Stayers and quitters, patriots and opportunists

By Augustine Low

A Malaysian Chinese daily has just reported that it carried out a survey which shows that 87 per cent of Malaysians working in Singapore are not interested in taking up citizenship here because “all they want was to earn ‘Sing’ dollars,” and that “they love their homeland Malaysia deeply”. In China, world-famous film director Zhang Yimou recently declared that he gave up his US citizenship when it was no longer useful to him.

These are the latest ominous signs to Singapore, a haven for immigrants and new citizens.

Zhang had been lambasted by fellow Chinese for getting away with violating China’s one-child policy, having fathered three children with his wife Chen Ting. Netizens questioned why he did not have his children in the United States to bypass China’s laws. His studio sent out the message that Zhang had given up his American green card more than a decade ago, adding: “He is Chinese. He wants his children to be Chinese. And he has no regrets about this.”

This immediately soothed public opinion against him. After all, who could argue with such unabashed patriotism?

Zhang had apparently applied for his green card to get his daughter enrolled into an American high school. Once this mission was fulfilled, he had no qualms about giving up his green card.

This is a great example of pragmatism and opportunism dictating the goals of citizenship in today’s world.

In Singapore, we have had numerous foreign sports talents, who, after winning medals and bagging cash, return to their homeland, never to come back to our shores. While here as citizens, they may have played their hearts out for Singapore, but all the time, their hearts were with their motherland.

Who could fault them for their patriotism and attachment to their country of birth? It would have been foolish of us to think that they grew to love their adopted country overnight. They became citizens because opportunity beckoned and once this had played out its course, they returned home.

In the book “One Man’s View of the World”, Lee Kuan Yew made it a point to emphasise that Goh Chok Tong’s daughter had emigrated: “Goh Chok Tong’s daughter married an Englishmen and live near Bradford. He visits his grandchildren who look more Caucasian than Chinese. He tells me they get along with their neighbours. But that’s because they are middle class.”

Lee certainly went out of his way to make this point, because it was an unrelated response to a question about racial tensions in Europe. He might have been a making a point to Goh too, who, when he first became Prime Minister, said that Singapore’s “good sons and daughters are expected to dedicate themselves to help others and to serve the country.”

How many more family members and relatives of our leaders have emigrated or taken up foreign citizenship? Should we feel aggrieved, given that these are the very leaders who call upon us to have more babies, to serve National Service, to accept the influx of foreigners as a necessity?

Those of us who choose to stay rooted to Singapore, despite the lure of greener pastures, should not be taken for granted. We may disagree with the government, we may feel our country is far from perfect, but we stand ready to stand up for Singapore. Recently, I came across an online posting which described patriotism as “unconditional emotional investment in our nation”. It is a good way to put it – to stay always emotionally invested when you have emigrated and are permanently half a world away from your country does not seem plausible.

But being born and bred a Singaporean, and choosing to stay on no matter what, surely that counts as abiding loyalty to one’s country.

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