We came across this post on a Singapore-focused subreddit.
The post quotes the Singapore Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing as having said that ‘success should not be how many jobs are created for Singaporeans, but how much global talent it has access to’.
An additional caption of ‘xia suay’ – meaning ‘disgrace’ or ‘embarrassment’ in Hokkien is added below together with a photo of Chan’s head superimposed onto a picture of Donnie Yen’s body from a scene in the action film Ip Man 4.
When we looked up the quote, we found that it originated from a speech Chan had given on 1 August at the 9th Singapore Economic Review Conference, where he spoke broadly on the global transitions facing the world, including specifically on the global demographic transformation and its effects on the Singapore workforce.
What he really said
The minister then set out Singapore’s priorities in terms of responses for addressing these transitions. The quote in the post comes from part of the speech where Chan speaks about how Singapore should respond to challenges in the labour market, mentioning a need to ‘break the artificial talent divide between locals and foreigners’.
The exact quote from this section is as follows: ‘We must organise ourselves differently for the next lap of global production and competition. Our yardstick of success is not how many jobs we create in Singapore for Singaporeans. Our yardstick of success is how many global companies we create. How much global talent we can have access to. So that we can create the best opportunities for Singaporeans in Singapore and beyond. We must reimagine Team Singapore to include Singaporean and global talent beyond our geographical location, whilst remaining anchored in Singapore’.
The full transcript of Chan’s speech can be found on the MOE web page linked here.
Compared with the exact remarks given by the minister in his speech, it is evident that the quote has been cropped and presented without context, portraying a key government official as being apathetic to the struggles of ordinary Singaporeans in their livelihoods, and instead favouring foreigners.
Instead, Chan’s remarks simply reveal that he views an open labour market to be a better guarantee of success for Singapore and Singaporeans than protectionist labour market policies.
The phrase ‘xia suay’ originates from a leaked recording of a speech Chan made during a dialogue at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) in February 2020, describing the actions of those were panic-buying supplies at supermarkets during the initial outbreak of Covid-19.
His comments at the time garnered a divisive response, with some appreciating his candour but many also resenting what may be perceived as a crude form of criticism of ordinary Singaporeans.
Since then, ‘xia suay’ has arisen intermittently as a phrase for public criticism of Chan during incidents that may be seen as embarrassing for the minister. One such example earlier this year saw Chan mishear that a student was a member of the school stamp club, when in fact the student was part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) club.
While Chan has clearly had his fair share of gaffes that may be seen by some as embarrassing, his remarks as quoted in the post cannot be considered to be one of them, as they are edited, only partially true and require key context.