Dec 17, 2008
S'pore needs to co-opt 50 Chinese steeped in the culture each year
By Li Xueying, Political Correspondent
As a former China national, Ms Tan knows how to woo clients from her old homeland.
PRIVATE banker Leiny Tan was born in Wuhan city, grew up in Guangdong province and got her university degree in the United States.
But she eventually decided to make Singapore her home after arriving here as a student in 1991.
Now a citizen, the 40-year-old is in charge of the China market for US banking giant Citigroup, responsible for managing the finances of super-rich Chinese nationals based here and in China.
As a former China national, Ms Tan knows how to woo clients from her old homeland. 'Knowing the language is an advantage as we need to be very clear and precise,' she told The Straits Times. 'Understanding the culture is another advantage - the Chinese are very private about their families, but if I ask them the right questions, for instance about their children, they're happy to open up.'
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew wants to see 50 Chinese nationals-turned-Singaporeans like Ms Tan every year, 'co-opted' to help Singapore engage China.
Speaking at a dialogue yesterday, Mr Lee said students from China may come here to master English. But if they come after secondary school, the depth of their Chinese 'can never be shaken'.
'So maybe we can co-opt 50 of them, and then we can bring them back to China to do business on our behalf.'
In 50 years, Mr Lee envisaged East Asia and China 'will be where the action is'. And Singapore needs some 300 talented people a year with the cultural background to connect with those in China.
'Our problem going forward is that our best and brightest do not want to spend their lives concentrating on China,' said Mr Lee. 'They want to go to America, they want to... see greener pastures in the English-educated world.'
So to engage China, Singapore now depends on its older generation who went through Chinese-stream education, and are familiar with Chinese allegories like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, he said.
Younger Singaporeans are conversant in Mandarin, but are lost once the conversation leaves familiar subjects.
Said Mr Lee: 'You (the Chinese) can sit down with the Taiwanese businessmen and while the whole night away drinking because you can talk about so many common things you share in history and culture...But with a Singaporean, it's hard facts, hard facts, and there isn't this cultural background.'
Mr Lee made the point in his reply to a question on how Singapore and China can work together looking forward. 'We are both learning more about each other,' he said. Citing the Suzhou Industrial Park built 14 years ago, he said the initial years were 'truly troublesome'.
Singapore 'must always remember' the experience of one of its officials working on the project, he said.
'One day, the Chinese said to him: 'How old is your country? You want to teach me how to do this? My country is 5,000 years old'. So he decided that you cannot tell them do this, do that. All you can do is (to say), I suggest to you, you examine this and if you think it's a good idea, you pick it up.'
So, Mr Lee anticipates fewer problems with the Tianjin eco-city Singapore is now helping to develop. 'We understand their style and they also understand us.'
My old man is chinese educated. He is one of those stubborn pro-China types who have their hearts in China even though he is born and raised here. And until a decade ago has never set foot on China.
Starting from the late 90s, he began to make holiday trips to China. Every other year or so he and my mom will travel to different parts of China, to visit the China they have read so much about from their early Chinese textbooks and education, the majestic sights, the cultural splendor. And when they return they will speak non-stop and fondly of the middle kngdom.
This went on for years until 2005 when these trips stopped. He has not visited China since, and the former fervour for all things China and Chinese has also died down and completely diminished around the dinner table.
Eventually I asked how come, and he grunted with disgust, "五千年历史有屁用?只懂的捧着历史吃饭!"
That about explains and sums up the 180 degree U turn in attitude toward the "motherland" hahaha.
My father, like most from his generation, voted for the PAP. I remember he used to berate me during dinner when i question the way LKY and PAP goes about suing opposition politicians.
Well not anymore. The past few years have seen another 180 degree U turn in my parents' view on politics. These days my old man is more ept to swear loudly at the TV whenever politicians in white appear, hahaha!
I guess even a stubborn old man like my father will one day stop living in the past and see the reality for what it is. Apparently not for some others, especially a non-Chinese educated ba ba, hehehe.