ARI Working Paper Series
WPS 141 Malaysia Singapore as Immigrant Societies
Publisher : Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Publication Date : Jul / 2010
Author/Speaker: Anthony REID
Keywords : Malaysia; Australia; Singapore; immigrant societies; migration; indigeneity

This paper, originally the 15th James C. Jackson Memorial Lecture, argues the case for considering Malaysia and Singapore as immigrant societies, and analyzing their dynamic by comparison with New World countries such as Australia rather than with Asian neighbours. The historical demography of the two countries over the past two centuries puts them at the very top of the global list for the proportions of foreign-born in the population, and for ratio of migrants to population.  While the mid-20th Century nationalist phase showed a drastic drop in immigration to almost zero, since the 1980s there has been a return in both countries to regimes of relatively high immigration. Making this comparison highlights certain features that Malaysia and Singapore share with Australia in different degrees, such as intense competition between migrant groups for dominance, on the basis of elevating arbitrarily defined “race” as a criterion of entitlement, and a harsh history of exploitation of and disregard for, indigenous groups. On the positive side, these societies have been pioneers of innovation and democratic opportunity, the competition between migrant groups has tended to ameliorate without major bloodletting, and indigenous populations have gained self-respect and recognition in recent years.