By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
What is so great about Singapore? The best part of Singapore is just like one of the numerous residential areas in Mauritius. Once you drive past the Nature Park on the west coast and at last come upon a residential area with nice houses and well-kept gardens on your way to the Sentosa Islands where an artificial beach with bits of wood and metals floated ashore by the neighbouring port invites you to relax, it all looks so artificial that you don’t feel like staying in the place too long.
Then you realize that you have become demanding because you are used to living in a much more attractive and natural environment. Otherwise, the city-state is a sprawling concrete jungle with numerous skyscrapers to house its four million people of whom one million is composed of immigrant workers. So many people living in such an exiguous territory is a tragedy. In the early 80s, the old Chinatown still kept its original charm with the traditional houses, small businesses and a pleasant night life, but even then bulldozers had started erasing the old town.
The other side of the fence is always greener. Judging from the comments of Mauritian citizens in press reports, Singapore has all the qualities that Mauritians should cultivate to evolve into a better place. God forbid! The City of the Lion that draws its name from an Indian prince is too small to have had a better choice of development strategies. Its leaders have astutely made the best use of its geographical position to develop its port into a regional hub and make the place into a shopping paradise. We should hope that Mauritius has other ambitions than promote consumerism and make a concrete jungle of the island.
Whatever be the success of an economic development, the ultimate goal should be the quality of life of the people. Never mind world reports classifying countries according to their competitiveness and presenting some countries as big shots. How do their people live? In the apartments of multi-storeyed buildings, walking on concrete all day long, amid shopping temples in the tacky neon town centre, doing sports indoors, not a place to do your daily jogging, people talking about business and money everywhere. It probably suits the local culture that is highly westernized there but it is nothing to be envious of.
However, the cleanliness in the town centre and the sense of discipline on the roads are examples that should inspire us. The cleanliness of the metro is quite impressive but given that people walk on concrete everywhere they are most unlikely to sully public transport with dirty shoes. Apart from the main roads, the other ones are not so clean by the way.
Just like other countries, the island-state does not always enjoy a vibrant economic situation. Six years ago, the mood of the people was at its lowest ebb as economic stagnation dimmed job prospects. It suddenly dawns upon the Prime Minister that there is a bureaucratic sluggishness impeding efficiency in Mauritius, which he blames British legacy for. For all we know, the country has been independent for more than four decades. We are supposed to use our brains to set things on the right course. This is where the problem lies. Having brains or not. Being clever or not. Being always mindful of the comfort, convenience and welfare of the average citizen, not just of those well-connected. The difference with the Singaporean Chinese, most probably.
About two months ago, BBC television interviewed one 70-year-old Singaporean writer. She talked about a culture of fear prevailing in the city-state resulting from the authoritarian régime that muzzles free speech. Many people cannot voice out their opinions for fear of being harassed by the authorities and losing their jobs or thwarting their relatives’ chances of getting a good one. In some fledgling democracies and even in bigger ones, a culture of retaliation unfortunately does exist.
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The other model which is being praised in some quarters these days is the Chinese model which should ‘dicter les règles’ on how ‘le monde devrait tourner’ judging from the speeches made amid the Sino-Mauritian community and the Chinese ambassador. It is understandable that the strong economy which is hoisting China as a most powerful player on the world stage is inflating the pride of their people and the diaspora.
However, a big chunk of the diaspora looked upon communist China with awe for decades and feared to set foot there as they were considered as traitors fleeing communism by the mother country. The West wanted China to open its doors to a liberal economy and former President Nixon prided himself with having successfully convinced China into joining mainstream world economic policy. China cleverly used liberalism as a weapon to impose itself on the world stage and dwarfing western economy in the process.
The capitalist economy feeding upon wild consumerism of a myriad of brands for everything, from small household commodities to more sophisticated electronic gadgets, needs 30 brands of perfume, 20 brands of soap, 50 brands of all kinds of stuff that are displayed in department stores everywhere. China jumped on the bandwagon, overtaxing its own resources and the earth’s resources to make it the workshop of the world. The quality of what is being manufactured from powder milk, gardening tools to electronic gadgets is questionable.
We should ask the high talking speakers in the chest-beating dinner meetings if international relations of China should ‘dicter les règles’ to the world. To name a few past exploits: China was the biggest political supporter and logistics facilitator of the Pol Pot régime which murdered two million people; it supported the communist régime of North Vietnam; it supplied Pakistan with weapons which took a heavy toll of Bengali lives in the war against India over the Bangla Desh issue.
Its history and its hands have the blood of millions of victims all over Asia. It is involved in the spread of nuclear proliferation to rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea. The cultural genocide taking place in Tibet needs no introduction. The disputes over territories with Japan and India are still on the agenda. It remains to be seen how its aggressive assertion in Asia encircling India and spreading in Africa and the Indian Ocean islands will evolve.
As a people the Chinese are the ones who resemble Indians the most in so far as they are also a very pacifist people. But history is not made by people, it is made by their leaders. And among these, the twentieth century had quite a number of scums who managed to turn the world into a living hell. An aggressive western civilisation has already caused widespread sufferings in wars and in embargos on countries whose policies do not suit their purpose.
Is it so interesting to have a new world power emerging in Asia but disguised in western garb? We should think twice before being mesmerized by hallucinating speeches.
* Published in print edition on 8 October 2010