On the Foreigner-Fear Sentiment and Inequality in Singapore

Roy Ngerng CPF Protest

Photo credit: Zimbio / Suhaimi Abdullah /Getty Images AsiaPac

Someone asked me a question on how the anti-foreigner sentiment in Singapore has developed in Singapore on my Facebook and I thought to repost my response here:

I think it is necessary to understand why we carry unfavourable sentiments towards certain nationalities or ethnic populations. If I am to understand these sentiments, as to why some people might start to point out behavioural characteristics of others to take issue with, this could be due to our displeasure with their greater numbers and thus our discomfort at feeling displaced or marginalised in what we see as our home. If this is indeed the case, then it would be wiser to identify the root cause of how the issue of the increase in population came about, and this should be rightfully pinpointed at the government because this is a policy issue.

It is unethical for a government to bring in large numbers of people without care to their welfare and that of the local population and to also ignore the consequent social effects.

Why are the characteristics of certain groups or people discriminated against? I will speak for myself – there are times when you visit other countries and as a Singaporean or as a Chinese person, you get judged for who you are. But why do people do that? They do so because of a lack of understanding of who I am or of certain assumptions about my cultural or national background. At times, these are ideas even we might not have thought about of own cultural or national background. If so, this would mean that for those who discriminate against us as well as for ourselves, we would need to question the relevance of such ideas and seek to understand them or for others to understand as well. As such, I would have appreciated if they could speak to me and understand who I am, instead of use aspects of my cultural or national background as a gauge to judge me.

For Singapore’s situation, similarly some of us might feel displaced in Singapore and thus aggrieved. For some Singaporeans, we are uncomfortable with first, being economically marginalised by the loss of our jobs or wages, and second, then feeling culturally insecure because of the seeming loss of the ‘Singapore identity’. This might result in a rise of negative sentiments towards non-Singaporeans.

But foreigners are not the issue. The issue is that Singaporeans feel that because we are not able to advocate to the government for policies to protect our jobs and wages that we turn towards foreigners instead, turning them into the symbols of our loss and anger. We then start creating ideas about them, the way others would create about us if we were overseas, whether real or perceived.

However, it is the case that foreigners have been coming into Singapore in larger numbers and as such, a certain sense of being replaced and a sense of the loss of “home” is becoming felt among Singaporeans. Also, culturally, Singaporeans are worried at not being able to integrate, from both sides. If so, what are the solutions?

From an economic perspective, it is important to ensure that the jobs of Singaporeans are secured and Singaporeans will not be liable for unemployment, and that their wages are adequate as well. Thus legislation need to be put in place to ensure employment security and for a minimum wage to be put in place. In the longer term, when the economy readjusts itself to ensure the employment and wages of Singaporeans are taken care of, there will be a larger allowance for us to be able to also take care of the labour needs of the other workers in Singapore, as what would happen in a more equal society.

From a social angle, should there be programmes that encourage a cultural understanding and integration with Singapore? Also, the government has to be fair and impartial in its application of the law. As it is today, Singaporeans are aware that the current government’s application of the law is favourable towards richer foreigners (and Singaporeans as well) and this puts Singaporeans on an unfair stead, which has resulted in many Singaporeans feeling as second-class citizens and the resultant anger.

As such, this then becomes a larger question on fairness and equality, in that Singaporeans are feeling insecure that the government that they have voted for have allowed them to be sidelined in their own country. From a larger perspective then, it might be fair to say that the discrimination that certain Singaporeans feel towards foreigners might be due to the economic, social and political inequality and the feeling of insecurity in your own home. Naturally, if one is to feel threatened with their livelihoods and lives in their own home, they would start to react in emotively negative ways towards others they feel are threatening their existence.

However, if so, as I had mentioned, the issue should be pointed back at the government. Foreigners, by themselves, have by and large, not directly mistreated Singaporeans. The same applies for Singaporeans when we go overseas. Our sense of displeasure with their cultural traits could arguably have arose because of our sense of feeling threatened as well. Let’s imagine that we live in a fairer and more equal society where our livelihoods are taken care of, will we become angry at others? Chances are, we are much less likely to do so.

If so, policy measures need to ensure that the citizens of Singapore feel a sense of security and equality. Again, we have to rightfully point this back to the PAP government, which has arguably refused to create a climate of equality in Singapore but which has allowed both Singaporeans and foreigners to feel displaced. If so, a change of government is in order since the current government has refused to address the grievances of Singaporeans.

