Do we really have to suck up to the Chinese like that?

This afternoon, I got a Channel NewsAsia SMS news alert that read:

PM Lee says outrage in China over anti-China protests, especially among Chinese youths, will have lifetime consequences beyong Beijing Olympics.

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief for a moment! Could it be that the Singapore Prime Minister actually criticized the Chinese for their anti-western vitriol that the world has become so accustomed to whenever nationalist sentiments are provoked? (PM Lee himself was a recipient of that Internet vitriol when he visited Taiwan in 2004 just weeks before becoming Prime Minister.)

When I visited the CNA website to read the whole report, I realised I was dead wrong. PM Lee actually said in a speech at the London School of Economics Asia Forum:

The outrage in China, especially among the young, can be read on the flooded Internet bulletin boards, all carrying virulent anti-foreign sentiments. Pity they are in unintelligible Chinese ideographs. Were they in the English language, young Americans and Europeans would realise that these displays of contempt for China and things Chinese will have consequences in their lifetime, well beyond the Olympic Games.

If I understand correctly, what PM Lee meant was:

Those stupid ang mohs should have never insulted the Chinese people by voicing support for Tibetan independence and protesting against the Olympics being held in Beijing. Look what has happened now: 1.3 billion Chinese people are outraged. You folks will live to regret it the rest of your life, because China is a future military and economic superpower which you cannot afford to offend.

PM Lee had also said:

No protesting group truly expects that their public display of anger and outrage at China’s treatment of Tibetans or ethnic Han dissidents will change China’s policy when it affects its core security concerns. They know no government can give ground on any core issue under such public duress, whatever the merits of the arguments.

You see, PM Lee is viewing the world from the worldview of this little oyster called Singapore. He seems to have forgotten that many autocratic governments, from the time of the French Revolution to the Philippines’ Marcos and Indonesia’s Suharto were toppled by “people power” movements.

Sure, governments in countries like China and Singapore are at no risk (now) of falling in that manner because they have got an iron grip of all the levers of power.

But to pronounce that the Chinese government will not be moved by these protests is equally wishful thinking, especially in the age of the Internet and free flow of information.
I’m sure the Tibetans are watching the protests around the world and gaining lots of inspiration from them.

These are erudite words of advice to the whole Western world, coming from a leader who has yet to address the problems in his own backyard, like an escaped terrorist and rocketing inflation.

In his effort to butter up the Communist Chinese, PM Lee has revealed how out of step he and his government are with regard to the growing tide of democratization and justice that is sweeping even our end of the world.

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Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

23 thoughts on “Do we really have to suck up to the Chinese like that?”

  1. Hi Gerald,

    1) I cannot stand the way Singapore suck up to China. Yes, we need them more than they need us. But there is no need to pander to them the way we do now. Getting George Yeo to warn Taiwan not to go independent won us the traitor’s award and the “snot” accolade from the Taiwanese. Gee, I thought the Taiwanese stood by us all these years. We do not have to support their views on independence, but there is no need to tell them what to do. Supporting the crackdown in Tibet is the latest joke from Singapore. At times like this, Singapore can be silent, or perhaps “express grave concern”.

    2) Despite all the pandering and the massive philantrophic effort in Suzhou, the Olympic torch relay gave Singapore a miss despite passing through BK, KL and JKT. (If I remember correctly, you can form a pretty good BK-KL-SGP-JKT regression line.) I wonder if MFA or our Singapore Sports Council can explain this.

    3) China must be regretting skipping Singapore now. We would have mobilized 30 companies of commandos, SoF, Gurkha, Guards, Armour, Infantry, NSF, NSMen, etc. fully armed with automatic weapons to complement the 30-member “Beijing Olympic Games Sacred Flame Protection Unit” accompanying the torch. We’ll even have snipers covering the entire route to take out anyone who even comes close. Heck, we’ll even mobilize the parking aunties. Not even an ant can get close to the torch.

    4) The last line of the CNA article reads, “Mr Lee stressed that societies will need to adapt and build defence mechanisms to cope with these new circumstances.” I wonder what these defence mechanisms are in our context. More proxy servers? Elite squads of pro-government bloggers? Cyber-guards to post annonymous comments on forums?

