Citizen X

What makes a person a citizen? What makes a person one of us?

Reading Tan Shao Ken’s letter to The New Paper yesterday, I was struck by these questions. The following is a reproduction of part of his letter:

Yes, these table tennis players had to give up their China nationality to become Singapore citizens and hold our red passport.

But they were not only born in China, they were brought up there as well. They came to our shores only after failing to become first-choice players there.

Singapore took them in and trained them to be champions. But the fact remains that they were China’s second-string players before that. Doesn’t that make them look like China’s B team?

It is difficult to look at them as Singapore’s A team, in the same way one may look at local sports stars like Quah Ting Wen, Remy Ong and Ang Peng Siong, people who truly belong here.

I don’t read the sports pages of the newspapers or consider sports a central part of my life. A cursory search on Google reveals like Quah Ting Wen, Remy Ong and Ang Peng Siong were local-born athletes who have represented Singapore at international sporting events, winning accolades and setting records in their respective fields. The table tennis players in question are Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Sun Beibei, who won the World Team Table Tennis Championships, winning accolades and setting records — the latter by defeating the Chinese team for the first time in 19 years. These sportswomen were born in China, and became Singapore citizens under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme.

Quah, Ong and Ang were born in Singapore. Feng, Wang and Sun were not. By the vicissitudes of fate, the former three were born in Singapore, and the latter three in China. As far as science can tell, none of these athletes chose to be born in the time and place of their birth. They did, however, have a choice in deciding where to settle down. Feng, Wang and Sun chose to come to Singapore, for reasons of their own, leaving behind the land of their birth.

Who and what a person was is not who and what a person is now. Matters of national origin here are peripheral. These sportswomen, at the time of the competition, were Singaporean citizens representing Singapore, and the award was dedicated to Singapore. Harping on national origins here is akin to saying that the late S. Rajaratnam is not a true Singaporean because he was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Malaysia — never mind his contributions as one of Singapore’s founding fathers and his five decades of public service.

National origin is beyond a person’s control. Nationality is not. A person cannot choose to be born in a certain country, but can choose to migrate elsewhere. When a country accepts an immigrant, that immigrant becomes a citizen, and is issued with the requisite legal documents that defines and proves citizenship. To treat a person as less than a citizen, on the basis of her national origin, is to denigrate her choice, to disrespect her free will. It is akin to ridiculing someone for choosing apples instead of oranges, writing ‘color’ instead of ‘colour’, speaking English instead of Singlish, spending a vacation in Singapore instead of Shanghai, or studying in a local university instead of a foreign one.

Acceptance is perception. It is a perception that a person belongs to a larger community. Acceptance begins when members of the in-group welcome the newcomer and continue to treat that person as part of the group. After that, the newcomer sees himself as part of the group. This, I believe, is the origin and purpose of hospitality customs: you treat someone outside of your group as your friend, and he becomes your friend and part of your group. Acceptance is a recognition that a person can be part of a larger whole. Refusing to accept a person is a rejection.

Sometimes rejection is necessary. An egotistical troublemaker bent on puffing up his ego and controlling others is the last person you’ll want in a group. A country cannot afford to allow a terrorist into its borders. Rejection reinforces emotional and physical security. At the same time by rejecting that person, the group loses that potential. By rejecting an athlete, the country loses the skills that person can bring.

Prejudice is the series of conditions that trigger rejection instead of acceptance. Prejudice is a perceived notion that someone who possesses some or all of these conditions should be rejected. Someone who is queer, straight, black, white, Chinese, Malay, atheist, Christian, and so on and so forth. Prejudice is also artificial: these are artificial standards that reduce a person’s dignity in another’s eyes. Especially if these standards target things beyond a person’s control, like national origin in this case.

Prejudice treats a person as less than a human. It also backfires on the person with prejudices. People go where they are welcome, stay where they are accepted, and leave where they are rejected. People who are rejected from a group take their skills and talents with them, depriving the group of these resources. It also deprives the group of resources belonging to people with similar backgrounds. And other social groups, noticing the group’s prejudice, may decide to punish that group. Think of legal action against racists, demonstrations against anti-homosexual organisations, and sanctions against dictatorial regimes.

Prejudice is a jail a person locks himself into. It is a set of blinders a person wears to selectively reject certain people. I think the only possible explanation I can find is insecurity. Such people have a preconceived set of notions, also known as prejudices, and have invested their identity in them. By removing these prejudices, they sense that they will have to redefine their identities. So they continue to hold on to their prejudices, add layer after layer of rationalisation and justifications, in order to hang on to their ideas of self when faced with someone else.

Interaction with other humans is a hallmark of civilisation. It is a recognition that cooperation tends to yield better results than conflict, that other people apart from yourself have the right to be treated as fellow humans, that someone who is different from you has the right to be himself and not you. Prejudice, by denying the other and the different, hinders human interaction, and by extension progress towards peace and prosperity. Prejudice allows for Chinese to be treated like third-class citizens in Suharto’s Indonesia, for Wiccans to be persecuted in Christian-majority America, for Muslims to be denied the right to their faith in Europe, for preventing people from being useful and productive members of society. Society cannot afford that. There is no place for prejudice in the world.

All the above, by the way, very neatly avoids the fact that three Singaporeans won the championship. If local-born Singaporeans cannot measure up to foreign-born Singaporeans, not enough to enter the national team, the real question should not be why do we call the latter Singaporeans, but why the former is not good enough. More accurately, why local-born Singaporean table tennis players were not good enough to make it to the national team for that particular championship. But I’m not going to ask that question. I don’t really care about a person’s national origin, and I have little inkling of sports and training for sports. All I do care about here are the two questions I’ve asked above.

What makes a person a citizen? Today, just legal papers that show that a person is a citizen of a country. What makes a person one of us? Perception. Our perception. Our tainted perception.

Citizen X

17 thoughts on “Citizen X

  1. You avoided the issue totally.

    The issue is not where the players were born.

    It’s about whether these players were bought by Singapore simply for the sake of their medal-winning potential.

