WIKILEAKS: SINGAPORE OPEN DOORS TO CHINESE TO MAINTAIN ETHNIC

wikileaks singapore

[Below is a leaked document from the Embassy of Singapore intercepted by Wikileaks back in 2009.]

VZCZCXRO1181
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHGH RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHVC
DE RUEHGP #0325/01 0970652
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 070652Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6582
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2213
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 2285
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI

Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09SINGAPORE325 2009-04-07 06:52 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Singapore
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SINGAPORE 000325 
 
SIPDIS 
 
EAP/MTS - M. COPPOLA 
ALSO FOR EAP/CM - J. HABJAN 
NEW DELHI - J. EHRENDREICH 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL ASEAN PINR ELAB SN CH
SUBJECT: SINGAPORE OPENS DOOR TO CHINESE TO MAINTAIN ETHNIC 
BALANCE 
 
REF: 08 SINGAPORE 1036 
 
Classified By: E/P Counselor Ike Reed for reasons 1.4 (b)(d). 
 
1. (C) Summary:  Faced with a chronically low fertility rate 
and high emigration, Singapore has used a selective but 
relatively open immigration policy to increase its 
population, fuel its normally strong economic growth, and 
maintain a politically delicate balance among its Chinese, 
Malay and Indian ethnic groups.  While the GOS keeps its 
immigration numbers secret, it appears that a particularly 
low birth rate among ethnic Chinese has allowed 
Chinese-national immigrants to overwhelmingly benefit.  Many 
Chinese immigrants use Singapore as a stepping stone and 
depart for greater opportunities abroad once they have 
obtained Permanent Resident status.  The integration of 
culturally different mainland Chinese remains a challenge. 
End Summary. 
 
A Shrinking Population 
---------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) Singapore has long used selective but relatively 
open immigration policies to offset a chronically low birth 
rate and a persistent "brain drain" of educated citizens. 
The country's birth rate has been below replacement level 
(2.1) since 1975 and has now reached a level (1.29) so low 
that without such offsets, Singapore's population would start 
to shrink by 2020, Dr. Yap Mui Teng, a demographer at The Lee 
Kuan Yew School of Public Policy told Poloff.  The low birth 
rate is even more pronounced among ethnic Chinese (who make 
up approximately 75 percent of the population) and stands at 
1.14. 
 
3. (SBU) Attempts to address the low birthrate problem date 
to the mid-1980s, when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made 
several controversial speeches in which he unabashedly 
lamented the low birth rate of educated Singaporeans and 
urged college educated women to have more babies.  (Note: 
Although the GOS makes strenuous efforts to maintain ethnic 
balance and harmony, some interpreted such remarks as chiefly 
promoting fertility among Chinese, given their historically 
higher levels of academic achievement.  End Note.)  More 
recently, the low birth rate problem has begun to affect all 
of Singapore's ethnic groups.  While the birth rate of ethnic 
Indians (9 percent of the population) has been below 
replacement value since 1990, only in the last two years has 
the birth rate among ethnic Malays slipped below replacement 
level.  Since 1986, the GOS has introduced a slate of 
incentives to encourage families, especially working couples, 
to have more children, including tax incentives, cash 
bonuses, and programs to assist working mothers.  Despite the 
host of incentives offered, the GOS efforts have not 
succeeded in arresting the problem, Dr. Yap acknowledged. 
 
Persistent Emigration 
--------------------- 
 
4. (SBU) Compounding the problem of low birth rate, a 
significant portion of Singapore citizens and Permanent 
Residents (PRs) move away from the country each year, Dr. Yap 
said.  Each year over the past five years, between 
5,000-8,000 Singapore citizens and PRs permanently left 
Singapore.  This occurred notwithstanding Singapore's 
then-robust economic growth and strong job market.  With an 
average of only 30,000 births and 15,000 deaths each year, 
the impact of so many departures on Singapore's population 
was significant, Dr. Yap added. 
 
Encouraging Immigrants 
---------------------- 
 
5. (SBU) In order to maintain (and indeed expand) its 
population, the Government of Singapore actively encourages 
immigration among skilled and well-educated workers.  At 
present, approximately 25 percent of Singapore's 4.8 million 
people are non-residents.  The majority of the non-resident 
population is comprised of transient lower-skilled workers 
that remain in Singapore for periods of two to four years and 
work in the construction, marine and the service industries. 
 
SINGAPORE 00000325  002 OF 003 
 
 
However, a significant percentage of the non-resident 
population is comprised of better-educated and skilled labor, 
for whom gaining permanent residence status is quick and easy. 
 
6. (C) Chinese immigrants have traditionally formed a 
disproportionate share of total immigration, and there have 
been three major waves of immigration from China, the most 
recent occurring over the last five years, Chinese Heritage 
Center Director Dr. Leo Suryadinata told Poloff.  The influx 
of Chinese immigrants has allowed Singapore to maintain its 
ethnic balance (now presently 75 percent Chinese, 14 percent 
Malay, 9 percent Indian and 2 percent "other") over the years 
despite the extremely low birth rate of ethnic Chinese 
Singaporeans.  To illustrate the effect of immigration, Dr. 
Suryadinata pointed out that the birth rate for ethnic 
Chinese has hovered between 1.07 - 1.6  for the last twenty 
years, while the birth rate of ethnic Malays remained above 
replacement level until 2007.  Yet the ethnic Chinese 
percentage of the population has only fallen 3 percent during 
that period.  The percentage of ethnic Malays has fallen half 
of one percent, from 14 to 13.5 percent.  The ethnic Indian 
population increased from 7 to 9 percent despite a birth rate 
that since 1990 has been well below replacement value, 
indicating a large influx of Indian immigrants as well, Dr. 
Suryadinata said. 
 