Of course, different groups of people have as well to introspect and understand how they can improve themselves. Similarly, for Singaporeans who go overseas, we would also need to be cognisant of our behaviour and how we have to be sensitive to the local environments. The same applies to foreigners in Singapore. On a related note, foreigners in Singapore might also start to feel displeasure towards Singaporeans because of the feelings of being discriminated against. In that sense, sensitivity would also mean to understand the sociopolitical backdrop as to how such feelings of anti-foreigner sentiments have come about, as detailed above, and how we can then take part in a conversation to point our focus back in the right direction – towards the government.

To also add – there have been studies which have shown that because Singapore has the highest income inequality among the developed countries, we also have the lowest levels of trust and one of the highest levels of self-enhancement, where people are likely to perceive themselves as better as someone else. 

And this is rooted in the inequality in the sense that more people have to fend for themselves economically and thus do not trust that another person will look out for their interests. Also, the system has resulted in people (over-)believing in themselves to get ahead and this has also widen the social divide and thus caused people to perceive themselves as more important than someone else.

As such, the fear towards foreigners is rooted in the economic inequalities as well. As much as Singaporeans need to have the social awareness to learn and grow, the income inequality in Singapore just simply does not allow for this to happen, on a structural level.

It might even be tempting to compare Singapore with the other developed countries and lament the lack of “First World” mindsets. But if one is to understand how the rich-poor gap is the widest and where the large swath of Singaporeans are simply not protected structurally and policy-wise, then one would understand the seemingly stunted social development in Singapore that is affecting Singaporeans or non-Singaporeans alike.

The social degeneration in Singapore is not specific to Singaporeans – it is not a cultural problem. It is a problem rooted in the economic inequalities and in a government which refuses to confront this problem whilst continuing to focus on profit-making and thus allowing themselves to enrich themselves while the majority of Singaporeans languish economically and socially, as what you are seeing now.

In the eventuality, it is important to question our prejudicial feelings and to put them in perspective. For a population which has become disempowered in our attempts to advocate to the government for change and which has fallen on deaf ears, we might be tempted to take it out on another individual, since this is only as much as we feel we can do. However, the back and forth discrimination against one another will only lead to the degeneration of our society and does not bode well for the long term viability of Singapore as a nation nor can such social and economic divide sustain itself.

A wiser approach would be to revisit our attitudes and to then start to feel empowered and refocus on the government, to ensure that either a policy change or a change of government can bring parity, equality and fairness, and justice back to Singapore. In such case where we would be able to achieve better equality in Singapore and such discriminatory attitudes still exist, then we would need to question our own personal motivations and find out where the insecurities are arising from and to address them.

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24 comments

  1. yts

    Construction post is opened for you, you can join them. Domestic maids crowding our shopping malls, these post are also opened for you. Ang Mo – you see them in management around Asia not just Singapore often. Do we always see Sgreans in management outside Sg or even in HK mncs office? Hardly. Why is that so that so few sgreans not making it outside sg? Dont even need to talk about global.

  2. Jet

    Ah gong ah gong take care of me always. Don’t forsake me. Give me your inheritance so I can live comfortably. Sob sob.

    • PAPer Tiger

      Wonder how much the Lee kiddies received upon LKY’s mati…a fraction of our national CPF again?

  3. Plim

    Has it ever occurred to you that if not for the foreign workers we Singaporeans will have no job ? If you don’t understand why go study more. Long before singapore take in foreign workers, Most other big countries like usa already did so. And if they need them what about tiny Singapore ? Simple logic people know but they just ignore it and criticize for the sake of personal agenda.

  4. rizkhaos

    I’m not anti immigration per se.
    But immigration here is dealt so badly, we import cheap labour from poor countries and exploit those workers with horrible living conditions. It’s appalling if you see their living quarters.

    Then they try to bring in the rich investors who get tons of tax cuts because of the way Singapore has citizen tax and foreigner tax. They profit off the fruits of Singaporean labour while contributing little.

    You can say the investors create jobs for Singaporeans, well I put it you this way, why not allow more room for Singaporean entrepreneurs to create jobs for Singaporeans, when Lee’s administration kept pounding it in our heads that the people are the most important export in Singapore, it offends me that my government sees me more as a commodity than a person.

    And its apparent in how they run the Country, those rich investors get cheap skilled Singaporean Labour.

    So this is my problem with how SG is going about with Immigration.
    1) Treats the menial workers without any sense of human decency.
    2) Favours rich investors over home grown talent, seeing the natives as nothing more than just a work force.

