‘I don’t know what I’m defending anymore’
By Ewen Boey – October 30th, 2010
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Young Singaporeans like Lim Zi Rui are becoming increasingly disillusioned and they’re not afraid to let it show.
The 23-year-old final-year aerospace engineering student was among a 1,000-strong crowd who attended a Ministerial Forum organised on Friday by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Students’ Union.
Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was the guest-of-honour.
During a dialogue session after SM Goh’s main address, Lim stood up and asked if the Minister was aware that many young people no longer felt a sense of ownership in Singapore.
“When I was younger, I was very proud of being a Singaporean,” said Lim as reported in The Straits Times.
“But that was about five, ten years ago. Five years later, with all the changes in policies and the influx of foreign talent, I really don’t know what I’m defending any more.”
He said this was a view that many of the men he served with during National Service also held.
“I feel that there is a dilution of the Singapore spirit in youth… We don’t really feel comfortable in our country any more,” he said.
Mr Goh replied, “‘This is one early sign of danger… If this is happening, it is very serious.” He went on to ask Mr Lim why he felt disconnected.
Mr Lim told SM Goh, ”‘I’m still serving as an officer and I definitely would love to defend Singapore.”
But he said the key difference between him and his foreign friends was, “I tell them, this is my country. I can’t just leave here whenever I want to. You can come and play and work here, but I have to stay here.”
SM Goh responded by defending the government’s policy of welcoming foreigners.
“You want to have a home. Who’s going to build your HDB flat?” said the Minister.
Lim replied that due to the inability to afford the sky-high public housing prices, his brother had to call off his engagement.
“My brother got engaged, but lost his engagement because he could not afford an HDB flat,” said Lim, who went on to state that his question was not about “integrating foreigners”.
“My question was, how are we going to help the younger generation feel a sense of belonging to Singapore? I don’t think it’s about integrating foreigners,” said Lim.
“This is your country,” SM Goh replied. “What do you want me to do to make you feel you belong?”
“For my part, don’t worry about me,” Mr Lim said. “I will definitely do something, if I can, for Singapore. But I can tell you honestly that the sentiment on the ground is a bit different.”
“If this is happening, it is very serious,” said SM Goh.
“If the majority feel they don’t belong here, then we have a fundamental problem. Then I would ask myself: What am I doing here? Why should I be working for people who don’t feel they belong over here?” asked SM Goh.
Earlier on during the dialogue session, the Minister made the point that the next General Elections, due to be held by February 2012, would be a “watershed” for the future of Singapore from which a “fourth Prime Minister and a core team of younger ministers will emerge”.
SM Goh also challenged the young undergrads in his audience to “make a difference to Singapore” by joining local politics.