    5) As your friend, I applaud but cringe when I read some of the thoughts you have on PM Lee and the government in general. Singapore is not a police state, and PM Lee is a gentleman. You won’t be sent to the gulag for airing your views. But you probably remember the Mr Brown incident and I would hate to see something similar happen to you if you gain a degree of prominence in the future.

    Regards,
    An Old Friend

  2. Well, while visiting Washington DC, SM Goh emphasised the fact that China must hold talks with the Dalai Lama to solve this crisis?

    “Singapore’s Senior Minister said dialogue with the Dalai Lama is the only way China can improve the situation.

    “The way forward will be for Chinese leaders to talk to some representatives of the Dalai Lama, and better still if they can talk directly to the Dalai Lama,” said Goh Chok Tong. “I think that is the only way for them to contain this problem.” (http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/afp/080409/usa/china_unrest_tibet_oly2008_us_bush_dalailama)

    When I read PM Lee’s words, I was utterly shocked and appalled by this need to ingratiate ourselves to such an extent.

  3. Old Friend – thanks for your concern. I’ve been choosing my words very carefully and will continue to do so. But we cannot remain silent when we see something fundamentally wrong with our own country.

    An Old Friend, can you email me at sgpatriot(at)gmail.com. Would like to ask u something offline.

  4. you can dismiss it as sucking up. But the PM does have a point.

    China isn’t just another country run by a dictatorship. It isn’t like an Iran or Iraq or Indonesia. There’s 4000 years of civilization and a history of being the so-called centre of the world behind that country. There’s 1.4 billion people over there.

    If any third party was to sound off on the dangers to everyone of having the West clash with China, who better to do that than Singapore?

  5. Jason – a dictatorship is a dictatorship. Whether the country has 4,000 years of history or 1.4 billion people is immaterial.

    The Singapore Govt is always so smug, thinking that it is so visionary and able to present an objective strategic viewpoint of Asia.

    Truth be told, the only ones who love hearing our leaders lecture the West are the dictators in the Middle East, Africa and Asia…because it gives them hope that they can continue to be dictatorial and still deliver economic progress to keep their people satisfied and keep themselves in power.

  6. We are not a police state but behave like one. PM Lee is not gentleman enough but appear to be a perfect one. And he is not courageous enough to be his own man.

    He does not appear to be at the apex of the government, he spends time on fixing opposition and buying voters while his real job is handled by other people.

  7. May I also add that I am sick and tired of Chinese govt sycophants and Sinophiles quoting the “4,000 years of history and 1.4 billion Chinese people” line.

    I guess its the right of the Chinese people to use that line so serve their own ends. But I feel Singaporeans who have no connection to China should not be sprouting that same PRC propaganda.

    Jason, I mean you no disrespect. This is not directed at you alone.

  8. Hi

    Singapore is not trying to suck up to china. It is in Singpaore’s interest to maintain a stable relationship with china or any other countries for that manner. What I think our PM is trying to point out that violent protest that we saw in London and Paris are definately not going to further the cause of tibet.

    I am studying in the US now, and i totally agree with Singapore’s ideology that freedom of speech is not the only right! There are many rights that we singaporeans have become acustomed to that overseas angMohs do not have. We can walk in the streets at 4am, go to school safely, no violent crimes etc!! I would rather be Singpaore anytime!!

    Freedom of speech is overhyped! Going after touch bearers in wheel chairs is wrong also!! For china to change, it will take a while, pls dun expect immediate change!! wake up!

  9. Hi anon 1:32PM,

    Wait till you have 6.5 million people running around in Singapore (oops, MM changed it to 5.5m), let’s see if we are able to walk around at 4am in this small little city. By the way, the United States of America is really really a big country, as you would have experienced it first hand.

    Hope that you come back after you have completed your US studies. We need people to reach the 5.5m population benchmark. Hope that there are seats left for the elderly and pregnant women in the trains when that time comes.

    Thanks, and have a nice weekend in the US.

