Invoking Marx and Hayek makes me think you may be confusing economic inequality with privilege, as many people do. Ethnic privilege can lead to economic inequality, but it can theoretically exist where everyone is equal economically. Economics is an easy metric, but it misses the point.
It’s more of a social issue that usually does have economic consequences. Privilege is also not inherently racism. In fact, theoretically, there could be ethnic privilege without systemic racism. For example, deciding on using a national language that 90 percent of the population speaks isn’t racist to the 10 percent who don’t. Imagine if the 10 percent was made up of 10 groups who each spoke a different language.
Having privilege doesn’t make you racist. You’re born onto it. You can not give it away or stop having it, even if you want to. Perhaps the best you can do is recognise it and look for ways to balance things for those that don’t have it.
You’re right to point out that Malay-Muslim discrimination in the army is not an example of Chinese privilege. If someone wants to use that as an example of anti-Malay discrimination, it could be considered. To use it as an example of Chinese privilege just indicates the presenter doesn’t understand the concept of ethnic privilege. I’m not sure if you are creating a strawman or you really see this argument - perhaps from some uninformed netizen.
One important defining characteristic of ethnic privilege is that it is structural, but not institutional. When discrimination is institutional or part of law, it is straight up discrimination or in the worse case racist. Anyway, I don’t think this counterargument belongs in a discussion about Chinese ethnic privilege. For example, in the US no one ever says Jim Crow laws are an example of white privilege. Those laws were just plain racist. We should not use the term privilege as an umbrella term for racism.
I could make the same case for your argument about EIP or the election of president or Article 152. These are national policy choices and by definition then, not examples of ethnic privilege.
What is ethnic privilege then? It is the systemic and pervasive preferences, advantages, and benefits one ethnic group, on average, enjoys relative to others in subtle ways, usually unapparent to them. It can be matters of convenience, such as product labels in the language of the privileged group or it can be better informal access to power and resources. It can be statistically different treatment based on race, such as the ability to hail a cab or ethnic profiling by law enforcement or shop clerks.
Privilege doesn’t come from anyone’s desire to take advantage or be privileged. It is just a natural outgrowth of one ethnic group being in the majority. It can also come from extreme racial injustices of the past, such as in the US case, but I don’t think anyone is claiming that is the cause in Singapore, so let’s just stick with the first reason.
To get a grounding in reasons for ethnic privilege I suggest starting with John Stuart Mills, On Liberty discussion of Tyranny of the Majority. Ethnic privilege is a variant of that.
The important thing for social cohesion and progress is to recognize this privilege exists. Not to try and blame anyone for it, but to balance it.
Your example of the SAP schools and affirmative action is simply an example of this. Parliamentary representation is another because people will overwhelmingly vote for their own ethnic leaders.
So, when you challenge activists to point out one instance of discriminatory government policy, I know you don’t understand the concept of ethnic privilege. If it is was a government policy, it would, by definition, not be ethnic privilege. It would just be racial/ethnic discrimination.
Ethnic privilege is also not an ideology. It is just a condition that you can deny the existence of, but it is pretty hard to miss if you just look.
You begin by saying this idea is imported. Maybe the term is, but the condition has always existed and it always will. That said, in the US there is a progressive wing that seeks to misuse the concept and you should be concerned about that in Singapore. Your best defense is not to deny its existence but to recognise it and address it for what it is, and not let others define it for you in a malevolent way.