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  • Singapore Straits Times: Lee Kwan Yew advises Japan not to accept immigrants who don’t look Japanese

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 23rd, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  Nothing breeds arrogance quite like success.  It must be nice to have created a rich city-state in your image, so you think you can claim enough legitimacy to bald-facedly tell other countries to do as you say, not as you do.  We have elder statesman Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore offering his opinions earlier this week to the GOJ about how to deal with immigration — where he advocates a “homogeneous Japan” solution that chooses people based upon their thoroughbredness.  Well on behalf of all of us non-thoroughbred Japanese citizens:  nuts to you Lee Kwan Yew.

    It’s a pity, since he does offer a number of good points, meaning that age doesn’t necessarily mean people turn into bigoted curmudgeons like Tokyo Governor Ishihara.  Here is a scan of the full article (an online excerpt available at http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Asia/Story/STIStory_529528.html).  Courtesy of Steve in Tokyo.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    PS:  I wonder if Lee believes his fellow Chinese fall into the category of being “from the high end”?  Many of his fellow “homogeneous Japan” proponents in Japan would not think so.

    24 Responses to “Singapore Straits Times: Lee Kwan Yew advises Japan not to accept immigrants who don’t look Japanese”

    1. Jerry Says:

      *shrug* nothing to see here. As you are well aware you will never be accepted as “Japanese” by the vast majority of the populace because you’re not Asian (never mind whether there is a specific “Japanese” flavor of the Asian look). His statement makes perfect sense though, if you are looking to quickly assimilate a group of foreigners to prop up the economy it is a great deal easier if there isn’t some visible cue that they are foreign (of course pulling from the “high end” doesn’t really help from what I’ve seen since the jobs that most need doing are the low end ones right?).

      Hardly a surprise you’d spin it as multiculturalism at any cost. But, while making a truly “multicultural” Japan is a fine and noble goal, you have to face reality. Getting bent out of shape by someone pointing out the obvious isn’t constructive or helpful.

      More interesting to me (since my wife and I have been having this discussion for a few weeks) is his statements on the US military bases in Okinawa. I think they should pull out entirely (or move to Tokunoshima at the very least). Once the Okinawans realize how much of their economy is based on the US military being there I think they’d sing a different tune…

      The wife, of course, gets a horrified look on her face whenever I mention that the US should just pull out entirely if the Japanese don’t want them there and starts explaining that N. Korea/China would invade as soon as the US pulled out.

    2. yosomono Says:

      Yes, because Asian looking foreigners have been treated so well and equally in Japan over the last 60 years…I would suggest Mr. Lee to go to Japan and try to get an apartment and a decent job at the local government in Tokyo with his last name. Chong Hyang Gyun ring any bells?? Could someone send this guy a copy of George Hicks’ “Japan’s hidden apartheid: the Korean minority and the Japanese”? 目から鱗が落ちるかもね。

    3. GiantPanda Says:

      Ironic given how hard Singapore tries to keep out the vast hordes of Mainland chinese who would immigrate there if they could…

    4. Steve in Tokyo Says:

      Hi, to me the comment that I found amazing is the advice to Japan to stick to Japanese-looking immigrants. This from the founder Prime Minister of the famously multi-cultural Singapore -traditionally Chinese, Malay and Indian, but more recently several flavours of Caucasian.

      So is he saying that that multi-cultural just doesn`t work? Or just that it doesn`t work in Japan? Or is he perhaps pandering to the Tokyo audience? I have no idea – but for those who think it doesn`t matter, all I can tell you is that there is NO WAY he would be advocating “Chinese-looking immigrants only” into Singapore. It would spark all sorts of trouble. So why in Japan? Omoshiroi……

    5. Luke Says:

      @ Jerry,
      On your last point, do Japanese really believe that they would be attacked if the U.S. pulled out? I mean I know they make that excuse on the news, but do you guys think that in general they take that threat very seriously?

    6. Luke Says:

      Oh and I do want to mention, that I do think in honesty it would be easier to assimilate the cultures of more similar looking people’s but I think that it wouldn’t work that easily since there are many points of resentment beetween the “Unique” Japanese and other Asian peoples.