  10. Gerald,
    “Truth be told, the only ones who love hearing our leaders lecture the West are the dictators in the Middle East, Africa and Asia…because it gives them hope that they can continue to be dictatorial and still deliver economic progress to keep their people satisfied and keep themselves in power.”

    How true it is ! Indeed very true as what my foreign friend oversea told me when the dictator of oppressive countries will often use mainstream media to disseminate propaganda to often highlight Singapore as a example of how economic growth can be achieved through dictational regime and no other ways. No joke !

  11. The appeal to history is irrelevant. China may very well have been more advanced than the west in the middle ages but arrogance brought it to disgrace at the very hands of the West in the modern century.

    To Anon,
    I can say also with equal force that the right to freedom of speech has been steadily dismissed and trampled in Singapore for reasons of politics. To use US as an eg is to ignore other examples where such a freedom has not caused the downfall of society, ie Canada, the United Kingdom etc. In addition such places are increasingly multiracial and cosmopolitan. Furthermore this disdain for activism is an erroneous concept; if one just sat back and waited then there would be no change. Society is where we are today because people chose to do somethign and not sit back.

    Gerald,
    while this ball carrying is indeed sickening it appears to my mind that this seems to be the principle guiding Singapore’s diplomacy; we try to please everyone on the block. The irony is that at the end we end up pleasing nobody.

  12. Dear Gerald,

    As I had mentioned in the past. It is always interests that guides Singapore’s foreign policy rather than principles.

    While I do not condone the protestors for trying to douse the flame (trying to grab the torch from a wheelchair bound lady is prepostorous), yet it must be said that Singapore does indeed appears to suck up to China.

    It is sad to note that at times our country has allowed interests to override our principles. I am not an expert in the Tibet situation but the chinese refusal to even engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama is not helping the situation.p

    It is sad that our leaders chose to speak on this while at the same time ignoring the views of its own people. Maybe the leaders should spend more time looking for Selamat, lowering inflation, creating more jobs, create more platforms for freedom of speech, saving the environment…etc rather than go round the globe as China’s unofficial cheerleader.

    Regards
    Newcastle

  13. You see, Singapore is trying to present itself as a bridge between East and West. It prides itself with knowing the thinking of both sides, so that we can dish out advice to them. Unfortunately, our anti-democratic mindsets combined with our interest of pandering to the economically powerful, colour our worldview.

    Newcastle – “China’s unofficial cheerleader”. That’s a good line!

  14. hah, discolour our world view, more like!

    agree that we have always voiced our support by taking the brownnosing stance based on personal interests rather than principles in general. but that’s pragmatic singaporeans for you.

    once the Chinese sees through these effusive remarks and recall the incident in Taiwan at the same time, we’ll then realise how we’ve been digging our own well right from the very beginning.

  15. I have always thought of the Lama as nothing more than a snide, conniving bastard, someone akin to the Vatican.

    When the Chinese were not in Tibet, the majority of the masses were living below the poverty line: The parasitic Lamas were basically terrorizing the masses, forcing them into beautiful opulent palaces like the sickening Potamala Palace and basically setting terrible punishments for dissenters, chief amongst which was eye gorging.

    While the Chinese govt aren’t exactly saints, they have brought about a massive improvement in the average Tibetan home, and I for one will pick the commies over the Lamas to rule Tibet.

    The Dalai Lama has no interest in setting up a democracy in Tibet. They want to set up a theocracy based on ancient archaic laws so that once again, the Lamas are back in power.

    Sure, I support Tibetan independence, but not with those evil monks in control.

    Beast

  16. Thanks for your insights. I’m sure economically, Tibet is doing better now than in pre-Communist days. But economic progress is not a substitute for freedom. Not to say that Tibet will be free if it was ruled by Lamas.

    Fundamentally, I am simply opposed to one big country marching into a smaller one and taking over not just the people but their culture as well.

  17. I don’t think the Lamas are the best candidates with regards to democracy and emancipation. They will simply drag the whole country back to the Dark Ages, as religion is apt to do when given the chance to rule.

