Ageing Japan offers lesson on consequences of keeping out immigrants: Yi Shyan
lderly people resting on a bench in Tokyo. Japan, the world's fastest-ageing country, has to deal with economic recession, higher taxes and fewer job opportunities, a price for closing its doors to immigration, warned Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC). -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
JAPAN’S present struggles illustrate the consequences of a silver tsunami, and provide Singapore with a glimpse of future problems, said Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry as well as National Development.
With Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Mr Lee yesterday warned of the need for Singapore to avoid a similar fate.
With economic recession, higher taxes and fewer job opportunities, Japan – the world’s fastest-ageing country – is paying the price for closing its doors to immigration, said Ms Lee.
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Yi Shyan picks out one factor, ie Japan's closing its doors to immigration as the cause of Japan's silver tsunami woes today. He misses the forest for the trees. That's no way to compare. That's short-sighted and micro thinking. The way to compare is to take a macro view.
Here's the macro view Yi Shyan totally missed. Singapore had (and still has) many more things common to Japan that has led us to this sad state. He shouldn't pick out on the closed door immigration policy.
1. Both Japan and Singapore copied the West -
Both countries simply imitated America and Europe. In the last century, when the West economy boomed due to high spending in consumer products, Japan copied their technology, and we too set up factories in Singapore to manufacture these consumer products. When the West moved into the finance sector and boomed again, we too tried to set up financial hubs. When the West moved to R&D, we tried to do the same too.
So of course now when the West economy slides, we (both Japan and Singapore) who have been mimicking them since last century, will also follow the slide. We have been copying them, remember? Monkey see, monkey do. Monkey sees monkey falls into drain, monkey follows other monkey and falls into drain too.
2. Both Japan and Singapore were insular and arrogant -
In spite of our success imitating the West, both Japan and Singapore were very strangely insular. We thought we were "the best" and hence cut off any ideas that are not from within ourselves. Japan was so arrogant, it thought that whatever America and Germany (the two West nations with most advanced R&D at that time) could do, it could do better.
As for Singapore, it felt so bigheaded, it made fun of Malaysia's economy even though their Proton producing cars made an impact in the world market. Not to mention Malaysia's Petronas that was helping boost the economy. Or for that matter, their world renowned golf courses and Sepang circuit, which were (and still are) fit to hold world events like world golf tournaments and F1, MotoGP etc.
Both Japan and Singapore pooh-poohed their neighbour's strong economy. Note the irony how Singapore now tries to play catch up with Malaysia's world sporting events, including F1.
We were insular. We didn't want to learn from our neighbours. We thought we were better than them. We were (maybe still are) arrogant.
3. Both countries depended too heavily on US -
Who was Japan's biggest importer of Japanese products in the last century? The US. Who was Singapore's biggest customer for our exports? The US. As if there are no other nations that were important to Japan or Singapore.
So of course when the biggest customer gets sick and can spend no more, both Japan and Singapore would also fall sick, no?
4. Both countries were antagonistic towards their neighbours, unable to shake the ghost of the past -
For more than half a century or so, both Japan and Singapore had been very highly antagonistic towards their neighbours. Perhaps still antagonistic till today. Japan is so nationalistic it still feels the pangs of WW2. Somehow they feel a need to visit their war dead which includes their war criminals. Of course this angers China and South Korea.
In Singapore, the past is also regurgitated ad nauseam, hoping to fire nationalism. Singapore keeps repeating about the race riots and Confrontation. Yeah, even we now know that these two incidents have nothing to do with "a sea of Malays" from the North and South out to get us, the Singapore govt plays this old broken record that we have enemies.
In both cases for Japan and Singapore, are we not stuck in the past and in being so, have we not agitated our neighbours?
5. Paying the price of antagonizing neighbours -
For Japan, they are paying the price of antagonizing its neighbours today. China is the fastest booming economy in the world today. Who does China look towards to do business with today? The Arabs and West Asians. China has struck deal after deal with the oil rich and mineral rich nations of the Mid East and West Asia. Japan is left in the backseat.
Closer to home, our neighbours are booming. With Johor's fast growing Iskandar project taking shape, Singapore is now only receiving the crumbs. Who are the biggest foreign investors in the Iskandar project now? The oil rich Arabs. Why was not Singapore, just so close by with all the infrastructure, same culture and strong history of managing conglomerates, given the first bite?
Perhaps both Japan and Singapore laughed and scoffed at their neighbours too much in the last century. So who's to blame the neighbours for giving us the shrug now?
Lee Yi Shyan mentioned that the closed door policy to immigrants is the cause of the silver tsunami in Japan today. That's missing the forest for the trees. Come to think of it, he wasn't even looking at the trees. He was looking at just one leaf.
There are a host of reasons for Japan's woes today. Not least of all their insular inward looking thought that they are the best, while others are inferior to them. Singapore was just like them in the last century too. That's the cause of Japan's and our slide in the economy today. The closed door to immigration is just one small speck.