Editorial
 
The Straits Times | Feb 3, 1990
By: Koh Buck Song


Peh Chin Hua, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, is generally thought to be one of the more nationalistic and traditional sons of Singapore. Therefore his suggestion that certain emigrants from Singapore be allowed to hold dual citizenship will probably surprise some people. No doubt, those who notice that the suggestion was made in Petir, the official publication of the People's Action Party, will speculate on the significance of the fact and wonder if the party is giving his idea serious consideration. Whatever the position of the party might be, his proposal has sparked off a debate among Singaporeans at large. The controversy is hardly unexpected since the proposal touches on the two hottest topics on the Republic's political agenda, emigration and citizenship.

Should dual citizenship be allowed?
A number of pragmatic arguments can be made in its favour. The strongest is that Singapore faces a brain drain problem and awarding dual citizenship could help to stem the outflow. It is argued that those who leave may find life in another land unsuitable for them after some time and come to regret leaving Singapore. Additionally, emigrants may feel the pull of the homeland tugging at their heart-strings as they grow old in a foreign country. If these people are allowed to retain or regain their Singapore citizenship, they may be more ready to consider the possibility of returning to their country of origin. Emigration constitutes a heavy loss of the country's scarce human resources and the return of every emigrant can only be to Singapore's gain.

This argument, however, is flawed. For it is by no means certain that dual citizenship will actually reverse the trend of emigration. Indeed, it could possibly worsen an already bad situation. Knowing that they can retain their Singapore citizenship even after emigrating, some Singaporeans who now hesitate to leave for fear of losing their citizenship here might actually be encouraged to try their chances abroad because they will have nothing to lose.

If they do not like it elsewhere, they can always return. The net result could be to encourage, not discourage, emigration. On another plane, the debate about the pros and cons of Mr Peh's idea centres
on the concept of citizenship. Some proponents of dual citizenship believe that nationality is increasingly becoming an outmoded concept as the world grows more and more international. They may cite the example of the United States, which allows its people to be citizens of more than one country. They will say that citizenship is, after all, an artificial entity, created by accidents of history and an anachronism in the modern era of the global village. This being so, they will ask, is there anything wrong if people hold two or even more citizenships?

But citizenship means more than just holding a passport and has a value that goes beyond the utilitarian. While it gives a person certain unalienable rights, it also brings with it certain inescapable responsibilities.

Citizenship also embodies the idea of community and belonging, of staying together through thick and thin because there is no other choice. Allowing people to hold two citizenships will devalue this idea of community and undermine Singapore's attempt at nation-building. The problem of emigration is one which requires effective and urgent solutions. One practical way is to allow certain emigrants who have given up their citizenship to apply to return to Singapore. There is no reason not to accept some of them as long as they are willing to renew their pledge of allegiance to Singapore and bear the responsibilities of national defence. Such a scheme will work just as well as Mr Peh's suggestion. The advantage is that it will not have all the undesirable consequences that dual citizenship will bring.