Singapore’s identity crisis

Singapore’s identity crisis

The city state of Singapore, said to be the world’s MOST expensive city in the world, as well as the second most densely populated nation, is becoming more crowded. And unless activists behind an unprecedented campaign force the government to change its plans, it is going to get more crowded yet.

Earlier this year, the authorities revealed proposals to increase the population of 5.3 million by as much as 30 per cent, to 6.9 million by the year 2030. The government said it wanted to introduce more foreign workers to offset Singapore’s notoriously low birth rate. While the plan was broadly welcomed by business leaders, the proposals triggered a rare outburst of political anger in a country better known for quiet stability and political apathy.

Days after the government’s proposals were published in a White Paper, campaigners set up a Facebook page to oppose them, and between 3,000 and 4,000 demonstrators held a peaceful protest last month at the Speakers’ Corner of Hong Lim Park, the only venue in Singapore where such rallies are allowed. It was said to have been the biggest in recent history.

The man behind the campaign, Gilbert Goh, is now planning a another such event for 1 May. He believes to be expecting up to 10,000 people to attend. “By 2030, more than 55 per cent of the population will be foreigners. We fear we will lose our national identity. I think it threatens the survival of our  culture, and Singaporeans are rising up.”

Reports suggest that people are increasingly concerned about the rising cost of living, heavy taxes and property prices that have doubled since 2010. The cheapest new car now costs £58,000. People also complain that foreigners are stealing the jobs of local people.Much of the anger towards foreigners appears to be directed at people from mainland China. Feelings grew last year following an incident in which a wealthy Chinese expatriate killed himself, a Japanese woman and a local taxi driver when he crashed his high-end Ferrari after apparently jumping a red light.

“It’s not just about economics. It’s about our national identity.” –


However, there are singapore citizens who disagree with this.  As part of his activism, Gilbert Goh runs the website Often, he will repost letters from PMETs claiming discrimination with examples that are blatantly false. Instead of making the effort to verify the information, or to edit these letters out, Goh will run these letters to stir anti-foreigner sentiments. Citizens claim they are indeed not against activism, but want responsible activism. Singapore is a multi-racial country and like it or not, they would need to be extra careful when it comes to race and religion. Some people believe that they cannot have a Member of Parliament (MP) who irresponsibly uses race to stir the sentiments of Singaporeans and decides to not vote for Gilbert Goh due to his irresponsibilities and perhaps destroying the racial harmony of Singapore.


Heng, Derek Thiam Soon. Reframing Singapore Memory, Identity, Trans-regionalism. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009.


3 Comments on “Singapore’s identity crisis

  1. I am curious to know what could the ‘national identity’ exactly mean for Singapore. If ethnicity is the central focus of a definition of a “nation”, Singapore cannot be a nation considering it has been a multiethnic immigrant state with colonial history. On the other hand, the ethnic make-up supported by the citizens’ openmindedness toward diversity can be considered as a major trait of Singapore’s identity. It is interesting to note how Singaporeans’ unique conception of the city-state’s identity can contradict the official economically-driven nation-building efforts, constituting a subtle form of opposition in the nation. In fact, due to the subjectivity of the term ‘national identity’ I wonder if there could possibly be a consensus within a country.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Yes your point is valid that if ethnicity is the central focus of a definition of a “nation”, Singapore indeed cannot be a nation considering it has been a multiethnic immigrant state with colonial history. And that has been Singapore’s struggle, as there are two opposing sides- Some people do believe that ethnicity is the central meaning defining the term ‘nation’, as Gilbert Goh’s side with his campaign, which has been mentioned in the post, and that abstract illustration of him ‘sweeping’ people from other countries away from Singapore due to the growing population, he believes Singapore= Singaporeans only. On the other hand, the latter disagreeing with Goh, and naming Singapore as a ‘multi-racial’ country, stating that by getting rid of others not originated from Singapore would be destroying the racial harmony of Singapore.

      As for the term ‘National identity’, like other cities, for Singapore, I believe it defines the identity or sense of belonging to one state or to one nation. It is the sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics. So in my opinion I would not define a ‘nation’ just as the focus on ethnicity, but the society of a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory. For example, some people were born in the race of perhaps, Chinese, their grandparents or parents were all from China, but they grew up in Singapore- So they would still considering themselves as ‘Singaporean’ holding a Singaporean passport, and living their whole life in Singapore, within their culture, traditions etc.

  2. National identity is certainly one of the themes we explored, but please stay on track in a historical and urban analysis. In the other threads, I’ve made suggestions to delve into the Marina Bay land reclamation project, rather than to comb through everything from race, identity, skylines to military agendas. If you’re asking a cultural question, it’s valid, but extrapolate it into an urban outcome – how does the depiction of a cultural or national identity get a formal representation in a city?

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