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10 - The Burdens of Ethnicity: Chinese Communities in Singapore and Their Relations with China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2020

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Summary

INTRODUCTION

Tension between ethnic Chinese in Singapore and the People's Republic of China (PRC) was on open display over the two-year period from 2015 to 2017. A series of incidents brought out unprecedented friction between Singapore and the PRC. They range from Singapore's stress on rule of law to address disputes in the South China Sea involving the PRC to Beijing's unhappiness over Singapore's close security ties with the United States and the seizure of Singaporean military equipment in Hong Kong. Public and quasi-official opinion in the PRC displayed displeasure towards Singapore for not siding with the PRC internationally despite the city-state's ethnic Chinese majority population. Almost concurrently, some Singaporeans voiced their concerns over rising PRC immigration on both temporary and permanent bases, citing difficulties in integration due to differing values.

Communities in Singapore who trace their roots to what is today the PRC have a complex and sometimes difficult relationship with their place of ancestral origin. This was the case since migration to Singapore began en masse in the early nineteenth century. Much of the complication comes from how these communities and their diverse interests intersect with the concerns of other groups in Singapore, as well as politics and economics both locally and in China. The PRC's recent global prominence and the efforts of its government to exercise influence externally muddies matters further for ethnic Chinese in Singapore. A solution is to develop a stronger sense of citizenship based around reasonable, substantive, and meaningful civic values and rights that transcend ethnicity, religion, and other narrower concerns.

Awkwardness in the relationship between Singaporean Chinese and today's PRC nationals originates from two distinct nation-building projects that at times cross paths. The PRC is the culmination of efforts to create a Chinese national state, built on an idea that this entity is historically synonymous with and represents all Chinese persons—a category that historically included those living all over the world. The concept of “Chinese” is largely conflated with being ethnically Han. It was for these reasons that early nationalists like Sun Yat-sen targeted ethnic Chinese in Singapore for recruitment into and mobilization for revolution against the Manchu-ruled Qing Empire.

Type
Chapter
Information
Navigating Differences
Integration in Singapore
, pp. 165 - 186
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2020

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