A Gesture Misunderstood

When Singaporeans go abroad, whether as tourists, students, or to work, invest or for some, to migrate, they expect to be welcomed and treated well. Living in a new environment, with new culture and customs can be intimidating in itself. And it will be made more difficult if faced with bigotry and hatred.

Similarly, people from other countries coming to Singapore for whatever reasons, would want to feel welcomed as well. And whether we like it or not, people will stream into our country because Singapore is an open economy; highly dependent on trade with other countries. With success and globalisation, it has become a global metropolis; a Mecca for people to come and seek their fortune. Despite what some detractors may say, Singapore need foreigners either as tourists, workers or investors. And also as new citizens because Singaporeans cannot replenish themselves fast enough. Foreigners flocking to our shores are not a new phenomenon. We are all sons and daughters of immigrants.

So why was it when PM Lee said that Singapore belongs to everyone who lives and works on this island, he was received with derisions from some quarters? One cabby even wrote a petition for PM Lee to resign. Their argument is that PM Lee is being unfair towards Singaporeans. Singapore they say, belongs to Singaporeans and Singaporeans only. And to say otherwise will be a crime worthy of impeachment which is basically what the petition intends to achieve.

But looking at PM Lee’s statement, he was only expressing a welcoming gesture to foreigners. He simply wanted to put them at ease. Nothing in his speech implies that Singapore does not belong to Singaporeans. He did not say that foreigners would take precedence over Singaporeans.  It belongs to everyone, Singaporeans included. And no leaders of any country in the world will say that foreigners are not welcomed. Even dictators won’t do that.

Do we have to treat foreigners badly in order to make us feel good? Must we be implicit in our words and actions to say that we are the masters of this land and foreigners are beneath us?  And to make us feel even more special, why not we implement the apartheid system? Have separate trains and buses for foreigners. Separate toilets. Separate food courts.  It may sound ridiculous but that is what the critics are basically alluding towards.

So before we deem a welcoming speech as treacherous, we should sit back and think about how thrilled  we would be if we were in another country and the leader welcomed us with open arms. It would surely make our journey  that much more navigable.


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