Coronavirus Singapore

Don't take S'pore's multiracialism for granted: Minister

Pandemic may cause frictions to flare up, but S'poreans must stay cohesive, says Gan Kim Yong

The recent spate of racist incidents captured on video are a reminder that Singapore's multiracialism cannot be taken for granted, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

While pandemic-related stresses may cause frictions to flare up at times, Singaporeans have to remember that they live in a multiracial society and must keep working to strengthen cohesion, he added.

"It is like a vaccination - to vaccinate us against anti-racial sentiments," he said. "We need to continue to work with one another. And fundamentally, the virus does not recognise language, religion or race."

He was responding to a question at a virtual news conference where he was asked about these incidents and how the Covid-19 pandemic may have contributed to them.

In one viral video, Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee is seen berating ice cream store owner Dave Parkash, who is of Indian and Filipino parentage and was with his girlfriend. Mr Tan had, among other things, told Mr Parkash that it was a disgrace for a Chinese woman and an Indian man to be dating.

In another video, a Chinese woman is seen banging loudly on a gong as her neighbour, an Indian man, rings a bell as part of his Hindu prayer routine.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said: "Each time we see something like that happening, I think we should take a stand - make it very clear that this does not represent us, and we do not condone any such acts of racism or xenophobia."

He pointed out that the pandemic has also put on display the best of the Singapore spirit, with many people going the extra mile to help those in need, regardless of their race or religion.

Such incidents truly demonstrate Singaporeans' "solidarity and unity with one another", Mr Wong said.

"We should have confidence and faith that as we emerge through this pandemic, we will emerge stronger, better and more united," he added.

Weighing in on the topic, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said Singaporeans' ability to have trust and confidence in one another, despite their differences, is the "most important antibody" any society can have to fight a crisis.

He acknowledged that in times of stress, fractures can happen and underlying sentiments come to the fore. However, bad news always travels faster than good, he added.

Amid the pandemic, "we must remember this fundamental DNA that Singaporeans share with each other, of trust, of confidence in each other, that we have come so far from far worse crises to where we are today", Mr Ong said.

"So, continue to keep that unity and resilience. Keep that trust - that is the main antibody to fight against the pandemic."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'Don't take S'pore's multiracialism for granted: Minister'. Subscribe