Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Malaysia and Singapore should be one country

The Chinese concept of yin and yang celebrates the harmony of opposites.

Well, as Sonny grows up, one of our battier hopes is for him to know a world in which Malaysia and Singapore are co-joined in a form approaching political unity. It's a cause with few overt supporters in either country - yet we think a trial balloon ought to be urgently floated.

For one thing, time is working against us. It's hard to imagine Canada and the United States linking up again, whatever their cultural affinities, simply because too much water has passed under the bridge. A few hundred years of divergent social and economic paths, unyoked by a shared political harness, has led to a polarisation of attitudes; each views the other, not always good-naturedly, as alien.

In Malaysia and Singapore, that process is well underway, but it has only been 43 years since political separation, so impregnable psychic barriers have yet to solidify. Yet the differences on display might already seem even more stark than with our North American example. Each country is the mirror image of the other, in terms of the preponderance of one ethnic group vis-a-vis another. Worse, the respective visions illuminating their paths to progress are wildly at odds: One celebrates the importance of merit and ability, the other harks back to historical injustices in enshrining the rights and privileges of one community.

However, there is a remarkable confluence of broad trends evident at the moment, that the more far-seeing leaders from both sides might seize upon as a spur to act. In Malaysia, there is a growing willingness to revise the race-based architecture that has defined the political discourse for decades, in favour of race-blind meritocracy and needs-based assistance. Singapore is reaching the limits of what it can achieve as a tiny spit of land, however competent its leadership and even though incremental improvements may still be possible. There is also a greater desire among its people for a less claustrophobic civic environment. In each case, the arrows are pointing to the neighbour as a source of inspiration, example and simple living space.

Yin and yang, then. If the strengths of the two nations could be fused, the resultant entity would be a far more formidable competitor in the global arena, and - perhaps more importantly - a richer social tapestry for each citizen to weave in his individual contribution. The excessive tendencies of each would be restrained by the other, whether this be a certain coldness masquerading as efficiency or a chaotic joyousness without sufficient direction.

The advice of the cautious would be to proceed very carefully, to first establish greater trust between the elites, then increase co-operation, and so forth. But if Sonny is to hope to ever live in our implausible united country, delay should not be brooked. In the first place, co-operation between the two nations is already far more extensive than newspaper headlines and occasional political eruptions would suggest. More fundamentally, however, this confluence of trends and opportunities will not last forever. If Malaysia stumbles its way towards a new political structure without stitching in a Singaporean contribution, its revised identity will again solidify and the chance would be lost. The same applies if Singapore completes a measure of social evolution and economic transformation in isolation, without bonds being forged with its neighbour as it does so. Make no mistake, changes in both countries are going to happen anyway: It is the chance to use the opportunity to draw the two closer that will evaporate if not seized. The results, if so, would be considerably less satisfactory than if yin-yang unity had been achieved.

Admittedly, with the ruling coalition in Malaysia facing a weakened grip on power, it will require remarkable courage and will to take up the challenge of seeking closer unity with Singapore. There will be those who see any such move as an opening to champion narrow partisan positions. Singapore, too, has made much of its prickly independence, and will have to educate its people quickly on the advantages of seeking exponentially closer ties with Malaysia. One resource to draw on is the many people in both countries who remember the days when the two countries were one. Properly mobilised, they can be an emotional beachhead on which to launch the campaign to convince the young. But it is a beachhead, also, that will be weakened and eroded with the years. In any event, there is no guarantee of success - but to delay is to guarantee failure.



Unknown said...

wow, this is quite a bold statement. its not impossible, and in fact, can come true.

but i would say, even if it doesnt, SEA needs to work more closely together. we should form a very close alliance like the EU or like the North Asia.

if SEA can unite (yet remain unique on its own), this will make us a strong force to be reckoned.

Shirley said...

This is a very bold and outspoken statement and many are still not able to accept the confluence of both states. Esp if one state keeps harping on the other whenever there is a need to divert attention from its own incompetency.
That said, I agree that there is an urgent need to seek closer ties with each other. But it'll be very slow going and will probably take years for the elites of both countries to accept and absorb each other's political mindset.
I applaud your clear and concise argument for the urgent need to unify. I am at least half convinced now, up from totally against the idea initially.

Cloudsters said...

It'd be great, Quachee, if Asean could indeed shed its talking-shop skin and finally become the engine for substantive regional integration.

And you're quite right, of course, Enchanted, to point to the many landmines that would dot any path to closer M'sian-S'porean unity. It'd have to be pretty leader-driven at least to start with.