Asia

Singapore High Commissioner to the UK rebuts Economist article on race relations in Singapore

SINGAPORE – An Economist article on race relations and racial harmony in Singapore has drawn a rebuttal from Mr Lim Thuan Kuan, Singapore’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

In a letter published on the magazine’s website, Mr Lim stated that readers of the article titled Imperfect Harmony would not have guessed that Singapore was born as an independent country precisely because its leaders refused to countenance a political arrangement based on the dominance of one race.

He added that, having separated from Malay-majority Malaysia in 1965, the easiest path for founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues would have been to base their political legitimacy on the Chinese majority in Singapore.

“Rather, against the odds and with great courage, they insisted on building a multiracial polity.”

Mr Lim was responding to the article published on July 31, which said that Chinese chauvinism has deep roots in Singapore, and characterised tensions between the races here as having “simmered for decades”.

The Economist wrote that minorities here are marginalised, that successive Prime Ministers having been Chinese, and that Chinese privilege continues to be sustained.

“The government regulates immigration to ensure that the racial make-up remains stable, which has the effect of maintaining ethnic-Chinese dominance,” it added.

Refuting the claims, Mr Lim pointed out that the Republic’s founding leaders chose English rather than Chinese as the main language of government and education, and gave every race, religion and language group free scope to develop their heritages and cultures.

“Rather than enforce majority-Chinese dominance, they protected the rights of minorities,” he wrote, adding that a Presidential Council of Minority Rights was empowered to veto any legislation that discriminated against any racial or religious community.

Today, seven out of 20 Cabinet ministers are minorities, as are the chief justice and nine out of 33 judges on the Supreme Court.

Mr Lim also noted that Malays, Indians and Eurasians have occupied senior positions in all three branches of government, including in the armed and security forces.

Acknowledging that Singapore’s multiracial harmony remains a work in progress, he said: “As in many other multiracial societies, it is harder to be a racial minority in Singapore than a member of the majority race, and there remain group differences in social and economic achievement between ethnic groups. But all have progressed substantially year after year.

“By working unremittingly on our multiracial harmony, we have avoided the racial and religious strife that have troubled many other post-colonial nations, and for that matter, America and Britain too.”

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