    With open borders and liberal immigration, it’s not uncommon for sports champions not to be born in the country they compete for.

    As Goh Chok Tong noted, nearly half the French team who won the World Cup did not look French, and indeed, they were immigrants from Algeria and other countries.

    But the point is that these players emigrated to France when they were children, and they got their citizenship long before they became football stars.

    Indeed, their citizenship application did not depend on their football skills, and they chose to come to France not because France offered them a chance to represent the country in football.

    Contrast that with Singapore’s approach of buying sports talents in the hope of winning gold medals and I think you’ll see why many people think Singapore’s approach is mercenary if not downright wrong.

  2. Thanks Wai Leong. But I was actually writing about prejudice, not about Singapore’s foreign talent policy. This post is about people, not policy. In fact, I thought the first line said it all about the focus of this post.

    As for the rest of your comment, I’m afraid you’ll have to elaborate on what you mean by ‘mercenary if not downright wrong’. I can’t see it. Immigration policies all around the world is, as far as I can tell, predicated on attracting foreigners with skills who can contribute to society in one way or other. It’s a win-win situation: the government gets people to achieve its goals, and the immigrants attain citizenship. I think the only real difference between nations is the threshold of skill sets and classification of skilled foreigners. For example, a country with a highly liberal immigration policy would accept just about anybody with a rough understanding of the local language, while a country with a more stringent policy might assign preferential status to would-be migrants who possess special skills.

    Most countries generally let immigrants contribute to society as the immigrants see fit. The French did not invite the immigrants for their football skills, but France did so in the hopes that these new citizens could contribute to society in their own way. That the players you mentioned contributed by being football stars was a happy coincidence. Contrast this with the government of Singapore, which has defined certain goals that it believes migrants can meet, and brings in migrants to achieve these goals. In this case, the goal is to achieve awards in sporting excellence and the resultant international recognition. It seems to me that the key difference between both immigration policies is specificity. The French government allowed immigrants to do as they please, while the Singapore government brought some in in order to achieve a goal.

    Pragmatic problem-solving? Maybe. ‘Mercenary if not downright wrong’? You’ll have to explain why to someone who uses his head more often than his heart.

  3. Your point is in your final para, is it not? I quote: “What makes a person a citizen? Today, just legal papers that show that a person is a citizen of a country. What makes a person one of us? Perception. Our perception. Our tainted perception.”

    My earlier response shld give you a clue.

    The answer is not “our tainted perception”, as you put it.

    I don’t think Singaporeans would begrudge someone who came here many years ago and became a huge success.

    You don’t see Singaporeans criticising self-made billionaires for not being Singaporean when they appear in Forbes richest listings, even though many towkays of the older generation were not born in Singapore.

    Yet there’s a lot of unhappiness with the foreign badminton team and the foreign table tennis team which were bought by SBA and STTA.

    Is this tainted perception?

    Or is it a recognition that they had no intention of coming to Singapore until the Govt rolled out the red carpet for them, and hence they never really wanted to be Singaporeans in the first place. And that people do not feel proud of victory obtained by a team whose members did not voluntarily intend to become Singaporeans in the first place?

    Still tainted perception?

  4. Wai Leong,

    My point is in my final paragraph. My point was about prejudice, i.e. tainted perception. My entire post was about prejudice, and specifically prejudice against new citizens. I sense that your mind has connected prejudice to the question of foreign talent in Singapore. I also sense that you have connected the issue of foreign-born local sportsmen to the example I mentioned, that same example which I used merely as a catalyst for my thoughts. The example is not the thrust of my writing. These issues are separate issues in my mind. I am sorry to say that you’ve been attacking a false argument thus far.

    But let’s look at what you said:

    Your first statement states this: the foreigners had no intention of coming to Singapore at all, but after they were given an opportunity, they took it and came to Singapore.

    Let’s rephrase this: the students had no intention of taking the scholarship, but after they were offered a chance, they took up the scholarships.

    It is logical to expect that they did not intend to come to Singapore before a certain point in their lives. To illustrate, they could not have intended to come to Singapore before learning about Singapore’s existence, because they would not have known there was such a place to go to. After learning of Singapore, they still would not intend to come to Singapore unless they wanted to achieve something in doing so, in the same way I would go to a food court to get lunch when I’m hungry. At some point in time, the former foreigners decided to come to Singapore to do something, and then they wanted to come to Singapore.

    Really, saying ‘never really wanted…in the first place’ is akin to saying that the student did not deserve the scholarship because he did not really think of taking up a scholarship before he was eligible, before he was offered a chance, before he even knew the scholarship existed.

    The government offered the foreigners an opportunity. The government did not kidnap the foreigners and brainwash them into coming to Singapore. Yes, our sports officials made a pitch and influenced them to come to Singapore, but it was their choice. After learning of the opportunities offered by the government, they decided to come to Singapore. In simpler words, they wanted to come to Singapore after learning that they could.

    Is that really so wrong?

    Let’s look at your second statement. “(D)id not voluntarily intend to become Singaporeans in the first place.”

    If they did not voluntarily intend to become Singaporeans, that means that they are held here against their will. They want to be somewhere else, but have been forced to stay here. But this is evidently not true. They chose to listen to the officials’ pitch. They chose to accept the pitch. They chose to train and to live here. They chose to take the oath of citizenship. They chose to participate in international competitions. These are voluntary acts, suggesting that they did in fact intend to become Singaporean. And if they did not intend to be Singaporeans, they could have made noise during the sporting events — but they did not. Nothing can stop an athlete from turning to face a camera on live television and condemning his or her host government for involuntary servitude. But since that did not happen, it is really unlikely that they ‘did not voluntarily intend to become Singaporeans’.

    In short, these foreigners changed their minds. They decided to give up their old citizenship and take up new citizenship. All this, of course, is assuming that they have not wanted to come to Singapore or at least leave their homelands prior to being approached.

