Singapore Minister Calls for Sensitivity to Needs of Minorities

A senior government minister called on Singapore’s majority Chinese community to be sensitive to the needs of the country’s minorities, following a spate of incidents involving racial abuse.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said there have been significantly more events involving race and religion this year, most likely due to the stress of the pandemic. In one widely publicized incident in May, a Chinese man allegedly kicked an Indian woman in the chest while uttering racial slurs.

Singapore Minister Calls for Sensitivity to Needs of Minorities

The incidents have drawn condemnation and sparked a debate about racial harmony in the country, which prides itself on its multiculturalism.

“I ask that we do more and take the extra step to make our minority friends, neighbors, co-workers feel comfortable,” Wong said in a speech to a forum on race and racism in Singapore.

About 74% of Singapore’s resident population of 4.04 million are ethnic Chinese, followed by Malays at around 13.5%, Indians at almost 9%, and the remainder such as Eurasians classified under “Others.” The island has a non-resident population of about 1.64 million.

Foreign Workers

Wong said Singapore needs foreign workers to stay competitive and attract investment. Though the government controls the flow of migrant workers, it’s not possible to ensure their ethnic mix matches the country’s resident population, he said.

“So from time to time this create frictions and issues within and among our communities,” he said.

The government will continue to update its policies on race, as well as those that strengthen racial harmony. “Our policies are not cast in stone,” Wong said.

He said the Chinese community in Singapore is not “monolithic” and has its own sensitivities.

“Please understand that we still have a whole generation of Chinese Singaporeans who are more comfortable in Chinese than English, and who consider themselves at a disadvantage in an English-speaking world,” Wong said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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