Thursday, March 1, 2012

A post about Sun Xu

I've been reading about the case of a PRC scholar dude named Sun Xu with interest lately. If you have no idea of what's going on, lets just say that there's this incident where PRC scholar posted offensive remarks about Singaporeans on the web a few weeks ago, which subsequently resulted in hordes of Singaporeans baying for his blood in the internet and questioning once again the liberal immigration policy of Singapore. 

But in contrary to the angry Singaporeans there were also Singaporeans who supported the government's immigration policy, saying that it is a necessary evil for a small country like Singapore to remain competitive in the international arena. You can say that while there are a lot of Singaporeans who are using this incident as an example of how the immigration policy is discriminating against Singaporeans itself, there's also another group who says that the immigration policy itself is not to be blamed for such incidents (and they're not from PAP, mind you).

The latest celebrity in Singapore

 Being a foreign student in Singapore myself, it was natural for be to be drawn to this whole saga. After all, the outcome of this incident may affect me either directly or indirectly. Perhaps the government would come up with tighter policies like deporting all foreign students with a CAP of 4.0 below in response (and that's it for me) or perhaps my fellow university mates would see me in a more negative light, nobody knows. Which is why I have to be prepared.

And seeing how many articles were written in response to this incident, I decided to write one myself too, to give a viewpoint from a foreign student's point of view, and hopefully dispel the stereotype of how all of us are here to snatch away opportunities from locals.

Looking at the Sun Xu saga, I can't help but draw similarities from it to what is currently happening in Malaysia. Like Singapore, we Malaysians must also face with cases of people complaining about opportunities getting snatched away. However, instead of PRCs and angry Singaporeans, we have the minority races (Chinese and Indians) and the Malay majority respectively in the Malaysia case.

While the circumstances may differ a bit, the general claim is still the same. The majority group (the Singaporeans in the Sun Xu case and the Malays in Malaysia) is upset and afraid of a minority group, whom according to them are here to take away their opportunities in life, destroy their culture and invade their homes. The sentiments are the same. There is generally a besieged mentality where the majority feels threatened and as a result there's a general distrust of the minorities by the majority. In fact, if you look around the world, you can see the same thing happening almost everywhere, for example the Germans distrust for the Jews (which lead to the holocaust), white Americans distrust of the blacks and so on. It's part of human psychology, after all.

A newspaper article showing how Jews were dehumanized through Nazi propaganda. "Die Juden sind unser Ungluck" roughly means that "the Jews are our misfortune" in German

Something similar in the modern day, regarding the reaction of Singaporeans towards foreign scholars, where they are equated to being locusts (dehumanization, Psychology majors?)

Now while the general sentiments are roughly the same, the actions undertaken by the two countries are vastly different. In contrary to Singapore, who still maintains a liberal immigration policy despite protests from Singaporeans, Malaysia on the other had choose to go in direct opposite of Singapore. Malaysia's immigration policy is one of the world's tightest, just waiting for your PR application to be approved can take more than 10 years, and it goes to great lengths to preserve the privileges of the majority. For example, for admission to matriculation, a pre-university programme that guarantees you a place in local university, has a 90% quota for Malays while the remaining 10% is for others.

In essence, affirmative actions is the way of life in Malaysia. And I'm sure some Singaporeans would want something like this to be implemented here too. For example, 90% of admission to NUS must comprise of of local Singaporeans. Or something like that.

While affirmative actions may be preferred by many, in my opinion the cons far outweighs the pros. Just take a look a Malaysia now, where does it stand globally in terms of economics and development? Merely accepting people into universities just to satisfy the quota has resulted in a lot of under-qualified university graduates who cannot even speak English. The majority knows that even if they perform badly in exams, they would still get a place in the university thanks to the quota while more bright people are denied the chance of pursuing their tertiary education. When you don't have to work hard to achieve success, you won't.

The brain drain issue, where talented Malaysians are leaving the country by droves, remains one of the largest problem in hindering the country's development. For example, back in 2010, Tan Zhong Shan, who is from Malaysia, emerged as the top law student in Cambridge, a feat that not many of us could accomplished. The only sad news for Malaysia, was that he's under MOE scholarship from Singapore and was expected to return to Singapore to serve in Singapore's Legal service. And he's not the only one.

Due to the vast amount of Malaysians leaving the country thanks to a policy that values your skin color over your talents, coupled with the extra tight immigration policy that prevents foreign students from studying in Malaysian local uni (there's no such thing as the ASEAN scholarship in Malaysia), it would undeniably lead to the shrinkage of Malaysia's talent pool. The shortage of talent is one of the factors that is frequently attributed in explaining the lack of growth in Malaysia, which used to be one of the five tigers of Southeast Asia.

Tan Zhong Shan, the top Cambridge law student Singapore

A country is really much like a business organization. To keep the country competitive, you must have talented people driving the economy. By attracting the creme de la creme from other countries to study here, Singapore is indirectly building up its human capital, which is essential to ensure that the country continues to grow economically. Not only that, as how one Singaporean put it, it also creates a network of scholars working all over the world. Imagine going to a foreign country looking for opportunities and finding out that your client is also educated at the same university as you, that would undeniably help to break down tons of barriers.

And I'm not saying this just because I'm a foreign student. I'm saying this because I have a direct comparison to make. Look at the sorry state of Malaysia now. Despite having more resources than Singapore, look at how it is progressing economically. Rather than worrying about growth, the leaders of the country is more interested in preserving the privileges of the majority and often use words like "defending Islam", "the Chinese are a threat" daily in their speeches. Look at what affirmative actions has done to the country itself. The communication minister, Rais, when interviewed by CNN regarding the Hindraf protest, couldn't even speak proper English.

And it's not that the Singapore government does not care about preserving the locals too. Foreigners are required to pay more for tuition fees in Singapore and Singaporeans get to enjoy a lot more benefits as compared to PRs or foreigners.

And as foreign student myself, I could say that not all foreign students share the same sentiments as Sun Xu (who had since apologized). Sure, there might be a few stereotypes here and there, but in the end, we have Singaporean friends too and we don;t see each other in such a negative light. Perhaps the government could do more to encourage people of different nationalities to mix together. It would help a lot to break down barriers and counter the distrust we have against each other.

My points might not be accurate, as it is merely from my perspective, but yep, there will always be two sides to a coin. Time to go back to my assignments then.

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