Correcting Mr Tay Boon Suat

I refer to the 26 Feb 2014 Straits Times letter “Timely boost for pioneer generation” by Mr Tay Boon Suat.

Mr Tay quoted former Nan Hua primary school principal Madam Fong Yuet Kwai saying Singapore was forced to become a country. That is not correct. Singaporeans experienced a political awakening after the Japanese Occupation and began agitating for nationalism, self-determination and an end to British colonialism. That generation of Singaporeans shouted Merdeka, the Malay word for independence. The reward for their dogged determination was that Singapore progressively received more independence and by 1959, in the words of LKY, achieved ¾ independence. While the Leftists wanted to press on and complete the last ¼ journey towards full independence, LKY autocratically hijacked the national agenda and forced Singaporeans to accept merger with Malaysia. Singapore wasn’t forced to become independent; instead, we were forced by LKY into marriage with Malaysia. But in a twist of fate, Singaporeans got what they wanted and there was great rejoicing in the country:

• Lee Kuan Yew, appearing in tears on television when announcing separation, was devastated. His feelings strongly contrasted with what he pictured as the scenes in Chinatown. “They set off firecrackers to celebrate their liberation from communal rule by the Malays from Kuala Lumpur, carpeting the streets with red paper debris”. Most Singaporeans … did not share the government’s dismay …
[Sikko Visscher, The business of politics and ethnicity: a history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, page 171]

Mr Tay’s parroting of PAP’s misplaced pessimism about the survival of post independent Singapore is contradicted by the optimism of our then No. 1 economic advisor Dr Winsemius:

• Lee’s dismay was also not shared by the country’s most prominent foreign advisor. Winsemius, the former leader of the UN development mission and now a regular consultant to the Singapore government, said in an interview in 1981 … to my amazement, a discussion had started: can Singapore survive? That was the only time I got angry in Singapore. I said: ‘now you have your hands free – use them!’ It was the best thing that happened during the whole period from 1960 till today.
[Sikko Visscher, The business of politics and ethnicity: a history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, page 171]

Mr Tay parroted LKY questioning whether Singapore will be around in 100 years even as LKY confidently declared America, China, Britain and Australia will be. But China and Britain barely made it through World War II intact. If America hadn’t defeated the Japanese, it was unlikely bitter rivals Kuomintang and CCP would have. If America didn’t sustain Britain, it was unlikely Britain could have continued to wage war on Germany. If America hadn’t won in the Pacific, the Japanese’s next stop would have been Australia. America is the reason why China, Britain and Australia are still around and not renamed like Singapore was to Syonan-to. America was also the reason why Syonan-to was renamed back to Singapore. America continues to rescue small nations and small populations like Kuwait and Kosovo. If any country big or small is to be around in the next 100 years, it is because America is around.

Mr Tay asserted young Singaporeans attribute our success to good education and government efficiency. Mr Tay should encourage young Singaporeans to read Dr Goh Keng Swee’s book “The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7” in which he attributed our success to our (1) excellent geographic location, (2) excellent British institutions, (3) adaptability honed from 100 over years of continuous adaptation by the colonial government and (4) stability of Southeast Asia.

Mr Tay reminded Singaporeans that we are a city state heavily dependent on the fragile confidence of foreign investors. But bigger countries like Malaysia and Thailand require even more foreign investments to support larger populations. They, not us, have it tougher.

Mr Tay reminded Singaporeans never to forget our pioneers’ contributions. Mr Tay should also not forget the contributions of our pioneers’ pioneers and their pioneers too.


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