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S’pore Chinese Should Be Sensitive To Minorities’ Needs, Says Lawrence Wong

Singapore’s Chinese Majority Must Be Sensitive & Conscious Of Minorities’ Needs

Recently, Singapore’s reputation for being a harmonious multiracial and multicultural country has been under the microscope.

This is due to recent incidents of racial insensitivity.

Thus, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong has suggested that Singapore’s Chinese majority be more sensitive to minorities’ needs.

However, he also acknowledged that the Chinese have their concerns, and minorities have recognised that.

Singapore’s multiracialism not perfect: Lawrence Wong

Mr Wong said this in a speech on Friday (25 Jun) at a forum on the topic of “Race & Racism in Singapore”.

It was organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

In his keynote speech, the minister said that Singapore’s multiracialism wasn’t perfect.

So Singaporeans have to keep on working at it step by step.

To that end, he gave a few suggestions on how to do this.


Recognise that minorities have it tougher

Firstly, if you’re part of the majority and think your life is tough, those who’re part of the minority have it even tougher.

We have to recognise that minorities’ lives are tougher in any multiracial society, Mr Wong said.

And this is true everywhere in the world, in ways like:

  1. Job discrimination
  2. Rental discrimination
  3. When everybody else in a group speaks a language they don’t understand
  4. When dealing with racial stereotypes or insensitive comments from friends, neighbours, co-workers, and schoolmates/teachers

Minorities’ hurt is real

When such things happen they really hurt, even when they don’t happen often.

And when people dismiss it as a casual remark or a joke, the hurt doesn’t get better, Mr Wong said, adding,

So, it is important for the majority community in Singapore to do its part, and be sensitive to and conscious of the needs of minorities.

He also believes that Singapore’s majority Chinese “understands this”.

Make minorities feel comfortable

However, Mr Wong suggests we take an extra step.

We should make our minorities “feel comfortable”, no matter whether they’re our friends, co-workers or neighbours, by adhering to this immortal rule,

Treat others in the way you would like to be treated.

We should also teach our children to abide by this principle by setting an example with our actions, he added.

If your family members or friends slip up from time to time, remind them, he urged.

Chinese also have needs & concerns

At the same time, Mr Wong also knows that the majority Chinese have “legitimate needs and concerns”.

He’s thus grateful that minorities have recognised this.

Consider older generation when talking about ‘Chinese privilege’

Mr Wong also cautioned about using the term “Chinese privilege”.

Those who use it should consider how it applies to the generation of Chinese Singaporeans who’re more comfortable using Chinese.

They may feel they’ve already given up a lot as Singapore embraced multiracialism. For example, Chinese-language schools and dialects were phased out decades ago in favour of English.

They may also think they’re at a disadvantage now that Singapore and the world is predominantly English-speaking.

Thus, they might not agree that they have Chinese privilege as they don’t feel privileged at all.

2. Don’t insist on maximum entitlements & rights

Secondly, Mr Wong maintained that Singaporeans must continue to speak up and have civilised discussions.

However, no group should insist on maximum entitlements and rights.

Neither should anyone react negatively in response to any perceived slight or insensitivity by describing it as an injustice.

The danger is if a group “jostles aggressively” to assert its identity and rights over others, others will push back.

This emphasis on differences rather than commonality will fuel tribalism, hostility and vengefulness. The result, Mr Wong said, will be that,

Minority groups will not win, and the outcome will be most unhappy for the majority community too.

Thus, we should approach calls for change in ways that deepen mutual understanding and expand the space for agreement.

3. Govt policies not cast in stone

Lastly, Mr Wong said the Government’s policies are not cast in stone.

Thus, if Singaporeans have concerns over policies like the GRC system, the HDB’s Ethnic Integration Policy or SAP schools, they will be reviewed by means of dialogue.

For example, the issue of nurses wearing the tudung at work.

This dialogue between the Government and the various communities “cannot be rushed”, he added.

Not possible to ensure work-pass holders meld seamlessly

Mr Wong also touched upon migrant workers, amid concerns on their importation and the impact on Singapore society.


He said it’s not possible for the Government to ensure that the ethnic mix of work-pass holders matches our resident population.

Neither is it possible to ensure that they “meld seamlessly into our social fabric”.

To that, the minister said,

We understand these concerns.

However, these workers are “crucial to our economy”, he added, and will eventually return to their home countries.

The Government will review work-pass policies so that they can help us prosper economically but fit into our social context.

The balance must be constantly adjusted, and this comes with living in a diverse society, in a globalised world.

Mr Wong’s speech was followed by a Q&A session in which he answered the perennial question — why can’t someone who’s not Chinese be Singapore’s Prime Minister (PM)?

Something we might not think of

We welcome Mr Wong’s call for Singapore’s Chinese majority to be more sensitive to the needs of minorities. That’s something people might not think of unless it’s pointed out to us.

For example, the lady who beat a gong while her neighbour was performing a Hindu prayer really needs to learn a thing or 2 about sensitivity.

Hopefully, his words will prompt Singaporeans to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and be more conscious about how we treat them.

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Jeremy Lee

Analog person making do with a digital world.

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