Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Education, at the Opening of the International Society for the Studies of Overseas Chinese (ISSCO) VII International Conference on Friday, 7 May 2010, at 9:30am, at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences Auditorium, Nanyang Technological University

Dr Su Guaning,
President, Nanyang Technological University, and Board Chairman, Chinese Heritage Centre,

Professor Leo Suryadinata,
ISSCO president and director of Chinese Heritage Centre

Distinguished guests,

Conference delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to join you here today for the opening of the 7th International Conference of the International Society for the Studies of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO). This is an important international academic conference on the Chinese diaspora. I am pleased to learn that this is the first time that the conference is being held in Singapore. Singapore, especially the Nanyang Technological University and the Chinese Heritage Centre, is honoured to host this prestigious event.

Singapore—A Choice Venue

It is appropriate that this conference is being held in Singapore. We are a migrant nation with a relatively short history, and our multi-ethnic society includes a large number of ethnic Chinese. About 74% of Singapore citizens and permanent residents are ethnic Chinese. Many of us are descendants of the early Chinese migrants who left China to seek a better life in Singapore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Chinese came to Southeast Asia before the Europeans. They had come to this part of the world firstly as traders and craftsmen and later they came as labourers, especially in the mining industry and plantations, after the Europeans colonized Southeast Asia. There were also many Chinese intellectuals who came to the region in the last century, injecting greater changes to local society. The Chinese, together with other ethnic groups, have made significant contributions to the development of modern Southeast Asia. In Malaya and Singapore, for instance, they formed a significant proportion of the local populations and contributed to the social and economic development of the two countries. Many of these Chinese returned to China after they had made their money, but many more stayed on in Malaya and Singapore, and made it their homes. While they might have sunk roots here, many contributed generously to their communities in China, built schools and universities, and supported China in the Second World War against Japan.

Early Singapore has benefited tremendously from the Chinese diaspora’s work ethics, values, and generosity. In Singapore, a number of Chinese traders and industrialists made their fortunes and contributed their wealth to the further development of Singapore and its people. Prominent Chinese figures such as Tan Kah Kee, Lee Kong Chian, Lim Nee Soon, Tan Chin Tuan and Tan Tock Seng, to name but a few, are leading examples of philanthropists whose efforts and contributions will be remembered by the nation. They set up schools, hospitals, and many more institutions that laid the foundations for modern Singapore and that we still see around us today. In more recent years, we have seen a steady stream of Chinese migrating to Singapore to seek jobs and education. These new migrants have enriched our society, culture and economy. They could be research scientists, teachers, artists, music instructors or sports coaches.

As a young nation, Singapore has benefited from learning about overseas Chinese communities. This offers us deeper insights into how our forefathers and today’s Chinese diaspora have been able to maintain a strong attachment to their culture and their collective identity despite living in countries where ethnic Chinese are in the minority.

Today, China is a fast growing economy. Many Chinese are returning to China for economic reasons. The Chinese diaspora serves as linkages and bridges between the local communities and China. Many diaspora would play the role of interlocutor or “bridge”, as many understand and share the same values, the same language, and most certainly the same heritage. So it would not be surprising to see many overseas Chinese returning to China. The impact of this are probably still being studied closely, but this phenomenon will mark an important milestone in the history of the Chinese diaspora.

The ISSCO scholars gathered here today have come from a number of countries and nationalities, offering their perspectives on issues affecting the overseas Chinese in their parts of the world. I believe that their shared experiences in scholarship will not only help us to better understand our own situation here in Singapore, but will also enable us to better understand present developments on a global scale.

Please allow me to say a few words in Chinese.



自上个世纪末以来,我们看到了来自于“大中华地区”的新移民浪潮。与早期主要以东南亚为目的地的华人移民不同,这一波的新移民,大多迁往东南亚以外的地区,散布世界各地。值得一提的是,这批新移民的教育水平相对较高,有些还具备了雄厚的财力、资源及人脉基础。他们移民的首要目的地,不是发展中的国家,而是发达国家。作为一个新兴的发达国家,新加坡自然而然受到一部份新移民的青睐。 为了吸引最佳人才,新加坡不可能“闭关自守”。我们很需要来自其他国家和地区的高技术移民与投资,以维持新加坡的竞争优势,进而促进国家未来的繁荣发展。



In closing, I wish the Conference every success, and to our guests from other parts of the world, I wish you a most pleasant stay in our Garden City.

Thank you. 谢谢。