Throughout the article ‘Singapore: Place or Nation? ‘, there is a constant debate between forging a strong national identity versus flourishing economically or materialistically in physical aspects (i. e. architecture and infrastructure, research and development), which are brought about by globalization. Linda Lim argues that Singapore is often seen as a place much reliant on it’s rich biodiversity and it’s flourishing economy rather than a single, more unified nation where lifestyles are based on unique values and culture, hence leading to Singapore’s lack of national identity.
She blames economic priorities for apparently having an inclination to foreign capital and talent, claiming that the “Chinese-educated entrepreneurs who posed a potential political threat to the new government- were instead “crowded out” by these favoured foreign and state enteprises. From her perspective, the authoritatrian policies of repressing the growth of civil society for endangering apathetic and passive Singaporeans with little affiliation for their country beyond it’s economic and materialistic value.
She is adamant over the absence of a strong interest in Singapore’s affairs and also mentions that foreigners and even locals consider Singapore a “stepping stone” to success in the West, indicating that is is not at all a nation at all but merely a place. In turn, it is evident that she believes national identity must have an aberrant and not just an economically rational component, arising from emotion ties rather than pragmatic self-interest.
In summary, the gist of the article revolves around the notion of identity, due mainly to Singapore’s pressing need to excel in economical aspects and at the same time, focus on cultivating a strong national identity and sense of patriotism within citizens. So she insists that Singapore is no more than a place. What Linda Lim fails to realize here is that a nation’s identity and its economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive and achieving both of these successes is realistic.
What we have to clarify firstly, before attempting to delve into any form of interpretation, is the definitions of the two most pertinent terms used in Lim’s article- Globalization and Place. Globalization is defined as the “major increases in worldwide trade and exchanges in an incrasingly open, integrated and borderless economy”1.
This implies that due to the growing economic interdepence of countries worldwide through the increase of cross-border transactions in both goods and services, it is only vital that any country who wants to be a part of the globalized world must fit the part of being proficient enough to be able to contribute sufficiently, and resulting in the advancement of the world economy. For globalization to take place, there must be elimination of nation states2 to ensure the complete intertwining of every Global nation in economic, political, cultural and technological aspects.
Place, on the other hand is most frequently used in a geographical sense to denote location. A location suggests identity, where a group of people who belong to that location are not only able to correlate with it but also feel the sense of belonging and assuredness that the location brings upon. It is a well known phenomenon in human society that when one frequents a particular location, it also inevitably provides familiarity and hence imparts a sense of rootedness and loyalty to the people3.
An identifier of a location can also be how it is noted for a particular characteristic, which defines it as a unique place. In Singapore’s case, what distinguishes us from other countries is our own national identity. With the need for integration during globalization, it is inevitable that each and every nation or country has to prioritize it’s needs, sometimes even having to sacrifice or pay lesser attention to the ones not deemed as top prerogative. This give and take is necessary so as to ascertain each nation’s level of commitment towards contributing to the worlds economy.
Firstly, her argument itself is flawed as seen from the above definition of the word “place”. Professor Lim insinuates that because we are a “nation of immigrants”, we lack identity and all physical embodiments of it have been “erased or reconstructed”. A very plausible reason for this assumption might have been due to the fact that Singapore has a good geographical location that attracts foreign businessmen. They base themselves in Singapore for practical economical purposes without the intention of settling down here whatsoever.
Hence, this would just be considered capitalism movement and does not have any associated with our national identity because they are foreigners and Singapore is not their motherland. The examples she speaks about are based on her own limited experiences and are centrically put across, this only lessens her reliability and makes her seem rather biased against Singapore and it’s doings. Adversely, majority of the citizens of “Singapore-the place”, as she affectionately speaks of her homeland, are able to identify with it because of the homespun accustomedness the island brings about.
They do not think of the nation as merely a “stepping stone” or as a “hotel”, instead they think of it as their home. Singaporeans have not been passively using the country just for its material purposes; active citizenship is now more rampant in society. For example, during the recent issue of the introduction to casinos for the newly planned Integrated Resorts (IR) development, many assiduous Singaporeans came forward to voice out their concerns. Also, all Singaporeans willingly participate in the national elections and take time off their busy schedules to attend rallies and give feedback.
What more, the upcoming national day celebration is booming in full-force and many are eagerly awaiting the 9th of August, hurriedly buying tickets to consecrate our independence for our nations 41st birthday- it’s motto being ‘Our global city, our home”. In modern Singapore, hardly any citizen is passively dependant on the country nor are we apathetic to national issues. Furthermore, Linda Lim is also not one to judge, as the American-based academic has been living abroad for far too long to understand the current culture.
Also, before a concrete national identity can be forged, it is extremely vital that the citizens of that nation are being provided with a sense of security. The only way this can arrive is if there is economic, political and social stability in the country. Thus to excel economically, we have to be in sync with the world economy and keep up with times. It is a fact that “we do not have a national economy, but only parts of a global one which are themselves not necessarily place-specific”, and I agree with Professor Lim’s statement to a certain extent.
Conversely, she fails to see that Singapore is a young nation, only surviving independence for 41 years, to build a national economy we require foreign input, we cannot rest on our laurels and concentrate on constructing a local-based economy because globalization is such that we have to partake in a borderless economy, where foreign investments and capital is quintessential. An excellent illustration of this is China. Before China was transformed into a first world country, its economy was isolated from the rest of the world leading it to have a large rural base instead of a vibrant, fast-moving and profit making one.
However, after opening up it’s market globally China has quickly emerged as a “rising dragon” and is taking over renowned well-developed countries economically. Singapore’s receptiveness towards globalization, and its corresponding foreign cultural and economic infusion, has a meandering effect on the national ethos through the propagation of cosmopolitanism, resulting in openness. With a foreigner-local ratio of 1:4 and university enrolment of foreign students at 20% of yearly intake4, Singapore has demonstrated its adaptability and flexbility, thus explaining its ranking as the best place to live in Asia5.
With prestigious evidence like this, it perturbs me that Linda Lim still continually insists that citizens do not identify with the nation and want to emigrate. Linda Lim also subtly prods at questions pertaining to Singapore’s policy making challenges. Although we are receptive to globalization, we practice it selectively. Meaning that the government makes a conscious effort to encourage or discourage certain forms of it.
The fact that our government bothers to put in place censorship bans to protect our typically Asian conservative society from receiving the ill of globalization exemplifies that we do not want to be culturally homogenous but instead we want to retain certain notions of tradition and conservatism. Despite the fact that the state garners international criticism, the realities of sustaining a multi-racial and multi-religious society remains, thus the practice of selective globalization expresses the need to “think internationally but act locally”.
I believe that national identity an ongoing process and not rigidly fixed on certain physically identifiable and exclusive manifestations. Lim’s hasty fallacies and lack of empathy has not done any justice to both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike, who have cooperated in making this city an improved place to live in. Lastly, the irony of it all is explicitly emphasized with this question in mind- should Professor Lim not be practicing what she preaches instead of sarcastically disregarding the turbulent journey Singapore had to go through before making it this far?