24 July 2003

Colonial Postcolonial II

I talked about colonial history and the story of the white man last week. However, it's not wise to overrate the role of White man in the greater scheme of things, and let them run away with "the most important (good or evil) civilisation" prize!

Asians too, have been very sucessful colonisers. More than 1200 years ago, China imposed its imperial system of government, bureaucracy, writing system and language, and festival holidays on Korea and Japan. For quite some time, Korea was regarded as a Chinese protectarate, and sometimes ruled as such. Even today, enforced migrations of Han Chinese populations to Tibet constitute a silent 'ethnic cleansing' policy that would be familiar to the Spanish colonialists in the New World.

Japan has a 150 year history as a colonial power, controlling Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria, parts of China, before conquering most of Southeast Asia in WW2. The Thai kingdom's historic domination over Cambodia and Burma that still continues in the present-day, and was a contributing factor to the mass riots in Cambodia late last year.

Singaporeans have come into their own in recent decades as the neo-colonialists of Southeast Asia, exploiting cheap labour from Indonesia and the Philippines as "domestic helps", from the Indian subcontinent as construction workers and manual labour to build our homes, our monuments, to pave our roads and plant trees in this beautified city, to clean up the garbage that we leave behind... Hundreds of thousands of people are transported in this disgusting and poorly-disguised slave trade to work in appalling, cheap, and sometimes fatal work conditions. And I'm talking about the death of maids at the hands of their Singaporean employers!

I haven't even begun to talk about Singapore's role in the decade-old 'trilateral trade pact' or "Growth Triangle" with Malaysia and Indonesia. We provide the management, supervision, and capital to set up factories and equipment. Malaysia provides the physical equipment. Indonesia hosts the factories, and hires its natives, to provide the cheap labour.

That's a really neat way of ensuring that the poor will poor, working in factories and producing goods that they can't afford (i.e. "exports"). It ensures that a country cannot produce the goods and services that it needs, but produces goods and services to people living in First World countries (which Singapore has pretensions to). If this isn't colonialism, what is? And all in the name of capitalism too...

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