OPINION: Singapore’s Foreigner Problem - Mark Fenn

The Diplomat, 21 Feb 2014
Dr. Barr concurs, noting while Singaporean Chinese and Singaporean Indians react negatively to the arrival of new immigrants from, respectively, China and India, “we must remember that there are ethnic prejudices operating within each of these societies, and some of these prejudices contain elements of racism — but more on the part of some of the foreign workers than on the part of Singaporeans. The ancestors of both Singapore Indians and Singapore Chinese come from the south of India and China, and most of the new immigrants come from the north — and in the old countries, northerners looked down upon southerners and southerners resented it.
“All these prejudices and resentments and insecurities are being imported with the foreign workers — especially the highly skilled ‘foreign talent’ — and no one in the government seems to be even aware of it. This is because the government and Singaporeans more generally have always dismissed foreign workers as being of no consequence other than the economic benefits they bring to the country. That was a viable attitude only while the numbers were manageable and the foreign workers were happy and able to remain passive and invisible. This is no longer the case. The foreign workers are now part of the social and perhaps even the political equation. They are no longer invisible.”
There are other factors at play in this growing resentment, such as the fact that Singaporean men have to do two years of national service, putting them at a disadvantage compared to foreigners. Singapore is also a fast-paced, stressful society — both a city and a country at the same time — and Singaporeans work the longest hours in the developed world, according to some studies. With an authoritarian government tightly restricting legitimate outlets for protest and the timid state-linked press rarely raising the issues in a critical manner, the backlash against foreigners has been all too predictable. Full story