    You also said ‘you don’t see Singaporeans criticising self-made billionaires for not being Singaporean’. They do not, because they do not think their national origins are important, are ignorant of their national origins, or do not perceive these billionaires are foreigners. See, Barack Obama may be the most powerful black man in America, but some Americans insist on seeing him as a foreigner because his father is Kenyan, his stepfather Indonesian, and his childhood days in Indonesia. They think he’s not American enough. Conversely, Singaporeans don’t criticise these billionaires you speak of for not being Singaporean because national origin has ceased to become important for these people.

    Why is this so?

    Perception. How people perceive a given person, and what they perceive. Whether they see him as a member of an in-group, or a member of an out-group. And in the case of these table tennis players, the law says they are part of the in-group, but people see them as part of the out-group. And for no reason that has been articulated, too.

    So, yes, still, tainted perception.

  5. Sorry to see that you can’t get a simple point.

    Immigration didn’t happen just yesterday; foreigners and PRs have been around practically forever.

    We’ve had Malaysians in our midst for the longest time due to our blood ties across the Causeway, for example.

    If Singaporeans are as prejudiced as you think, why didn’t this prejudice surface then?

    Why has this issue (of dissatisfaction with foreigners) surfaced only now, to the point that it has become a political hot potato for PAP?

    A number of very rational reasons of course: jobs competition, overcrowding, high property prices driven up by PR’s, etc.

    How can these reasons be due to prejudice?

    The example of foreign sportsmen, however, is a better one to illustrate the other aspects causing dissatisfaction.

    Importing a China table tennis team here in and of itself is not going to cause property prices to rise or take jobs away from Singaporeans.

    So the dissatisfaction in their case stems from people’s perception that (1) the Govt is just trying to buy medals, and in so doing, any victories achieved are hollow victories at best; and (2) the athletes didn’t want to become Singaporeans in the first place, until the Govt dangled enough incentives in fron of them; in other words, they could be easily bought by a third country as well.

    Again I ask you, how is this prejudice?

    Why is it prejudice for people to think that such foreign “talent” are here only because of the incentives offered to them?

    Is it prejudice that’s closed Singaporean’s minds that these foreign athletes could have become committed Singaporeans?

    Or is it fair for Singaporeans to question the commitment of someone who was given tons of incentives to become Singaporean?

    Your inability to acknowledge this is unbelievable.

    I already gave you an example of the tycoons.

    You said,”They do not [criticise them], because they do not think their national origins are important, are ignorant of their national origins, or do not perceive these billionaires are foreigners”

    I think you should give Singaporeans more credit. They are not as ignorant as you think. They know the national origins of people.

    If they don’t criticise someone, it’s because theydont think he should be criticised.

    It’s also not because national origins are not important per se.

    It’s because Singaporeans perceive these successful tycoons came here because they wanted to– not because they were promised a spot on the Olympic team– and people believe that as a result, they are committed to Singapore.

  6. Wai Leong,

    I am indeed sorry for not seeing such a simple point. It’s a lot harder to figure out what other people are saying when they don’t think like me and when their trains of thought and thinking processes have not been laid out clearly, and when they do not articulate what they really want to say.

    The main trouble we are facing, I believe, is what exactly we are expressing. I’m expressing what is essentially a rational line of argument, bolstered by what I’ve learned as a debater, blogger, and writer. I feel that you are trying to express an emotion, and that emotion is tied to…something. It is this something that you have yet to articulate, but is the crux of the matter. I don’t care to do you an injustice by telling you what you’re trying to say, so I invite you to tell me what that something is. Until you do, all I can do is write about what you’re writing about.

    The main difference between the Malaysians you mention and the Chinese mentioned above is media prominence and portrayal. Immigrants from China have been in the news fairly often, and there are quite a few articles about culture shock, different languages, perceived lack of courtesy and integration, and the sheer numbers of Chinese coming into Singapore in recent times. As for the Malaysians living in Singapore, I haven’t seen an equivalent number of articles and media appearances highlighting the same issues compared to the Chinese.

    I think part of the reason is that Malaysians have been staying in Singapore for a long time, so long that their presence has ceased to be an issue. But more and more Chinese are coming to Singapore in rent times, and as Singaporeans become more aware of their presence, and the differences between locals and Chinese, the voice of dissatisfaction against them grows stronger.

    I agree there are rational reasons that make immigration a concern, and these issues came to the forefront following a surge in immigration in recent years. But I don’t know just how much of these concerns have been inflated out of proportion. All I do know is that these reasons appeared after the media started reporting about a spike in immigration. That is, they became conscious in the minds of the people after the media reported a large influx of immigrants from China, and to a lesser extent, elsewhere in Asia. I would think Singapore would face very similar problems had there been a sudden surge in population, too, like if a large number of highly educated Singaporeans entered the working world all at once. Now there would be more people with similar qualifications competing for roughly the same jobs (increased job competition), more people to fit into Singapore (overcrowding), and less land to go around (rise in property prices). So while these are problems, they are problems caused by a sharp and unforeseen increase in population. That this increase comes from immigration is a related concern, but not the big issue.

    You also talk about commitment. You seem to be saying that people who have been given incentives by the state have less reason to be committed to Singapore than people who have not.

    But why do people commit to a larger group? They commit because they have an investment in the country. People who have spent their entire lives here are invested in Singapore, because they grew up here. People who choose to immigrate here for personal reasons are invested in Singapore, because it is an extension of their choice and a fulfilment of personal desires.

    I would imagine that incentives given by the State falls under ‘fulfilment of personal desires’. I sense that you feel that this is wrong somehow, but you have yet to articulate why this is so, and why this is wrong versus people coming to Singapore to make their fortunes, and in the process becoming tycoons. Why is this so different from an athlete coming to Singapore to play at the highest level she can reach? Because the state provided incentives in the latter case versus the former? Why is this so wrong?

    In addition, commitment works two ways. These foreign-born athletes could have intended to commit to Singapore, and in their minds have proven their commitment by representing Singapore and winning medals. But when they come home, they are greeted with derision. They would then feel that their adopted country does not welcome them, and will stop being so committed to Singapore. And this is not applicable to this case alone; it is applicable to all immigrants everywhere in the world. There is an undercurrent of rage in France’s African immigrant community because they feel excluded by the rest of France, and are trapped in poverty, despair and scorn. Prejudice prevents people from becoming committed members of the community.