  5. CRIMOND G

    No doubt …concerning the truth of what you are saying, BUT there is a tendency Roy, to labour some of the points in your article….and this becomes a (to put it niely) little tedious….repetitive. Need to check grammar (eg. widened and NOT widen) and other minor errors. As X-school master, these errors….small as they are …..a little bothersome.. Need to calm down. I know what you are going through…….your feelings of anger, frustration, worries and irritation that the Govt is sitting on its hands, basking in past glories, over congratulating itself ( and ) quite oblivious to the feelings of REAL Singaporeans…..those born and bred in Singapore before 1980 in particular and were so proud of that fact. Now, many of the lucky ones (self included) are thankful to God that we had the wisdom / foresight to leave our birthplace to escape many of the undesirable changes & situation that now prevail and IRRITATE ! Arrive in Singapore blind folded and you’d think you were in bloody mainland China !….So where is this lovely mix of culture, language, ethnic mix that so defined the true Singaporean that the. Government fostered in earlier decades. Gone are the days when Coffee stall holders or their helpers would come to your table and address you as Uncle or Auntie…..”ai leem si-mih ?’ or in their charming Singlish……Uncle / Aunty…..want to drink what ?. Now and often, it’s the foreign rudeness that pollutes the air & atmosphere that we were encouraged to keep clean in those incessant campaigns of yonder days! No matter what dialect you were from, Singaporeans could converse in a variety of local languages……rojak or chap chye…….it was delightful. Interestgingly, it was that mix of languages that United us, as much as defined us….especially we were overseas. Just between us….I always make it clear to overseas people that I / we are SING-Chongs and not to confuse us with the CHING-chongs because our thinking & conversation is VERY different. Anyway, “Don’t go rushing to post your articles soon as you have written them. Let your composition rest or simmer OVERnight, have a good night’s rest, maybe drink some relaxing tea before going to sleep to recharge your batteries. Get up in the morning, read your article again for any mistakes including whether it is concise enough to retain/ maintain attention of your reader. Many of your fans AND readers may get the feeling that (like some of our Sec school teachers) you are reminding us too often about matters / facts you have written about in many previous blogs. So my friend, do be mindful of this. God bless. Keep well by eating well and having sufficient proper sleep. AG…

    • Still here in hell

      Well, maybe it’s because you are NOT living here as you said but the number of PRC has way been overtaken by Filipinos and Indians. Way. We Chinese appear (of all nationality) to be a minority race now, depending on which morning train you take.

  6. Roy is mental too

    This is yet another mentally unsound outburst from Roy. Any discrimination is due to hate propaganda from people like Roy. The establishments have tried to bridge the gap but people like you are destroying the bridges.

    Yet, you decry discrimination against LGBT. What a great example you are, Roy!

  7. Roy is mental too

    If you are truly anti-discrimination, stop giving lame excuses and explanations for the hate propaganda and stereotypes being circulated online. And start pointing out the good things you see in these misunderstood people.

  8. Singapore Citizen Mr. Teo En Ming (Zhang Enming)

    Subtle Denial of Medical Treatment by the Singapore Government for Mr. Teo En Ming (Zhang Enming)

  9. R

    You are paid by TRS $3000 monthly for writing articles for them – according to Ravi. They are responsible for fanning anti-foreigner sentiment. So in this sense, you are responsible for encouraging anti-foreigner attitudes.

  10. R

    Roy what do you think of the progressive wage scheme proposed by PAP.

    Progressive wage scheme is a “ladder’’ pegging salaries to productivity and expertise, while the minimum wage represents a “floor’’.
    People should be pay more if they are more productive and learn new skills. The employer will also be willing to pay them increased wages. If minimum wage is introduced,maybe the employer is willing to pay a, b c and d the increased wage but not willing to pay e the new minimum wage. Maybe e will lost his job.
    Under the progressive wage scheme, a b c and d get the wage increase and e retain his job though at a lower wage.
    Do you want to introduce a new law to force the employer to employ them. What happens if the employer moved his operation to other countries, then a, b, c, d and e will lost their jobs.

