Chinese know that Singaporeans are different

While I am moderately concerned about Beijing's attempts to court and influence overseas Chinese on the basis of shared ethnicity, I doubt if the policy will engender any true loyalty (A challenge to test loyalty; April 30).

Many on the Chinese mainland are acutely aware of the cultural divergence between native and overseas Chinese.

In my experience of conducting business in China, I found that no Chinese official harboured any illusion that Singaporeans were "exactly the same" as them.

Indeed, beyond acknowledging Singapore's sovereignty, many made the fairly accurate assessment that we are a predominantly English-speaking nation heavily influenced by Western culture.

One could attribute Beijing's more gregarious overtures to a quirk of the Chinese language.

The term "huaren" refers to ethnic Chinese in general, while "qiaobao" and "qiaomin" are merely honorifics used to express a spirit of kinship, rather than a demand for political allegiance. Citizens of China are strictly referred to as "zhongguo ren".

Even if China's "charm offensive" is intended to be a serious political tool, it is unlikely to gain traction in Singapore.

To many Singaporeans, China is associated with various negative stereotypes, however unjustified these notions may be.

Young ethnic Chinese Singaporeans, in particular, tend to profess a greater degree of affinity for South Korea or Japan, for instance, than for their own ancestral land. Travel patterns and the sheer consumption of cultural exports speak for themselves.

There is clearly a massive gap in Chinese soft power that the "charm offensive" alone cannot address.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese know that Singaporeans are different'. Print Edition | Subscribe