    In other words, if you don’t give these immigrants time and space to prove and cement their commitment to Singapore, they cannot, and will see no reason to. If Singapore never gave the tycoons the time, space and opportunity to grow their business empires, and instead kept them out or tamped them down, they would never have become tycoons in Singapore.

    Your last line, I think, says it all. You wrote “people believe that as a result, they are committed to Singapore.” It is a question of belief, then. If people do not believe that someone belongs, then that person will never belong to the in-group. If people believe, then that person belongs.

    So, what, then, is the basis of this belief?

  7. First, to be very clear: this is not about Malaysians or Chinese.

    First, the problems I cited (job competition, overcrowding, etc) are equally contributed to immigrants from India, Philippines, Bangladesh, etc.

    Hence please don’t make it a racist or nationalist thing.

    However, foreign sports imports have largely been from China, thus the perception that Singaporeans are unhappy with the Chinese. However, I think the same sentiments would apply regardless of nationality.

    Second, Singapore did not need to lure any tycoons here. Indeed, how could you? For a billionaire, the world is their oyster, they can go anywhere and any country would welcome them.

    No, most of the old tycoons were true rags-to-riches stories who came here from China, worked as coolies and made it big.

    With their wealth they could go anywhere, but they chose to be in Singapore. Hence people can see their commitment and do not criticise them.

    Third, Singaporeans’ feelings about foreigners did not arise because of media coverage, as you suggest.

    Indeed, state-controlled media toes the PAP line which is to accept foreigners and be proud of the sports victories regardless of the origins of the athletes.

    No, the feelings were here long before state media highlighted it, , and they will not go away because you brand their feelings as “tainted perception”.

    Fourth, since you’ve used France as an example, let me ask you this.

    Did France entice Patrick Viera to immigrate from Senegal because he was a great football star?

    Do you know any Frenchman who feels France’s world cup victory is any lesser because Patrick Viera came from Senegal? Or that the team has so few white Frenchmen?

    Remember this is France, a country which is super-protective of its language and culture, to the extent they want to restrict English pollution?

    If not, why not?

    Could it be because the Fench public can see that the team is built up of committed French nationals rather than a bunch of sports mercenaries bought by the French Football Association?

    Contrast that with the reaction from Singaporeans when the Singapore team won the table tennis championships.

    Could the difference be because STTA had to entice these players to play for Singapore?

    Let’s be very up-front here. People know that loyalty doesn’t exist in pro sports. So they don’t bat an eyelid when footballers change clubs because of $$. They see it as a simple commercial transaction and they don’t criticise any player for lack of commitment to his previous club.

    But playing for a country is different. People don’t want to see their countries being used to buy victories. And thus they question the commitment of any athlete who joins them due to incentives.

    Is that prejudice? Or reasonable doubt?

    Until you can prove otherwise, the hypothesis that a foreign athlete came to Singapore because of the incentives offered him (and the corollary, that he would not have come without the incentives), must stand.

    Your assertion, that the foreign athletes might not have heard of Singapore prior to being courted, is ludicrous in today’s wired world. Pls don’t take them for dummies. They know about Singapore. But they had no intention to come until the red carpet was rolled out for them.

    Yes, they did their sums, ie what they would lose by leaving and what they would gain by coming and they then committed to their course of action.

    But would they have come is the Govt had not offered them the incentives?

    If they came because of incentives, then they can easily leave because of other countries’ incentives too.

    Is this prejudice? Or logic?

    Singapore has been very unique in having an extremely open immigration policy that allows everyone from cleaners to CEO’s to become PR’s and citizens in record time. That’s one reason why the resident population has swelled so much so quickly.

    It means that these athletes could have come here, on their own initiative, any time they wanted to.

    Yet, special treatment and incentives had to be rolled out for these “star” athletes.

    Can you see now why people question their commitment to Singapore?

    Is this prejudice? Or simple logic?

  8. Wai Leong,

    I think there is a major disengagement here. That is, you don’t seem to grasp the entirety of what I’m saying before writing. Allow me to clarify things, then.

    I did not attribute the problems you’ve cited to Chinese immigrants. I wrote that these problems were reported alongside an increase in media portrayals and reports about immigrants from China, and to a lesser extent, Asia (and, if you like, around the world). I mentioned media reports because there are currently more negative portrayals about immigrants from China than the Malaysians living in Singapore in all forms of media in Singapore, in response to what you wrote about Malaysians living here.

    You said that the media aims to encourage locals to accept foreigners. That may be so. But fundamentally the media raises awareness that there are, in fact, different people in our midst. People in Singapore pay more attention to the presence of these foreigners, and it is not a long shot to say that many people in Singapore reject what the mainstream media, and will take an oppositional stance in addition to that rejection.

    Now let’s talk about the sports teams.

    I don’t know any Frenchmen, so I can’t answer your questions. But take a look at this: (

    Need I say more? There are people in France who do not see the French team as French. Similarly, there are people in Singapore who do not see the Singaporean team as Singaporean.

    What you wrote about the logic behind foreign players coming to Singapore is merely what I wrote about the logic behind foreign players coming to Singapore. Let me put it in simpler terms:

    What is wrong with foreigners immigrating to Singapore if they are offered incentives by the State, so that the state can achieve victory in the world sporting arena?

    And you are again assuming that these athletes have no intention of committing to Singapore. Granted, not all of them are patriots. But you are generalising every foreign-born athlete as mercenaries who choose to come here solely for professional reasons, and not because they fell in love with Singapore and do intend to commit to Singapore. You are also assuming that these athletes had no intention of coming to Singapore at all.

    And even if they had no intention of coming to Singapore before being approached, why is it so wrong for them to decide to immigrate to Singapore after being approached by sports officials?