    7. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      Is this the same Lee Kwan Yew who was presented as a model of a great leader in my Asian Studies course about 15 years ago? Someone who helped create a clean, safe (yes, crime rate lower than Japan) multi-cultural Singapore?
      His comments about being choosing “those who can be assimilated easily” does makes sense, assuming, of course, that the nation will accept and assimulate them. “High calibre”, however, is just way to open ended. And as for those who “look Japanese”, how many times have I been told by Japanese that they look different from Chinese and Koreans?
      Japan already has migrants who look Japanese and are easily assimulated – they’re called Zainichi _____jin. But good luck getting them accepted as citizens any more than someone straight off the boat.

      – And how about those Nikkei Brazilians, Peruvians etc….? Immigration along ethnic lines matters little if there is no assimilation policy, period.

    8. Mike Says:

      I also find this interesting coming from Lee Kwan Yew. I remember watching him on a documentary describing the brutality of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. I personally feel this is one of the reasons Singapore went ballz to the walls in rebuilding their country, that is the never again mentality. If I remember correctly, he was forced to go to the country side with some other non conformist to be executed by the Japanese but he for some reason wasnt. I hope I got the right guy, but I think it was him.

    9. Jerry Says:

      @Luke, I can’t speak for what the Japanese think, just my wife who happens to be Japanese. And yes, she’s convinced that as soon as the US leaves N. Korea will invade and possibly China as well.

    10. Charles Says:

      So if that’s the case,then other countries do not have to try and accommodate Asians. If you take this to its logical conclusion, no countries like the UK, other European countries, countries whose contemporary nationhood status was founded by whites along western principles etc etc, should take anybody but whites.
      Asians quite right called racism and bigotry when countries like the US and Australia had entry barriers to Asians. So why is there a double standard? Are we to believe by Mr Lee’s racially tinged argument (downright racist in another way) that Asians are somehow special beings who reserve the right to refuse those are not Japanese etc immigration there?
      The less of this the better. It is now the 21st century. Japanese, Koreans, Chinese etc better wake up and start extending the rights that other countries do to them. And to suggest that a fit person for immigration is one who looks Japanese or Chinese or Korean or whatever is downright xenophobia and is indeed racist.
      All this does is feed the racist myths of east Asian countries. Japan and others need to wake up to the 21st century. They are not unique and they show their culture to be less functional than other countries that accept immigrants who come from a diversity of backgrounds.

    11. Scipio Says:

      ‘If I remember correctly, he was forced to go to the country side with some other non conformist to be executed by the Japanese.’

      Very true, he nearly found himself a victim of the Sook Chin massacres, but don’t forget, although he has tried to cover it up, he was a collaborator with the Japanese working for their military as a translator and their Singapore newspaper as an Ediitor.

      If you want a more detailed description of his views on race, then read
      http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/lib/ne/lky/raceculturegenes.pdf
      Excerpt:
      Lee Kuan Yew: Race, Culture and Genes
      By Michael D. Barr (Department of History, University of Queensland)

      Hierarchy
      The hierarchy of races revealed in Lee’s December 1967 parable helps to explain a similar hierarchy of humiliation to which Lee referred four years earlier, when he said, “Humiliation and degradation by foreign European powers is bad enough. It was worse at the hands of a conquering Asian nation like Japan – and it will be even worse if it should be by a neighbouring power in South-East Asia.” (23) In fact, Lee’s racial hierarchy is much more complex than he indicated on either of these occasions. In 1982 he revealed his belief that Jews share with East Asians a place at the top of the racial pyramid. and that both occupy a higher place than Americans:

      “Let us not deceive ourselves: our talent profile is nowhere near that of, say, the Jews or the Japanese in America. The exceptional number of Nobel Prize winners who are Jews is no accident. It is also no accident that a high percentage, sometimes 50%, of faculty members in the top American universities on both the east and west coasts are Jews. And the number of high calibre Japanese academics, professionals, and business executives is out of all proportion to the percentage of Japanese in the total American population.” (24)

      More recently, commenting upon Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, (25) Lee told his authorised biographers: “The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85 per cent on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more… the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow.” (26)

