A rising China has triggered anxiety across the world, including neighbors. The New York Times reported Sunday that Singapore has a growing concern that China could seek to "convert existing cultural affinities among Singaporean Chinese into loyalty to the Chinese 'motherland.'" In the island nation where ethnic Chinese constitute nearly 75 percent of its 5.6-million population, there are worries that it could be an "especially tantalizing target for the Chinese government's influence efforts," according to the report.
China's rise to a major power in the world has been a matter of fact for the times, an unprecedented case for such a sizable country of Chinese people. What comes with this emergence is consequent influence on Southeast Asia, or even the whole world, in political, economic, and unavoidably cultural terms.
In Southeast Asia, Singapore is a special case. It adopts a parliamentary representative democratic system that is significantly subject to Western influence, and differs from China in this regard.
The city-state, with three-quarters of its population ethnically Chinese, has a history of wariness about China and has intentionally kept a distance from China for fear of being considered a "Third China" or a fifth column. Under its founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore was the last among Southeast Asian countries to establish a diplomatic relationship with China and has carefully orchestrated a balance between China and the US ever since.
China has adhered to the principle of not interfering with other countries' internal affairs, but this doesn't mean that ethnic Chinese in other countries won't react spontaneously to China's achievements. After all, Chinese share cultural bonds that cannot be easily cut, wherever they may reside.
China has long repeated that it pursues a peaceful rise and won't seek hegemony in any sense. But evaluating China's emergence depends on the lens used to view it. Unfortunately Singapore's anxiety shows it has seen the historical trend through the wrong lens, which is not China's fault.
Given the dramatic changes taking place in the region and the world, Singapore may understandably find many difficulties in adapting to the new scenario. But the state shouldn't put all the blame on China. More importantly, it has to be wary that some people may take the chance to hype the "China threat" theory, as seen in countries like Australia, India and some European states. Singapore needs the confidence to manage cultural exchanges with China.
Cover image: VCG