    Your example of the tycoons is flawed. They spent decades building their business empires in Singapore. They spent their entire working lives in Singapore. They have an investment in Singapore, built up over twenty years; that was why they stayed. And nobody thought that they do not belong here, not enough to boot them out before they could invest in Singapore. Further, these tycoons grew up in a period of extensive immigration, courtesy of the British. Just about everybody knew somebody who was an immigrant, or the descendant of an immigrant. Foreign birth did not really matter to these people, because it was so common.

    Now, these athletes have no investment in Singapore. But they have not spent decades in Singapore either, nor do most of them have extensive investment in Singapore — yet. Also, immigration has eased off until recently, so there is now a sizable population of local-born citizens. So, immigrants are now a noticeable minority in Singapore. Especially new immigrants.

    It is true that people who immigrate to Singapore due to incentives offered by the government may choose to go elsewhere if offered a better deal. It is also true that not all such people are so mercenary. By leaving their homelands, taking on Singapore citizenship and representing Singapore, they have signalled to the whole world their commitment to Singapore. Should they leave for a third country, their new countrymen would be even more suspicious of them than we are, and rightly so, for such people can rightfully be called mercenaries. Third countries might not even want these athletes, in case a fourth country may decide to snatch them up. But we only know their true motives if they go to a third country. Calling someone a mercenary from the get-go smacks of prejudice.

    At this point, because I am very curious and lack time for research, what is this ‘special treatment and incentives’ you speak of? Can you give examples of policies that give them a preferential position versus other Singaporeans and/or Singaporean athletes? Bear in mind that the foreign sportsmen are selected because they were extremely good players to begin with, so the Singaporean athletes need to be of an equal or superior level of talent and training.

    As for your final statement, it does not look logical.

    You effectively said that these athletes were motivated to come to Singapore only because they were given special treatment and incentives. You need to prove that this true, that these incentives were the only reason, as opposed to others in addition to or apart from these reasons. But let me give you a reason.

    These athletes came to Singapore because they had exhausted their opportunities in their homelands. They had no reason to come here until they felt that they could get better opportunities elsewhere. They came to Singapore because they believed that Singapore offered a better opportunity.

    But all this is hypothetical until and unless we can interview each and every foreign sports talent and ask them why they came to Singapore.

    Let me close with this.

    A large portion of Singapore’s Chinese population can be traced to immigration from China. Specifically, immigration during British colonial rule. The British needed coolies to build and maintain their colony, and locals to help administer the area. These immigrants wanted to make a fortune for themselves. So the British effected immigration policies that allowed Chinese and Indian labourers (among others) to work in Singapore, and eventually settle down. When the Chinese civil war broke out, another round of Chinese left China, to escape the turmoil there. At the same time, the British had to rebuild and invest even more resources in Singapore. The British needed more people to work here. While immigration policies were not so liberal post World War Two, they were sufficiently liberal to encourage a large number of immigrants.

    So, most of Singapore’s forefathers came from China and India, because the British needed them to develop their colony. They did not even come to a country; they came to a colonial possession. They came here to fulfill a dream, to escape poverty and make money. They became Singaporean by default after Singapore gained independence, after spending decades investing in Singapore.

    Does this make our forefathers’ commitment to Singapore questionable?

    If yes, why do we not complain about the tycoons, as you put it?

    If no, what makes them so different from foreign-born athletes?

  9. Sad to say, I don’t think you’ve grasped much of what I said, which is why you keep asserting “tainted perception” by Singaporeans when I’ve showed you, again and again, that it’s reasonable logic.

    I’ll try again one last time:

    If somebody was given incentives to come here, is it not logical to conclude that he came here because of those incentives?

    If you were offered $100k to marry someone, is it not reasonable for me to assume you married someone because of the $100k?

    Why is that so hard for you to understand?

    And if as a result, the person’s commitment is questioned, why do you call that prejudiced?

    If you married someone after being offered $100k, I would certainly be right to question your commitment to that marriage.

    I want to clear up this allegation of tainted perception first.

    Whether it’s wrong for someone to commit to a country as a result of incentives is a separate matter.

    As for the difference between the old tycoons and the new athletes.

    First, I reiterate that any tycoon can get any passport he wants. You may know immigration policies; many countries give favoured treatment to those who make investments and create jobs in the country. So a tycoon can get any passport he wants.

    But the tycoons we honour have chosen to keep their Singapore passports. And not because of govt incentives.

    The difference between the tycoons who came here many years ago, and the imported athletes, is this:

    The tycoons did not have to be persuaded to come to Singapore; no one guaranteed them anything. In fact, many had to work the first few years just to pay off the debts they accummulated in coming to Singapore.

    In other words, they made their own choices, surveyed the available choices and decided to come to Singapore even though it was high cost and high risk.

    Most importantly, they were not offered up-front incentives to come to Singapore.

    Yes, there was opportunity, but there was great cost to them, and great risk as well.

    Last, if you notice the criticisms cited in wiki, they are of the proportional representation/ racist variety (similar to affirmative action lobby) and not questioning the players’ loyalty or patriotism. And principally from far right politicians too.

    I don’t understand why you can’t see that the people are not satisfied with hollow victories by bought players, and why people question the commitment of bought players.

    The people’s sentiments, in the case of most PR’s, arises from rational reasons such as job competition, etc, but also emotional reasons such as unfairness because they can enjoy the benefits of living in Singapore without the obligations such as National Service.

    However, such unhappiness has been mainly directed at the Govt rather than the PR’s themselves because the people know it’s the Govt who makes the rules and opened the floodgates to immigration, which is why it’s now a hot potato for PAP.

    However, the dissatisfaction against foreign athletes, however, is different. It arises because people see that such athletes did not voluntarily choose to come to Singapore until they were given enough incentives.

    I can’t see why you think it’s prejudice for people to question the commitment of such athletes.

    If I offered you $100k to marry my sister and you took it, I would not consider myself prejudiced to question your commitment to my sister.

  10. To make it really simple, if a black man is accused of a crime simply because statistics show that crime in this neighbourhood have been committed by many black men, one could say the police are prejudiced.

    But if his fingerprints are found on a murder weapon, and he becomes a suspect, would you say the police are prejudiced against him because he’s a black man?

