Integration of new Singaporeans is key

The Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang highlighted several issues causing the present unrest in Hong Kong (Lessons from Hong Kong? Look beyond street violence, Aug 11).

An issue that Mr Han seems to have overlooked is the influx of mainland Chinese and their integration into the distinctive culture of Hong Kong. Not realising the massive culture change and the need to acculturate and assimilate into Hong Kong's culture is one mistake that newcomers from the mainland can make.

Though immigration into Singapore is distinctly different in this regard from Hong Kong, there are similar fundamental concerns on how newcomers integrate.

Singapore opens its doors to new immigrants on two loudly advertised needs: The need for foreign talent to diversify the economy and the replenishment of a population with a declining birth rate in order to sustain its long-term economic growth.

So newcomers would certainly have the sense that they have come to Singapore not only for their own future, but also to help the country overcome shortcomings.

I believe that unless Singaporeans honestly face these unstated presumptions, we are in for long-term trouble that is already brewing.

The Government has recently highlighted this need for integration between newly minted and existing Singaporeans.

However, how we perceive and execute integration will determine very different outcomes.

If the existing population is made to feel the onus is on them to integrate with the new, we will be creating a whole new set of social problems.

Acculturation, the need for new immigrants to adjust to local culture, has existed since people started moving from place to place.

If there is a sudden influx, the existing culture would be overwhelmed; acculturation would be redundant and the extinction of local culture would be the inevitable outcome.

Singaporeans need to determine the outcomes that we want at the outset rather than wait till they are already in progress.

We will need years to catch up if we overlook the processes of acculturation that are required to build a cohesive people.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)