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SINGAPORE — Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has challenged the Progress Singapore Party's (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai to debate the India–Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in Parliament.
The gauntlet was thrown down on Tuesday (11 May) while Shanmugam was elaborating on the details of a suspected racist attack last Friday in which a 55-year-old Indian woman was allegedly kicked in the chest by a stranger for allegedly not properly wearing her mask.
The woman, however, was reportedly not wearing her mask properly as she was brisk walking at the time, which is allowed under current COVID-19 regulations. Shanmugam said the woman had pulled down her mask to prevent breathlessness.
Pointing to certain "parties" that have been deliberately stoking fears of foreigners as well as "encouraging racism and xenophobia" in Singapore, Shanmugam warned that such actions are "dangerous".
While Singaporeans may have legitimate concerns about "foreigners taking over our jobs", justifying racist behaviour due to grievances over government policies or schemes like CECA was unacceptable, he added.
'I'm looking at you'
Shanmugam told the House, "There have been several canards about CECA promoted by a whispering campaign. If anyone here believes that CECA is a problem, put it up for a motion debated openly, and let's hear whether Singaporeans benefit or lose from it."
"I'm looking at you, Mr Leong," he added. "I invite you to put up a motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false."
While overt expressions of racism in Singapore are expressed only by a minority, Shanmugam said that the situation could easily worsen.
"(Not) everyone can distinguish between foreign-born Indians and Singapore-born Indians. The lady... who was attacked has been a citizen for 25 years. If we go down this route, eventually all Indians can be a target for hate," he said.
In recent years, CECA has attracted criticisms that the free trade agreement supposedly accords Indian nationals special immigration privileges and enables them to compete for jobs in Singapore.
However, the government has argued that CECA does not automatically grant employment passes (EPs) to Indian nationals, and they must meet the employment pass criteria applicable to all foreigners in order to work here.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing has dispelled the myth that CECA allows Indian nationals to become Singapore citizens and permanent residents, according to local media reports. Article 9.1.2 in Chapter 9 of CECA states, "This Chapter shall not apply to measures pertaining to citizenship, permanent residence, or employment on a permanent basis."
Replying to Shanmugam's challenge, Leong said that the PSP was interested in taking the debate at some point and emphasised that the party's interest in the CECA issue had nothing to do with racism or xenophobia.
Instead, the party is concerned with the deal's economic impact on Singaporeans, he added.
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