S'poreans should develop a S-E Asian identity

I agree with Professor Farish A. Noor that it is important for Singaporeans to develop a common South-east Asian identity. ("Singapore's South-east Asian potential"; Monday).

Singapore's success over the past five decades is undoubtedly attributable to our pioneer generation's hard work, resilience and determination.

However, this success would not have been possible without the peaceful and conducive regional environment that Asean provided.

Without being plagued by regional security threats, we were able to concentrate on Singapore's economic transformation into a First World nation.

Therefore, we should learn to appreciate the historical role that Asean played in Singapore's nation-building journey.

We should also cultivate an understanding of the languages and cultures of our South-east Asian neighbours.

I suggest that schools incorporate other Asean nations' histories and cultures into the teaching of National Education.

Students with an aptitude for languages should also be encouraged to study Bahasa Indonesia or Thai, instead of French or German, as a third language.

Furthermore, schools should offer students more opportunities to study and work in Asean countries through student exchange programmes and internship opportunities respectively.

Given that Asean Day falls on Aug 8, schools, companies, government institutions and grassroots organisations could hold joint National Day and Asean Day observance ceremonies in August each year.

In these ceremonies, the Asean flag could be flown alongside our national flag, and the Asean Anthem sung after our National Anthem. This would allow Singaporeans to establish our dual identities of being Singaporean and South-east Asian at the same time.

The French make no distinction between loving France and embracing Europe. Similarly, our Singaporean and South-east Asian dual identities ought to be seen as complementary, not contradictory.

Singapore's past was deeply intertwined with that of South-east Asia. Our future is likewise intricately linked with Asean's. It is, hence, crucial that we develop a South-east Asian identity.

I hope that when Singapore celebrates SG100 in 2065, we would be proud to identify ourselves not only as Singaporeans, but also as South-east Asians.

Chan Cheng Lin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2015, with the headline 'S'poreans should develop a S-E Asian identity'. Print Edition | Subscribe