OK, I have said before that Singaporeans, especially their leaders, have been exceptionally gracious and careful with their public comments so far on Hong Kong. Understandably, it’s not nice capitalising on their current political instability. In any case, it does not serve Singapore any good if Hong Kong does collapse altogether, given how much we have invested in the city.
But I have to respond to this fellow Phil C. W. Chan.
Writing in the South China Morning Post, Chan said he was once a PhD student studying in NUS and understood enough about Singapore to warn Hongkongers looking to flee the Chinese territory that Singapore may not be the “happier, freer land’’ they are looking for. Before they consider emigrating to the republic, consider the fact that Singaporeans do not enjoy the rights and freedom that Hongkongers do, Chan said. So he dishes out his misguided advice on Singapore without much regard to the facts on the ground, the outcomes and how much Singapore had gone way ahead of them with its own brand of effective governance and economic development that has delivered.
First thing first. Let’s get this harsh reality out of the way. Heard of the ugly duckling who somehow thinks she still gets to pick her Prince Charming? Do the Hong Kong youth of today still fit in the mould of what Singapore is looking for in the first place? Ironically, I would imagine Hongkongers should actually be jumping for joy if they do get picked by Singapore immigration recruiters in their search for new citizens. The fact is Hongkongers are no longer the same crop that the Singapore Government was looking for post-Tiananmen – at a time when China was still opening up cautiously.
In a report in 2017 on how well educated students are, the Economist Intelligence Unit warned Hong Kong youth may lose out on jobs because their students are less prepared for a future than their peers in Singapore. One report even warned Hong Kong was wasting resources in producing so many poor quality graduates that the market did not want. So I was really tickled when one protestor was caught on video trying to spray graffiti with a grammatically incorrect statement.
Hong Kong’s education has not just failed in instilling national identity and patriotism, it has not even educated them well enough in basic skills needed for the economy. Many Hongkongers still have below-par English standards, being more comfortable in Cantonese. Another study found flaws and poor English standards among Hongkongers, describing their English as “barely adequate’’.
In Hong Kong, a degree can no longer guarantee a decent income with one in six graduates taking on low paid unskilled work. Another recent study found that while a Singapore fresh graduate is earning S$S3,500 a month, the equivalent in Hong Kong is S$2,500 a month. What kind of freedom does one have in terms of housing and other key living expenses when you earn that sort of pay in a place where a 284 sq ft apartment can cost HKD $4 million?
It is also here that I would like to point out a misconception that Hongkong offers a low tax environment. Unknowingly, Hongkongers have been paying one of the highest taxes in the world through the Government land premium. The fact is Hongkongers pay half or more than their salary into residential property purchases – the high price being a result of the high land premium collected by the Government when sites are sold to the developers. So effectively, that “tax’’ had been passed to Hongkongers who could be paying the equivalent of astronomical Scandinavian tax rates without the accompanying welfare benefits.
On the other hand, across the border, the mainland Chinese are increasingly fitting in the mould of what Singapore is looking for. Driven, disciplined, eloquent, well educated, proficient in two of Singapore’s official languages: English and Mandarin. And guess what, they are more global as well. Every year, China sends hundreds of thousands overseas to the best universities in Singapore (note we rank way above HK universities), Europe, USA. Many now work in London, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, competing with the best in the world. Thousands of them have made it to Singapore universities, doing their undergraduate degrees, masters, second masters, PhDs in the high-tech sector. These are the ones that Singapore should be picking up. Hongkongers are nowhere near what they can offer us as new citizens.
Now Chan talks about Singapore’s legal system. So Singapore does not have the rights and freedom of what Hongkongers are enjoying today? Freedom to do what? Attack police with petrol bombs, knives, metal poles? Vandalise public property? Block traffic road to disrupt public transport and retail business? Destroy ATM machines? Invade Parliament House and damage it? Burn MTR station and break turnstiles? Burn down PRC-owned shops? Beat up old men on the street who disagree with them? Gladly, we do not need such freedoms. We never planned to take in you guys anyway. In fact, the violence in recent months has added one more negative point to the suitability of Hongkongers in our list on immigrant desirability.
Again, like many of those who write poorly about Singapore, Chan has got his cause and effect wrong. It is exactly the strong laws and enforcement that make Singapore what she is today. For instance, it is because of the effectiveness of the caning deterrence that Singaporeans do not go out there to destroy public property or burn MRT stations and banks. Chan said Singapore would not have allowed demonstrations like in Hong Kong now. Wrong again. I would say we had the foresight to see how such mass demonstrations can go very wrong given the madness and violence that are erupting every weekend and now weekday in Hong Kong today, endangering the lives of so many innocent. Chan would probably say he is fine not being able to go out to the streets now with his family for a nice weekend. But I do want to go out and enjoy my nice weekend here.
On his point about he wouldn’t be able to write any of the stuff about Singapore leaders just like how they are now doing in Hong Kong, my question would be: what exactly do you want to write about Singapore leaders which you think is not allowed? Just about anything that has been written on Carrie Lam would have been allowed here on Singapore leaders or anyone for that matter. Unless Chan believes defamation laws are not necessary and that you are allowed to get away with accusing anyone of anything without proving it.
Ironically, it is the unfettered freedom and irresponsible media and liberal politicians unaccompanied by sound legal, social and economic policies that have led to the violent mess today. While we are still on rule of law, I may want to remind Chan that Singapore ranked in the 95th percentile in World Bank’s ranking for rule of law. We ranked first by World Economic Forum for public trust in politicians, transparency in government and efficiency of legal framework in settling legal disputes. We have beaten Hong Kong in almost every ranking of legal systems, anti-corruption, criminal justice. Just for good measure, Singapore ranked highest in the world in independent rankings on healthcare, education, home ownership and yes, global liveability and quality of life.
While Hongkongers were enjoying their “rights and freedom’’ quarrelling and fighting among themselves since the handover, Singapore which was only half of Hong Kong’s GDP in 1997 had overtaken them in less than 15 years. And mind you, Hong Kong was backed by a strong hinterland with China growing at high GDP rates. Ironically, it was the protestors themselves who eroded those rights and freedom in the last four months by hurting members of public, blocking traffic, business activities and government proceedings. Not Beijing.
And one more thing – Singapore has the most important rights and freedom that Hongkongers do not get – the vote. We get to decide who runs us every five years. If we think our rights and freedom are infringed and our leaders are not delivering the outcome, we can throw the lot out. Get this right: we have legitimacy and accountability in government.
Despite his training in law with a PhD to boot, Chan appears unable to link policy to good outcomes. The few years of education in Singapore obviously have been wasted on him.