Joint bid for Unesco hawker culture listing not a good idea

Hawker stalls at Penang’s Gurney Drive waterfront.
Hawker stalls at Penang’s Gurney Drive waterfront. PHOTO: RAZIFF HAMID

It was reported that Penang's state government has proposed that Singapore and Malaysia file a joint-nomination to list hawker culture under Unesco (Penang proposes joint S'pore-Malaysia Unesco hawker culture bid, May 5).

Penang Tourism, Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin was reported as having said the move would increase the chances of the United Nations' cultural agency listing the hawker culture of the two countries as an intangible cultural heritage.

I disagree. This is because, from Singapore's perspective, it increases the variables that are out of Singapore's control. For example, Singapore would have very limited control over Penang's preparation prior to the Unesco filing and, further down the road, Penang's maintenance of its hawker culture.

To describe Singapore's recent experiences with Malaysia on joint projects as "difficult" would be an understatement.

Mr Yeoh also said that a joint move would avoid competition between the countries.

Singapore has never seen its initiative as a competition between Singapore and Malaysia. The Unesco listing does not define the origins and ownership of cultural practices and this is something Singapore has reiterated. It seems the only sense of rivalry one gets stems from across the Causeway.

We should wish Malaysia well as and when it decides to file its own nomination. And as a consistently good neighbour, Singapore could share its own experiences with Malaysia.

Mark Loke Zhi Wei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2019, with the headline 'Joint bid for Unesco hawker culture listing not a good idea'. Print Edition | Subscribe