    So when people question the loyalty and commitment of those who came here after being offered incentives, why do you call that prejudice?

  11. Wai Leong,

    The trouble is, there is a feeling that you don’t understand what I’m writing. And there is also a sense that you are saying a lot, but not telling me what you want. You’re going around and around, your words hinting and pointing at certain ideas and values and beliefs. You seem to think I know what they are. But I cannot read your mind, and I clearly do not know what these values are beyond what you have written. So, once more, please tell me what they are or we’ll go nowhere.

    I’ve addressed the point about incentives at length. Go back and read what I wrote again. The question is not about the incentives so much as their actual motivations. You need to prove that these incentives are the only motivations for your point to be valid. You have not. As for the example I mentioned, about the athlete coming to Singapore after exhausting options in her homeland, that, I think, is the essential early career history of Feng Tianwei.

    Your analogy of the black man misses the mark. I agree that if a black man did it, then media perception does not affect his guilt. But media perception does affect how he will be seen by the judiciary and the public, and does affect how he will be treated. I believe I’ve read studies showing that black people tend to be convicted more often and punished more heavily than whites. This is partly because in America, a jury of ordinary citizens decides the suspect’s guilt AND his sentence. Even if we used a Singaporean justice system, when the judge decides guilt and sets punishment, if the judge has the same biases as the jury, then it does not matter. There may be proof that the black man did it, he may even have done it, but how he is treated and how he is seen by people is affected by prejudice induced by the media.

    As for the tycoons, like I said, they stayed in Singapore because they have an emotional attachment to Singapore. They can probably migrate anywhere they choose, but chose to stay here because their decades of work and living here have yielded emotional and physical attachment and investment in Singapore. They sense no reason to pick themselves up and go elsewhere, especially if they have done so once before.

    You said that the tycoons faced great cost and risk, whereas the foreign-born athletes…what? They were offered incentives, true, but they also faced great cost and risk. They had to leave their homelands, be condemned as quitters by their former compatriots, relocate to a country that does not welcome them, and after coming to Singapore, their immediate futures and acceptability and worth will be measured entirely by their skills and their performance.

    Is this cost and risk so different from what a tycoon faces? The only difference is that the State has promised citizenship (that’s the only incentive I can find) up front, and the opportunity for the foreigner to do what he or she does best.

    What are the incentives offered by the State? And why are they so significant, compared to similar incentives offered by various governments to join the national team?

    You say that these foreign-born players can enjoy the benefits of living in Singapore without obligations. They do not. Playing for Singapore is part of the obligation. Training hard so that they can improve their skills and represent Singapore is part of the obligation. Putting up with teammates, coaches, schedules, training programmes, and other things they do not like is part of the obligation. Their obligation for being Singaporean is to represent Singapore. It is a different burden from male NS-eligible Singaporeans, but an obligation nonetheless. And they can only be released from that obligation after they retire, which, I would think, lasts longer than two years of full-time NS. And they have to take on this obligation, in addition to knowing that their new country does not love them and their new government will be monitoring them.

    You said that criticism of the French team is not based on loyalty or patriotism, and instead about racism. But really, the French team is criticised as not being French enough. The Singaporean team is criticised as not being Singaporean enough. Critics of the French team feel that only ‘Frenchmen’ can represent French. Critics of the Singapore team feel that only ‘Singaporeans’ can represent Singapore. That these criticisms came from far right politicians is irrelevant, because the ideas and concepts behind these criticisms are being echoed in Singapore.

    Your last point is about why I think people questioning the commitment of foreign-born athletes is not prejudice. See, these foreign-born people represented your country for you at the highest level, and most probably know that their new country does not and will not love them in spite of how well they do. Despite the fact that they know they will and have faced criticism for not being Singaporean enough, they went and became Singaporeans and competed internationally anyway. They may have any number of incentives, but these incentives are, as far as I know, related to sports. Apart from Singapore citizenship, these incentives don’t make it easier to live in a population that dislikes them — and these athletes are people, too, who have lives outside of sports. Is this not commitment?

    Let’s look at your example. It is incredibly simplistic. Let me show you the reality of the situation. I might marry your sister because I love her, and I felt that I needed the money to ease out the transition to a new family, so I took the money. I chose to woo your sister, because I believe that she is best fits the profile I am looking for in a life partner. Does this make me worthy of contempt?

    But suppose I choose to take the money and leave your sister. That would expose me to rightful condemnation by her, your family, and everybody you know. in this day and age, you could ruin my reputation forever by posting about my misdeeds online for all to see, and get people to spread it as far and wide as possible. After that, nobody will trust me again.

    Alternatively, I may choose the money and live with your sister. But because I only cared about the money, I do not care much, if at all, for her. She will most likely react, complaining to her friends, family, and the like because I am so cold and distant. If I have an affair, she can say even worse things. When she gets proof, she can again ruin my reputation forever. Or she can simply divorce me, and suck up more money from me than I had gained by marrying her. And this, by the way, overlooks the emotional, physical and spiritual costs of entering a loveless marriage.

    These are the consequences I will face. Similarly, these are the consequences a professional athlete will have to face if he or she moves to a third country after migration. A sportsman, being a public figure, must maintain a clean reputation, especially if that person wants to have even a glimmer of hope to participate in the more prestigious tournaments. Having a reputation for being a mercenary and a quitter would quite likely ruin a professional sportsman’s career, especially in a time when sports is still linked to ideas of nation. There is a significant disincentive to be a quitter, and you ignore it.

    You seem satisfied with questions and suspicions, with your personal and limited perspective, bolstered by and parroting what many people seem to be saying at the moment. You have not demonstrated a willingness to understand what these foreign-born citizens face, have not shown an understanding of the importance of emotional attachment in some cases, espouse watered-down examples that fail to illustrate your point, have not shown an understanding of the dynamics of the situation, and thus far fail to articulate what it is you are actually trying to say. You have not even engaged me beyond the superficial level, even when I do and have done the same to you. In short, you have come to me with preconceived beliefs and have not attempted to ascertain facts or clarify the situation in spite of challenges to do so.

