Friday, June 24, 2022

The rise of pro-China Singaporeans and what it means for Singapore

Justin Ong
Political Correspondent

20 MAR 2022

SINGAPORE - He runs his own tuition business, but Mr Michael Chan's biggest classroom is the website Quora.

There, the 50-year-old father of four has amassed millions of views over nearly a decade of responding to thousands of questions - many of which are about China.

Through posts that explain communism or rebut what he sees as Western media bias against Beijing, he sees his role as helping people better understand China.

This mission to enlighten comes from what he describes as a "pro-China" position - at a time of heightened tensions between the Asian giant and the United States.

He is not alone. According to a Pew Research Centre survey released in June 2021, Mr Chan's favourable view of China is shared by a majority - 64 per cent - of Singaporeans. Singaporeans who took part in the survey are the only ones to view China more positively than the US.

In contrast, nearly three-quarters of people in Asia-Pacific view China negatively.

Some sensitivities arise from how such views in Singapore appear to be formed along ethnic lines.

Some 72 per cent of Singapore's Chinese view China positively, compared with 52 per cent of Indians and 45 per cent of Malays.

Beijing's rise in the world order has precipitated a bitter, multi-dimensional rivalry with the US, spanning an information war waged by both sides.

The race to entrench narratives and shape opinions has spilled into Singapore, where online forums are populated with anecdotes of fathers and grandfathers being "self-radicalised" by Chinese propaganda.

In September last year, a French think-tank issued a report identifying Singapore as a natural and particularly vulnerable target for Chinese influence.

Some of the Singaporeans who call themselves pro-China cited the pride they feel seeing an Asian country's surging technological, economic and cultural progress - a feeling accompanied by growing disdain for an America they once admired.

For others, it is about connecting with their ancestral roots in China, and finding a sense of belonging in ethnic identity.

These individuals acknowledge to ST CloseUp a delicate balance between identifying as Chinese and identifying as Singaporean, but they pronounce that the order is clear: Singaporean first, and Singapore's interests first.

About the video:
The three interviewers in this video are very temperate in their views. Of course having a camera pointed at your face when asked, "are you pro-China?" it is understandable that you would want to qualify that you are "pro-China", but "Singaporean, first and always". That is just prudent self-preservation. Or self-selection (did CloseUp contact other Sinophile - or Pro-China - Singaporeans? Did the most vocal and passionate decline to appear on video? Did these three agree because they understood their motivations, their vulnerability (to foreign influence), and had a rational and reasonable explanation for their pro-China position?) Three reasonable and moderate Pro-China advocates do not represent the entire spectrum of Sinophiles. Or Sinofanatics. Just look at the comments on social media for any China or US related stories. Pro-Chinese position are almost invariably paired with Anti-US sentiments. And pro-China frequently include pro-Chinese policies and position like deriding Ukraine's resistance against Russia (and Ukraine's president - always a give away when they resort to ad hominem attacks). I fear this video attempts to give a reasonable face to Sinophile Singaporeans, and in a sense is trying to influence Singaporeans. Or rehabilitate the image of the Pro-China Singaporean. I wonder why. After all 64% of Singaporeans already see China in a positive light.

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