      A reading of the evidence cited above suggests that Lee has always had an agenda based on the racial and cultural superiority of Singapore’s Chinese population. If this analysis is accurate, however, it requires a complementary argument which accounts adequately for the fact that Lee did not begin acting on these beliefs until the late 1970s. On the surface, such a line of argument appears plausible, since there are no shortage of external factors which could have restrained Lee’s sinocentric bias until the early 1980s. His early hostility to Chinese education, culture and language, for instance, can be explained by the fact that Lee regarded Chinese culture as a threat to Singapore’s stability because it was so closely associated with Chinese chauvinism, Chinese communism and loyalty to the People’s Republic of China. (27) As well as these internal communal factors, it is known that Lee considered that allowing even the appearance of creating a sinocentric culture in the 1960s or 1970s would have heightened tensions between Singapore and its Malay neighbours. (28) These were sufficient reasons for Lee to continue his campaign of gutting Chinese education and building a communally neutral multiracialism. By 1979, however, Singapore’s political and regional landscape had been totally transformed. Chinese culture was succumbing to the constant incursion of English language education and Western influence through the media. Nanyang University, almost the last institutional bastion of Chinese culture and Chinese communism. was demoralised, (29) and the Chinese-educated were on the verge of becoming a minority in the electorate. (30) This meant that Chinese culture was no longer seen as a major threat to Singapore’s internal stability. Furthermore, Singapore’s relations with both Malaysia and Indonesia had reached a new high thanks to the spirit of regional solidarity within ASEAN, prompted by the fall of Vietnam in 1975. (31) The post-separation siege mentality towards the Malay world was now redundant, if it had ever been valid. This development coincided roughly with the retirement, enforced or otherwise, of most of the “old -guard” of PAP leaders. By the mid-1980s Lee had surrounded himself with younger second generation leaders Substantially dependent upon his patronage, thus relieving Lee of another constraint. The sinicization of Singapore was now a political possibility for Lee, and according to the logic of this argument, he then took the opportunity to act on his racial beliefs.

      After you’ll understand what he is really implying by this idea of only allowing certain immigrants.

      His views are quite scary and national socialistic. I can see how they go down well with some of the elites in Japan

    12. Mike Says:

      I could feel that undertow in the documentary. Perhaps some of you saw it on the discovery channel, something like the “birth of Singapore” He was interviewed and when the masacare subject came up, I noticed he quickly ran from it. I found it to be a bit off and suspicious, like some sort of shame from collaboration but nothing was mentioned. Thanks for clearing it up.

    13. Jerry Says:

      @ Scipio

      Are you arguing that American Jews do not have a higher rate of academic and professional achievement than the general population in the USA? If so I’d love to hear it. The problem with using the US Jewish population is you have a population that self selected for intelligence. The Jews in the USA were the one’s who saw the holocaust coming and were smart enough to get out (or were scientists brought over by the USA, or were smart enough to find another way to survive the purge). And children of high achievers tend to be high achievers.

      Now if you want to argue against some innate Jewish superiority go to Israel. Very different social and genetic dynamic. But it’s hard to argue against his observation in the USA.

      Can’t really speak to the US Japanese populations level of achievement though other than the observation that perhaps the US system tends to promote more free thinking and innovation (and draws people who are free thinkers and innovators)… apples and oranges.

      And as for his comments on IQ – it might not be politically correct but it is hard science. While there are people on both extremes in any racial group we are talking about averages for a huge number of people. And you are trying to help populations of people, if you don’t understand their differences and adjust your policies you are doomed to failure.

    14. Charles Says:

      It’s great that Debito publicises this kind of thinking. Looking at the racialist-racist attitudes that are considered ‘normal’ in Asian countries should make us be very wary of our countries’ current problems whereby genuine fears about not enough jobs to go around, strains on housing and welfare etc can sometimes become tainted by racialist-racist attitudes no matter how generally tolerant western countries are.

      This is backwards thinking and nothing to follow or commend. As for the eugenics approving messages in Bell Curve theories masked by a respectable veneer of intellectual debate, let’s do everybody a favor and call out people who classify ‘races/ethnic groups’ into heirarchies of superiority and inferiority.

      Fact: Asians score higher on IQ tests oriented towards math and science for the very basic reasons that from elementary school they are in a rote learning system and also go to school for much longer than non Asian students. Japan, Korea and China make their children stay in school much longer and study at after school schools. Standardised tests for the kind of material found in IQ tests are common.