    I do believe that that is the definition of ‘prejudice’.

  12. Don’t think you’re a “debater” as you claim, since you’ve taken to singing your own praises and running me down, even calling me prejudiced.

    Debaters know that only the audience and the judge’s assessment matters. Proclaiming one is superior and/or calling an opponent names just shows desperation.

    I’ll have one last try with you, then I’m out of here.

    The key point is that the foreign athletes didn’t walk into the Singapore embassy on their own accord to ask for an immigration form.

    They were courted.

    And they were given incentives to come.

    And the incentive is not just a passport.

    The passport is not such a great incentive. Indeed it carries disincentives, such as NS obligation for male children, loss of dual citizenship, etc.

    No, the passport is hardly the incentive.

    In any case, anyone can be a Singapore PR these days– even cleaners and prostitutes– and qualify for Singapore passport in less than two years anyway.

    There are other incentives.

    So what if immigrants make sacrifices and face consequences when they leave their country?

    The sacrifices and consequences are the same, with or without the incentives.

    Thousands of immigrants come to Singapore from China without special incentives. And they face the same consequences, make the same sacrifices.

    So the point is that, until the officials courted them, and placed the incentives in front of them, they did not consider emigrating to Singapore, unlike thousands of their compatriots who came without courting.

    And you still cling on to your argument that they are committed to Singapore?

    Put it this way, without the incentives, would those athletes have come to Singapore?

    It’s not just athletes.

    EDB was very proud that they had managed to persuade the doctor behind the cloning of Dolly the sheep to come to Singapore.

    But most Singaporeans can see that EDB paid dearly for him. Special labs, facilities, a position created just for him.
    No different from being headhunted, actually. Except it’s not a company, it’s a country.

    So people question his commitment to Singapore too.

    Because it’s clear that he did not wake up one day and go to a Singapore embassy to ask for an immigration form.

    The fact that EDB trumpeted their success in bringing him to Singapore shows it was a state courtship.

    And would you still persist in your belief that he’s “committed” to Singapore, and that anyone who questions this is prejudiced? With all the evidence of the incentives and arrangements made to headhunt such “foreign talent”?

    I feel there’s no point engaging you further. Example after example I have given, clearly showing that before incentives were provided the
    immigrants has no intention of coming to Singapore.

    Yet you can’t see that it is the incentives which made the immigrants come, and that without the incentives they would not have come.

    And in so doing, the reasonable doubt arises–are they committed to Singapore?

    Of course, time will tell. 10 years from now, we’ll know for sure how many are committed and how many are mercenary.

    But the point is not about the immigrants. It’s about your allegation that Singaporeans are prejudiced in having reasonable doubts now. When all the available evidence shows clearly that had the incentives not been given, they would not have come in the first place.

    What’s the point of continued engagement if such a simple point cannot be seen?

    Signing off….

  13. Re: Incentives

    I’m not wasting my time on more arguments with you, but since you claim to be busy and unable to research on what kind of incentives the athletes were promised, I’ve done the research for you below.

    First is from the civil suit by Luan Wei which highlights the “eight promises” SAAA made him to entice him to come to Singapore. As you can see, allowances, food and accommodation, english tuition, university education, etc. And of course a spot on the national team and a chance to compete in international competitions goes without saying.

    Second is our “cash for medals” scheme. Self-explanatory, the promise is for up to $1m for an Olympic gold medal.

    I think this aptly illustrates the kind of money and incentives the Singapore govt will spend to get athletes to come to compete for Singapore. The suit itself, regardless of the outcome, already shows one thing: the athletes would not have come without the promises, and they treat the whole process as a commercial agreement and will not hesitate to sue for any breach.

    In other words, Singapore passport and citizenship are just one of the deliverables from SAA, along with allowances, accommodation, education, etc. which the athlete is entitled to get under the terms of the agreement in return for good performances.

    SINGAPORE: After four years, former shot-putter Luan Wei’s civil suit against the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) finally got underway in court on Tuesday.

    Luan Wei and thrower E Xiaoxu were recruited in 1999 by what was then known as the Singapore Amateur Athletic Association under the country’s foreign sports talent scheme.

    But they were dropped in 2004 after the national track and field body claimed the two athletes’ performances were not up to mark.

    The SAA were sued by the duo in the High Court for unfair dismissal in 2005, but proceedings stalled after they could not raise money for security for costs, which is a deposit required if a foreigner takes a Singaporean entity or individual to court.

    Lawyer Edmond Pereira then applied for the case to be heard in the Subordinate Court, which requires less security for costs, and while E still could not raise enough money, Luan Wei successfully pooled together enough for the case to be heard.

    In the opening day of hearing, Pereira and SAA’s lawyer, Giam Chin Toon (Wee Swee Teow & Co) agreed that there was an agreement between the parties to bring Liaoning-born Luan Wei to Singapore and train him, and for him to eventually represent Singapore in international competition.

    The issue, according to both counsels, was with the terms of the agreement.

    Now a physical education and social science student at Hunan University, Luan Wei – who was accompanied in court by his mother Zhang Ping and father Luan Da Ren – is claiming loss of earnings and expenses as a result of a breach of contract by SAA.

    No amount has been indicated in the claim submitted by Pereira.

    Zhang Ping told the court that her son had been recruited by SAA to train, study and compete for Singapore, and that the association had made eight promises, which included Singapore citizenship within a year, English tuition, allowance, and education in a local university.

    “Before he came to Singapore, Luan Wei was training and studying in Shanghai,” she said on the witness stand. “The most crucial point of our discussion (with SAA) was that if the child was not allowed to study, we wouldn’t have come to Singapore.”

    However, Giam highlighted that the promises Zhang Ping claimed the SAA gave, as listed in her affidavit, differed from the notes of the meeting, which was recorded when Luan Wei and E, as well as their parents, met the SAA in October 2004.

    The defence counsel also questioned Luan Wei’s achievements.

    Giam pointed out that Luan Wei had won a silver medal in a regional age group meet in Shanghai and not gold, as indicated in the former athlete’s statement.

