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S’pore would like to be ‘race-blind society’ but also realistic, vigilant about potential racial tensions: Lawrence Wong

Lawrence Wong says Singapore needs to be vigilant about race in interview with The Economist

Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong has said that while Singapore would like to move towards a race-blind society, it also must be realistic in maintaining a population equilibrium.

Speaking to The Economist, he added that Singapore citizens will not become a minority in their own country.

Image courtesy of Ministry of Communications and Information

Mr Wong will take the reins as the country’s Prime Minister on 15 May, while current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will remain in the Cabinet as a senior minister.

His interview with The Economist follows a strong response from Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam to an article published by the magazine.

‘Race-blind society’ ideal but would have to be realistic: Lawrence Wong to The Economist

During the interview, Mr Wong was questioned about Singapore’s population management based on ethnic demographics, commonly referred to as CMIO: Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Others.

According to Gov.sg in 2019, Singapore citizens comprise roughly 76% Chinese, 15% Malay, 7.5% Indian, and 1.5% other ethnic groups.

Noting that CMIO is “just a . . . shorthand”, Mr Wong answered that this ethnic balance is necessary.

He said: “We would like to . . . evolve into a society where we become race-blind, but we are also very realistic about these things.”

“These instincts of race are very primal, they are very emotive, and it can be stirred up at any point in time,” he added.

Mr Wong highlighted the occurrence of several race-related incidents during the Covid-19 pandemic, underscoring the importance for Singapore to remain “vigilant and watchful”.

PM Lee Concerned Over Alleged Attack On Woman, Says S’pore Must Stand United Against Racism

While he disagreed that people in Singapore are racist, there are dormant “things” — which this publication takes to mean tensions — lying beneath the surface.

He cautioned: “It only takes an incident, a bad actor, someone trying to stir things to cause the dormant virus to flare up again.”

On the other hand, Mr Wong also stressed Singapore’s commitment to fostering ethnic diversity, encouraging individuals to embrace their cultural identities rather than assimilate into a singular identity.

Citizens won’t be minority in own country

Speaking about labour and the necessity of migration, Mr Wong highlighted the projected decline in the working-age population over the next decade due to an ageing demographic.

lawrence wong the economist

Source: Lawrence Wong on Facebook

“We are an open economy and open society,” he said. “We welcome foreign professionals to work in Singapore, but it’s controlled, because if it’s not controlled, I think we will be easily swamped.”

Mr Wong added: “We cannot afford to be like the United Arab Emirates where the local residents are only less than 10% of the population.”

“They have a different compact because they use the oil and gas revenues to provide everything for their citizens. And in return, they just allow foreigners to come in freely. That’s not possible in Singapore.”

He reassured that Singaporean citizens won’t become a minority, as while the country will remain open, they’ll control the “floors”.

Mr Wong outlined a tiered approach with various controls, ranging from roles unpopular among Singaporeans to areas where skilled professionals can contribute, as well as sectors requiring additional manpower such as healthcare and engineering.

The tiered controls, he said, ensure that immigration will “complement the Singaporean core”, as well as add to our economy and society.

“It ends up being a net plus for all of us in Singapore, that’s our approach.”

Mission to keep Singapore ‘miracle’ going

Besides addressing geopolitics and stating that Singapore is neither pro-United States (US) nor pro-China but “pro-Singapore”, Mr Wong also emphasised the need to keep going.

“Singapore may have transformed tremendously in the last 60 years. But the reality is, we are still a very tiny little island in a vast and dangerous world, which is going to get more dangerous in the coming years,” Mr Wong said.

“So we’ve always seen ourselves as the underdog. We will always be the improbable, unlikely nation forged only through the collective will of our people.”

What has happened in the last 60 years has been nothing short of a miracle.

“And my mission is to keep this miracle going for as long as I can,” Mr Wong promised. “And to make sure our little red dot shines brightly for as long as possible.”

He did, however, say that Singaporeans are “discerning and wise voters”.

If Mr Wong and his team do not deliver on things Singaporeans care about and a better team arises, “then Singaporeans will choose accordingly”.

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Featured image adapted from The Economist.

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