Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has made an impassioned plea for racial harmony and argued that claims about “Chinese privilege” were “entirely baseless”. He was speaking at his National Day rally late last month and was no doubt addressing the issue only in Singapore. Still, I think it is an important issue that Chinese overseas should face up to in Southeast Asian countries generally. It’s a hot-button topic in the Lion City. The phrase is, no doubt, a reference to “ white privilege ” in Western countries, especially English-speaking ones. Lee said the country was founded on racial equality and Chinese Singaporeans had made concessions for the greater good, such as by adopting English as the country’s lingua franca. ‘Why is this still happening?’: racist episodes spark soul-searching in Singapore “[It] is entirely baseless to claim that there is ‘Chinese privilege’ in Singapore,” Lee said. “We treat all races equally, with no special privileges. Few countries have made this their policy, and even fewer have actually managed to make it a reality.” However, he conceded that when it came to housing and jobs, some members of ethnic minority communities may sometimes face difficulties. Well, those are pretty big concerns in a person’s life – housing and employment. There are roughly 3 million Chinese, 545,000 Malays and 362,000 Indians – either permanent residents or citizens – in Singapore. Can we say the Chinese, in the aggregate, have more influence politically and economically than the other ethnic minority groups? Without talking about Singapore in particular, I do think Chinese privilege exists in Southeast Asia, just like white privilege exists in many Western countries. It’s no secret that Chinese businesses dominate the finances and economies of Southeast Asia. Of the 35 tycoons and company founders listed by journalist Joe Studwell in his 2007 book Asian Godfathers , 29 are ethnic Chinese. The ethnic Chinese upper class owns disproportionate amounts of assets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. True, they often don’t have the political clout commensurate with their economic influence. But when you have such concentrated wealth within a racial group, it’s hard not to think of that group as being “privileged”. Of course, there are many more low-income overseas Chinese who experience hardships rather than privileges. I had a college friend whose Chinese family in Malaysia was fabulously wealthy. On a visit, I was once taken aback when his mother told me I could hire several “darkie Malay” servants on my meagre reporter’s salary. She herself of course had an army of servants.