    He said Luan Wei was due to enrol in the University in Shanghai in 2001 and not 1999 as previously stated. Other points that were disputed included the remuneration promised to Luan Wei.

    The trial continues on Wednesday. – CNA/ir


    The Singapore National Olympic Council in the 1990s, under the direction of then President Dr. Yeo Ning Hong, devised an incentive scheme to reward medal-winning athletes. The Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme provides a cash payout to athletes who win gold medals at the Olympic, Asian, Commonwealth and South East Asian Games.

    The largest award is $1 million, payable to the athlete who claims a gold medal at the Olympic Games. The smallest is a $10,000 windfall for a gold medalist at the SEA Games. The value of the awards varies with the respective Games, with the Olympic Games providing significantly higher payouts. The awards also vary based on individual versus team events.

  14. Thanks for the research you’ve done. And thanks for finally stating your point. If you’d done that a long time ago, we wouldn’t have had this argument.

    Let’s talk about your point on debaters, first. Debaters don’t proclaim their superiority and call our opponents names out of desperation. The latter is, in fact, illegal and will cost you if you ever tried doing that.

    You can call a person’s case for being racist if he is using explicitly racist arguments, call his team ignorant if you can demonstrate that the team has not done any kind of research, and call his team unwilling or unable to engage you if the other side has clearly failed to understand and engage what you have said. You can say anything you like, so long as you don’t insult the other side and acan prove what you’ve said. This goes beyond calling people’s names and into the realm of debating strategy: analyzing the opponents’ case, understanding what they are talking about, calling them on their flaws, and, if you’re really lucky, even intimidating them. You are showing the judges that you know how to read people and how to read a debate argument, under tight time pressures, and with the added pressure of modifying your own case on the fly.

    You are, in fact, expected to proclaim your superiority in a debate. Failure to do so will raise eyebrows, because doing this is part and parcel of how competitive debates are run. In the reply speech, the reply speaker is expected and supposed to compare your case with your opponent’s, and say why yours is stronger. If you don’t do that, you don’t have a reply speech, and that’s a large chunk of points gone from your overall score. In your other speeches, you imply that your team’s case is stronger by engaging and rebutting your opponent’s case, showing that their case is flawed. At high-level debates, you have to rebut the rebuttal to prove why their counterarguments are weak as well, to get that half point that decides the margin of victory.

    According to the rules of competitive debates, this is called strategy. I have heard of debaters who have galaxy-sized egos, and debate to feed their egos. But the debaters I work with act superior and arrogant because it’s the nature of the game, and stop being superior and arrogant the second the debate ends.

    But what do I know? I’ve judged debates for four years now.

    All I have done is point out the flaws in what you have written, explained why I see them as such, and express how I see your behaviour and your arguments based on what you have written. I use part of the debaters’ format because it is the one I’m most familiar with, modified and still being modified for the real world. I do all this in the hopes that you’ll tighten up your writing and tell me what it is you are really trying to say.

    With that, finally, your point:

    “And in so doing, the reasonable doubt arises–are they committed to Singapore?

    “Of course, time will tell. 10 years from now, we’ll know for sure how many are committed and how many are mercenary.”

    You see incentives to come to Singapore as closely intertwined with commitment to Singapore, and you think reasonable doubt exists about their commitment.

    I think incentives to come to Singapore are not the be-all and end-all of commitment to come to Singapore, and that as they spend time in Singapore, they will develop an emotional attachment to Singapore. That is, ‘commitment’.

    What is commitment? I think it means the willingness to invest time, energy and resources into a group to achieve a common objective out of personal conviction. This willingness is derived from an emotional, physical, mental and/or spiritual attachment to that group.

    Our main contention lies with the problem of ‘commitment’. Commitment, I think, is the willingness to invest time, energy, and resources into a group to achieve a common objective out of personal conviction.

    You feel that there is something morally wrong with using incentives to obtain this willingness and conviction, because one may get mercenaries instead of people who are committed to Singapore. I feel that willingness and conviction is not linked to incentives, not the material incentives you’ve had the decency to churn up.

    Material incentives alone do not work. I’ve demonstrated as much in my previous example with your sister. They do not work because there are a large number of disincentives to making financial and/or material incentives the only reason for doing something.

    Why do people want to commit themselves to a group? Because they get something out of the group, and because they feel that they belong to the group. If they do not feel that they belong to the group, they will leave.

    A newcomer to a group, especially a large group like a nation, may be expected to prove his loyalty. Especially so if he or she were brought in by an unpopular government policy. But as the immigrant proves himself to society, society must prove itself to him. If society does not accept him for himself, if society continues to cast doubt on him in spite of what he has done for his new country, he will lose his commitment to his new country.

    Sure, it will prove you right, that he isn’t committed to the nation. After all, you made sure he will not be, with your doubts and suspicions and aspersions.

    So, if you and everybody else in society say a person is mad, treat him like a mad person, tell him he is mad, place him with other people who you label ‘mad’, continue to treat him and his peeks like madmen for years on end, what do you get? A madman. A madman you have created.

    Everything I have said boils down to this: Focus on the person and that person’s character. You may have a problem with the policy and the government that brought him in, but he had nothing to do with the policy. He saw an opportunity to live a better life in this land, and took it. Granted, that opportunity was handed out by the Government, but simply taking an opportunity does not necessarily make that person a mercenary. One action, when you don’t know intention and motivation, is not indicative of character. In fact, unless you have access to these athletes’ backgrounds and are qualified in reading and analysing people, you probably won’t know what kind of person he or she is either. All you can do is to judge that person’s deeds over a period of time.

    But instead of judging the foreign-born athletes’ actions in context, or even without, or even recognising their achievements, you have jumped on them and accused them of being mercenaries. You denounce them for taking what would most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime shot offered by the Government, and tar them with the same brush as you would government policies. You show no sign of giving these athletes time to prove themselves, and deride that they have done in Singapore’s name. In short, you have spoken about them with preconceived notions and beliefs, instead of looking at what they have done.

    According to the Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary, that is the definition of prejudice.

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