  11. lea xian loon

    LKY would be mourning that his PAPer IB dogs he hired are so daft…can’t teach old dogs new tricks

  12. lea xian loon

    SINGAPORE IS OUR COUNTRY AND HOME, NOT YOUR COMPANY!
    WE TELL YOU TRANSPORT IS EXPENSIVE…

    * You increase down payment.
    * COE went up.
    * More ERP.
    * Screwed up the flow of traffic to free land for money.
    * More breakdowns and delays from public transport.
    * You use taxpayers money to subsidize private transport companies.
    * You sanctioned fare increase for already profitable PUBLIC transport providers.
    * People with low income require transport like motorcycle and you cut the number of motorcycle COE.
    * Cash rich people pay by cash. Getit?
    * Basic transport still not affordable.
    * Problem not addressed but made worse.

    WE TELL YOU HOUSING IS UNAFFORDABLE…

    * You took your profits regardless.
    * We ask you to address the issue of affordable housing, eg: HDB, but in your infinite wisdom, you destabilize the whole artificial market which you created.
    * The very fragile property market is already way over inflated by your control of supply and short shortsightedness. Why are you destabilizing it even further? You think foreign speculators are stupid and cannot read what you spew from your mouths?
    * You put the financial security and plan of Singaporeans at risk.
    * You allow cash rich foreigners to push up prices.
    * You deny inflating prices by control of supply.
    * You leave young Singaporeans in the cold.
    * You put Singaporeans deeper debt because they now cannot refinance because of your irrelevant stop gap policies.
    * The rental market is down because you pulled the brakes on the wrong people.
    * You insist we are asset rich for what?!?! You talk like we have cash in hand and do not have mortgage to pay.
    * Cash rich people pay by cash. Getit?
    * Housing still not affordable for 1st time buyers.
    * Problems not addressed but made worse.

    WE TELL YOU THERE ARE SINGAPOREANS THAT HAVE FALLEN BEHIND AND ARE JOBLESS…

    * We ask for minimum wages, you increased your own salaries.
    * You allow more foreigners in.
    * We asked to you to address the issues of FTs taking jobs paying $3k+ onwards. You then drove out all the foreign cleaners and service industry workers expecting the gap to be filled by aged Singaporeans.
    * You give free and subsidized education to free loaders who fuck us over, insult us and then go home to a well padded nest. The same people who are not obliged nor obligated to our country. Opportunist. You should know the exact type.
    * Still jobless. Still competition with disadvantage.
    * Problems not addressed but made worse.

    WE TELL YOU MEDICAL IS UNAFFORDABLE…
    * You tell us not to fall sick.
    * You sell Singapore as a medical hub to service foreigners.
    * You make us buy insurance when you tie our money up in medisave.

    WE TELL YOU INFLATION IS GOING OUT OF CONTROL…
    * You lock up our CPF.
    * You increase toll.
    * You increase GST.

    WE TELL YOU ANYTHING…

    * You belittle us.
    * You let others belittle us.
    * You insult us.
    * You let others insult us.
    * You threaten us.
    * You sue us.
    * You throw us in jail.
    * You make yourself look stupid.
    * You make Singaporeans look stupid.
    * You make Singapore look stupid.

    We work here. We live here.
    Singapore is our country.
    Singapore is our home.
    We do not work for you.
    You work for us.
    Singapore is a country.
    OUR COUNTRY.
    Not a company.
    NOT YOUR COMPANY.
    You do not want to be a government.
    You want to run a company.
    We want a government.

  13. PAPer Tiger

    “When we wanted to make our life easier, you PAP are finding ways to make our life difficult, and always says that it is for our own good….. for the past 10 years everything you said is for our own good becomes for your own good, in terms of working hours we work longer, in terms of pay we are paid even lower, in terms of rental we pay even more higher, in terms of jobs, we can’t even get a decent job with a decent pay.

    But in return your pay became a pay that no government in the world can match, one MP pay equal to 3 United States Of America President’s pay who constantly faces Threat from terrorists and World Problem like North Korea Nuclear staff, Iraq problem, Iran problem, africa problem, our MPs 3 times pay higher than the United States Of America, only talking about hawker center returning plates, increase smoking age, SMRT seats give to old people, Char Kuay Tiao at certain hawker stalls are cheaper by 20 cents it is a joke that our MPs talk like a kindergarten kids, but draw money 3 times higher than United States of America, singaporean who feel like hawker centers, char kuay tiao topics MPs drawing 3 times salary higher than United States of America, it is a humiliation to Singaporean intelligent…”

  14. wongcheokwan

    @Roy….”to focus on profit making”

    How much does it cost to make a foreigner into a citizen? In terms of reserve dilution? Education subsidy? Housing subsidy?

    Interest lost? Where got profit? Who pays?

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