      Good luck to these Asian countries for their educational preoccupations. It does not mean they are more intelligent than White or Black people or whatever people you may mention who are not Asian. It’s no coincidence that generally Asians do badly on tests or assignments that require lateral thinking and the ability to rationally argue a central point while taking into account both sides of the debate.

      It’s well to keep in mind the sobering fact too that education systems are still relatively closed in Japan, China and Korea and there is far more scope for doctoring results. If there was a genuinely standard IQ test conducted across the world under the same conditions using people of all races/ethnicities from the same educational level, the ‘high Asian IQ’ would be the same as that of non Asians.

    15. Alex Cook Says:

      If Lee had said instead that Japan should look to “China and Korea” for immigrants, rather than specifying those who “look Japanese”, would you be as upset? I agree with Jerry that it makes sense to target those with similar appearance and customs. My experience of racism in the UK is that non-Europeans attract many more racist comments on the street than European foreigners. The EU effectively encourages immigration from other EU countries via the common market, and I believe companies are obliged to discriminate against non-EUropeans looking for work.

      Not sure what Giant Panda’s on about, though: PRC immigrants contribute lots to Singapore.

    16. Scipio Says:

      ‘Now if you want to argue against some innate Jewish superiority go to Israel. Very different social and genetic dynamic. But it’s hard to argue against his observation in the USA.’

      I don’t want to argue against or for any innate superiority of any racial group. It’s a complete non-issue with me and anyone who would include it in a point of discussion, would immediately go on the ‘well dodgy’ radar.
      I referenced a web source where you could get a more in-depth commentary on Lee’s racial views and Debito chose to pick out some commentaries on that website.

      – Right. Sorry Scipio. They are Lee’s arguments, and they give context to why he is arguing for phenotypical selection of immigrants. Address them as such.

      Further arguments should relate the issue back to Japan’s immigration. All others from now on will be edited or deleted.

    17. Mike Says:

      “It’s no coincidence that generally Asians do badly on tests or assignments that require lateral thinking and the ability to rationally argue a central point while taking into account both sides of the debate.”

      Very true. Having worked in an occupation that requires a very flexible attitude towards troubleshooting etc, I must say that many Japanese missed out on that lecture. Geez, where do I begin. I hear that foriegn made machines etc are inferior and blah bla, but for me that isnt the issue, its pin pointing the problem by process of elimiation etc. Some of these guys are clueless when it comes to that.

    18. burb Says:

      Wow, uncle tom syndrome if ever I saw it. I’ve seen other westerners here actually join Japan in its xenophobia in the hope that they might become part of the ‘uchi’.
      Good luck!

    19. Remington Says:

      “It’s no coincidence that generally Asians do badly on tests or assignments that require lateral thinking and the ability to rationally argue a central point while taking into account both sides of the debate.”

      Did you get this from your experience as an educator? Generalizations such as this sounds like Mr. Lee.

      By the way, some of the international student assessments importantly reveals the deficiencies in the national education systems of the low-faring countries. These basic math and science skills tested are crucial for competitiveness; it is fool-hardy to dismiss high-scoring students as rote-learners (e.g. Finland and Canada consistently scores highly as well — would you call them rote-learners? Or just the Asians?).

    20. Mike Says:

      “Wow, uncle tom syndrome if ever I saw it. I’ve seen other westerners here actually join Japan in its xenophobia in the hope that they might become part of the ‘uchi’.
      Good luck!”

      The uncle tom syndrome comes with the newbie syndrome package. Best not to argue with those types. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of a subject. The Newbies are full of fresh cultural sensitivity and PCness and have not really left their comfort zone yet. Once we stray into uncomfortable zones, we find that the script gets flipped.

    21. M&M Says:

      @Jerry
      The conclusions implied from the IQ test results by race are not “hard science” – they are a selective use of statistics at best.

      Lee Kuan Yew’s analysis that “the number of high calibre Japanese academics, professionals, and business executives is out of all proportion to the percentage of Japanese in the total American population.” is probably correct. However you could find examples in Japan, Singapore, or indeed any country. The number of high calibre American academics, professionals, and business executives in Japan is also out of all proportion to the percentage of Americans in Japan to the Japanese population. Would it be fair to conclude that Americans are better educated than Japanese by looking at the percentage of Americans in Japan who are university graduates versus the general populous? No, of course not.
      Lee’s statements are dangerous simplifications. I would like the government in Japan to look at global immigration and construct its policies around a recognition that there is pool of talent globally that are willing to emigrate if so attracted…and also that perhaps more can be done to retain some of the talented Japanese that move overseas for better opportunities.