Immigration Numbers Kept Secret 
------------------------------- 
 
7. (C) Ever mindful of sensitivities about its active 
management of communal issues, the Government of Singapore 
keeps its immigration numbers secret, MFA North East Asia 
Assistant Director Tracy Chan admitted.  This is at least in 
part an effort to avoid reigniting racial tensions that led 
to race riots in the late 1960s.  One practical effect of 
such a policy is that no one outside the GOS knows the 
precise ethnic mix among immigrants, students and other 
foreigners living and working in the country.  In 
conversations with other embassies, we learned that many of 
them have no idea how many of their nationals reside in 
Singapore. 
 
Singapore as a Stepping Stone 
---------------------------- 
 
8. (C) While many Chinese skilled workers and students 
eventually become Singapore citizens, a greater number 
subsequently seek greener pastures once they have acquired PR 
status, James Du, a Chinese-born consultant (now Singapore 
Citizen) at Asia-Link Technology (a mainland China-focused 
headhunting firm) told Poloff.  Singapore has a policy of 
recruiting the "best and the brightest" to Singapore, but 
that policy is a double-edged sword, Du said.  Although many 
mainland Chinese feel comfortable in Singapore, many of the 
more talented ones view Singapore as a stepping stone to the 
west.  Singapore is an ideal place for those with such 
ambitions to learn western customs and improve their English, 
Du said.  May Fan Rong, a mainland Chinese undergraduate 
studying in Singapore said that the majority of her 
compatriots were looking to continue their studies and 
careers in either the United States, Canada or Australia. 
She was confident that all of them would receive PR status in 
Singapore, but doubted any would remain here.  "We'd only 
stay on if we cannot find opportunities abroad," she said. 
 
9.  (C) Despite the large numbers of Chinese viewing 
Singapore as a transit point, an increasing number do stay, 
Du Zhi Qiang, Director of the Tianfu Association (a mainland 
Chinese club) said.  Du estimated approximately 
300,000-400,000 Chinese nationals presently live in 
Singapore.  MFA's Chan agreed that the 300,000-400,000 figure 
is realistic, and the Straits Times newspaper recently 
reported that estimate as well.  The Straits Times also 
recently cited an estimate of 1 million Chinese in Singapore, 
including those who have become Permanent Residents and 
Singapore citizens.  Chan said that figure is reasonable, 
assuming it includes those Chinese who have immigrated to 
Singapore since the 1980s.  Commenting on the large number of 
mainland Chinese in Singapore, Tianfu Director Du joked that 
if one were to randomly throw a brick out of a window, odds 
 
SINGAPORE 00000325  003 OF 003 
 
 
were good it would hit a Chinese mainlander.  (Note: Du 
himself, now a Singapore citizen, immigrated to Singapore 
from Sichuan, China in the 1990s.  End Note.) 
 
10.  (C) Dr. Chen Gang, (a Chinese-national) Research Fellow 
at the National University of Singapore's East Asia 
Institute, explains that Chinese nationals living in 
Singapore run the gamut, from students and scientists, 
businessmen and factory workers, to workers in the service 
sector and the sex-trade industry.  While the global economic 
crisis will likely cause a short-term downturn in demand for 
foreign workers and may temporarily suppress emigration, he 
thought the number of Chinese nationals here would certainly 
increase over the long-term, especially with the 
implementation of the recently signed Chinese-Singapore FTA 
(reftel).  Dr. Chen said that many mainland Chinese view 
Singapore as a "Chinese outpost," and are thus attracted to 
settling here. 
 
Integration 
----------- 
 
11.  (C) Although the Government of Singapore strives to 
assist immigrants to integrate into society, many 
Singaporeans grumble about the large number of mainland 
Chinese now in Singapore, Dr. Yap said.  Singaporeans often 
get frustrated with the "unusual" attitudes and mannerisms of 
the mainland Chinese, Dr. Yap said.  Additionally, many 
Singaporeans have been irritated to discover that a 
significant percentage of the recent arrivals from mainland 
China working in areas such as the service industry speak 
little or no English, Dr. Yap added. 
 
12.  (C) On the other hand, some recent immigrants, Chinese 
and Indian alike, are resented for increasing the already 
overheated competition in Singapore's society and schools. 
Many of the mainland Chinese students in Singapore become 
leaders within their schools, in both academic and athletic 
areas, Dr. Suryadinata said.  He suggested that an area 
requiring further study is how such "student leaders," with 
very different cultural norms than Singaporeans eventually 
adjust to life in Singapore.  Will they go on to become 
societal leaders, and if so, will they eventually present a 
challenge to the system, he wondered. 
 
Visit Embassy Singapore's Classified website: 
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/singapore/ind ex.cfm 
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