    Beast

  18. “Fundamentally, I am simply opposed to one big country marching into a smaller one and taking over not just the people but their culture as well.”

    And yet this had been the way of all things until we became “enlightened.” Boundaries and borders were always flexible in the past depending on military might / nouse / strategy / diplomacy / etc. Without the over running of other countries we would have a very different history. Not to say it is right but what we have today as many ‘nations’ is so artificial because they are simply lines drawn on a map. Often on the whim of the former imperial masters (think East Africa and South Asia as prime examples).

    What we refer to as countries are by and large artificial constructs. That is why when push comes to shove many people fall back in support of their ethnic origins rather than their country. A Gujarati is a Guju first and an Indian second. A Gujarati Muslim is a Muslim first, a Guju second and an Indian thirdly.

    Language and culture (including religion) are far greater determinants of allegiance than international borders. A person can change their nationality but not their ethnic origin. That is why we have the saying “Blood is thicker than water.”

  19. Gerald,

    I agree that our Singapore govt should not pander and also not be seen as pandering to the official PRC line. However, I disagree that the anti-China protests have nothing to do with us. Contrary to western propaganda, the protests were not only directed at the “evil” PRC govt. There were racist elements in the way the demonstrations were portrayed and exploited that disparaged the Chinese race. In the western consciousness, the Chinese race is too alien, too different and consequently somehow less human and civilized than it is. I did not grow up in Singapore as a Chinese chauvinist. I’ve become more sensitive to such slights after traveling, living and studying in the US. Hubris of innate western cultural superiority must be challenged and debunked. This will not happen overnight, but the world is changing. It is when China regains her strength in realpolitik terms that the Chinese race will be respected. As an ethnic Chinese I understand and agree with what PM said.

    I oppose Tibetan independence because it could break up the PRC and consequently delay or derail her re-emergence as a global power. China has a moral and legal right to preserving her territorial and national integrity. If the west wants to turn back the clock, why not return Texas and California to Mexico for a start?

    I pray for the day when China can truly balance the west in economic, military and cultural terms.

  20. Anon @12.28am – Your views, while reflective of the Chinese ground here, belie a dangerous lack of understanding of the geo-political situation in our region.

    You said you “pray for the day when China can truly balance the west in economic, military and cultural terms.”

    As a Singaporean and a Southeast Asian, I will dread the arrival of that day as long as China remains an autocratic, Communist state.

    If you think the Chinese will be benevolent hegemons just because they share the same skin colour as you, you are mistaken. History has proof of this folly — just look at how the Japanese treated their fellow Asians during WWII.

    What we need in this region is a balance of power — a balance that is tilted in favour of democratic powers, whether Western (ie, US) or Eastern (ie, Japan, Korea, Taiwan).

    I am not suffering from Pinkerton’s syndrome. I’ve lived in the US and I know all about some of their condescending attitudes towards Asians.

    But I urge you to jettison your ethnocentric leanings and understand that we are Singaporeans, not China Chinese. Stop imagining that we Singaporean Chinese will somehow be able to hold our head higher with the rise of a Great China.

    The Chinese govt doesn’t give a hoot about our tiny island (see how they skipped us for the Olympic torch relay?). There’s no need for us to be their cheerleaders.

  21. Gerald, Singapore does not have the nature resources to trade or barter trade with resources hungry China with its huge population.

    Sg is nothing to China. But unless Sg can behave like a puppet on the China string, then Sg is of use to China in Southeast Asia.
    See it this way, Suzhou project is publicity project by sg. Letting the Sg leader a thump up sign is too much for China to have this noisy useless insect around. Just hold up the insect from a distance from its delicous meal and see how it jumping up and down — is a much more musing show.

    China has a long history of those China control-freaks deciding on the China fate. And China still thinks it can outsmart others. It is their in-bornt talents.

    The unoffical cheerleader to China has happened not once before. This is a common trait seems in Chinese characteristic for some reason. What do you expect from the leaders who use to dictate, interfering or bossy to its pple for so long. They become big or pig head, too sure of themselves and self-righteous to the extend of poking their noses where they are not welcome.

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