China despite the fact that Singapore’s carefully controlled immigration policies insures that most immigrants are ethnic Chinese (i.e., not ethnic Malay or ethnic Tamil; the government favors immigration of Straits Chinese).
The fact is that peoples drift apart, most Americans have an ancestor from somewhere in the British Isles, and Uncle Sam is an English-speaking grandson of John Bull. But we are very different from the equally English-speaking people of Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. David Hackett Fisher’s new book Fairness and Freedom is a deeply insightful look at how and why the British colonies in American and New Zealand evolved into such very different nations.
The most dramatic examples of how rapidly peoples can drift apart are Germany and Korea. East and West Germany were divided for a mere three decades; but the substantive differences between the German governments on the eastern and western sides of the Iron Curtain produced significant cultural differences. The reunion was smoothed by the economic boom.
North Korea has been far more successful in cutting off contact with the outside world than East Germany ever was. South Korea’s highly educated, prosperous population, with its strong Buddhist traditions and one of the world’s most dynamic Christian communities is light year’s away from the impoverished farmers and laborers kept in ignorance world by the elite, totalitarian rulers of North Korean Communism. Whether the peoples of these two now very different countries choose to unite as a single nation some day is an interesting question, but they certainly demonstrate how rapidly circumstances can produce dramatic cultural change.
Singaporeans, even the majority of the native-born population that has Chinese ancestry, understandably finds the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese unsettling. Many Singaporeans do not speak Chinese as a native language, and many are from Straits Chinese families that left the mother country generations and even centuries ago. Singapore was a prosperous, British colony for over a century and has been one of the worlds’ most prosperous polities for the last generation. Singapore’s combination of efficient government and lack of democracy is unique, and it has produced something of a unique local culture.
British rule and the remarkable regime run by the Lees, père et fils, has produced a culture that is different form Britain, different from China, one with a greater sense of trust, as one recent Chinese immigrant told the New York Times, “it is great to live in a country where you can trust people and trust the government.”
Singapore ranks # 5 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. China ranks #75.
That, and the fact that Singaporeans think that spitting on the sidewalk is gross, are among the more glaring reasons why Singaporeans are less than enthusiastic about the huge influx of immigrants from the mainland.
Resentment of immigration is not necessarily bigotry.