    22. Charles Says:

      If Remington [snipe deleted] would only see that my comments (and those of others who have never bought the ‘The Asians have the highest IQ in the world and their closed societies just reflect their understandable desire to lock out everybody not from the same ‘pure’ blood’ notion) he might see that my comments in no way have any resemblance to the racialist, basically eugenics-tainted notions of Mr Lee.

      Asian education systems like those of Japan, Korea and China are geared towards reproducing formulas taught by teachers who mostly don’t encourage debate or student questions. My prolonged stays in Japan and Korea gave me plenty of experience of this view of education.

      In Japan I heard complaints from adults students who realised that their children being told to shut up and just listen to the teacher at the front while memorising countless facts and figures for multiple choice tests, sells the intelligence of these children short.

      In Korea more of the same although the people there seem to just accept that this is supposedly the Korean way and therefore the best in the world. According to them.

      No, Asians are not encouraged to think laterally in doing science and maths projects. They are not asked to write essays on history, philosophy and social science etc and in doing so present a central thesis and back it up with facts coupled with their analysis, all the while looking at arguments that can oppose this.

      In my country those types of assignments are usual for secondary school from the first grade of junior high up. When I was at school I had to do final tests that gave me less time than Japanese and Korean students have for theirs (both at school and colleg/university level)which were very short on multiple choice where an idiot student can get lucky and score well and long on writing synopses and essays, analysing passages of writing, analysing scientific facts etc.

      The East Asian education systems follow the passive receptor mode and are long on facts and figures and memorising them, short on being able to make judgements and logical connections, being able to write analystical papers.

      Korea’s sytem was influenced heavily by the Japanese colonists although they don’t seem to recognise this or want to admit it. Japan’s sytem in crucial respects is stuck in a 19th century groove, and has elements of the old style Prussian education system.

      It’s fair to say that these methods of learning are valued still because they enforce and reinforce heirarchies and accepting what is given from above. There was no enlightenment period in Asia similar to that in the west. In Asian history humans have not been encouraged to explore individuality and to question the rulers. It’s significant that all the movements that propelled Japan and Korea into the modern world of inventions and economic developments, as well as ideas about political systms, came from outside Asia.

      The predominant culture in a country decides what kind of education is important. Therefore the strengths and weaknesses of students in that system reflects cultural values. There is no heirarchy of IQ among races or ethnicities.

      East Asians get practice very early at preparing for the kinds of tests that comprise IQ evaluation. The amount of time Korean children spend in school daily (standard and after school) for example is around 6 hours more than non Koreans, Japanese come close to that. In Korean after school academies much time is spent on preparation for various kinds of tests which involve rote learning.

      There is nothing ‘special’ about East Asian societies to justify their continual invoking of racialist-racist norms and stereotypes to maintain openly and unashamedly discriminatory practices as some kind of sacred given.

    23. Mike Says:

      Addressing this in a very down to earth way- Ive worked in several different sectors. Some Japanese, some foriegn. When your immersed in a particuliar enviroment, you tend to adapt to whats around you. You find yourself acting like those around you in order to conform and make it. Ive took on the hurry scurry Japanese way of overthinking and all that goes with it, then flipped back to the western way when Im around them. Ive brought the mindset with me that “aitsu dekinai” or “chanto dekinai” ect. that some Japanese have towards all things foriegn. So I find myself shedding all that because the overkill isnt useful in other cultures and actually frowned upon an can earn you ridicule. All the rote method, chanto chanto is something peculiar to Japan I think but doesnt really represent a high IQ, its just mandatory obligation that mask as something very smart.

    24. John Says:

      Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the president of Singapore Mr Nathan was once working as a japanese ” informer ” during the Japanese Occupation Of Singapore. They were spared from being executed due to that…

      Shouldn’t it considered a traitor to his own country Singapore? Think about it.

      – Think about giving us a link to evidence this claim.

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