Professor Tommy Koh in the Straits Times today noted a difference between Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his former deputy, the late S. Rajaratnam, the country's first foreign minister.
Raja, as he was known, "saw himself simply as a Singaporean and not as a Ceylonese Singaporean or an Indian Singaporean." wrote Prof Koh. "Minister Mentor Lee, on the other hand, saw himself first as a Singaporean, and second, as an ethnic Chinese proud of his cultural roots."
This sense of ethnic and cultural identity, and how it is reshaping the world, is the theme of Samuel Huntington's book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Published in 1996, after the fall of Soviet communism, the book looks at the growing importance of race and religion in international affairs.
This lies behind the rise of China, according to Huntington. It has become an economic giant with generous help from overseas Chinese investors. He quoted Minister Mentor Lee on how they were drawn together by their common culture and ancestry.
Money from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Macau and elsewhere poured into China when Western investment fell after Tienanmen.
China benefited as the core state of the Chinese civilization, wrote Huntington, who died in 2008.
He saw a "bamboo network" in East Asia. Here is a long passage from the chapter, Core States, Concentric Circles, and Civilizational Order,which describes ethnic Chinese economic power in the region, which benefited both mainland and overseas Chinese. Minister Mentor Lee is also quoted here.
The economy of East Asia is increasingly China-centred and Chinese-dominated. Chinese from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore have supplied much of the capital responsible for the growth of the mainland in the 1990s. Overseas Chinese elsewhere in Southeast Asia dominated the economies of their countries. In the early 1990s, Chinese made up 1 per cent of the population of the Philippines but were responsible for 35 per cent of the sales of domestically owned firms. In Indonesia in the mid 1980s, Chinese were 2-3 per cent of the population, but owned roughly 70 per cent of the private domestic capital. Seventeen of the 25 largest businesses were Chinese-controlled, and one Chinese conglomerate reportedly accounted for 5 per cent of Indonesia's GNP. In the early 1990s Chinese were 10 per cent of the population of Thailand but owned nine of the ten largest business groups and were responsible for 50 per cent of its GNP. Chinese are about one-third of the population of Malaysia but almost totally dominate the economy. Outside Japan and Korea the East Asian economy is basically a Chinese economy.
The emergence of the greater China co-prosperity sphere was greatly facilitated by a "bamboo network" of family and personal relationships and a common culture. Overseas Chinese are much more able than Westerners to do business in China. In China trust and commitment depend on personal contacts, not contracts or laws and other legal documents. Western businessmen find it easier to do business in India than in China where the sanctity of an agreement rests on the personal relationship between the parties. China, a leading Japanese observed with envy in 1993, benefited from "a borderless network of Chinese merchants in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia"… The advantages of non-mainland Chinese dealing with the mainland were also well stated by Lee Kuan Yew. "We are ethnic Chinese. We share certain characteristics through common culture and ancestry… It makes for easy rapport and trust, which is the foundation for all business relations."…
The reduction in Western economic involvement in China after Tienanmen Square, following a decade of rapid Chinese growth, created the opportunity and incentive for overseas Chinese to capitalize on their common culture and personal contacts to invest heavily in China. The result was a dramatic expansion of overall economic ties among the Chinese communities. In 1992, 80 per cent of the foreign direct investment in China ($11.5 billion) came from overseas Chinese, primarily in Hong Kong (68.3 per cent), but also in Taiwan (9.3 per cent), Singapore, Macao and elsewhere. In contrast, Japan provided 6.6 per cent and America 4.6 per cent of the total.