Singapore

Categories: Overview | Political | Economic | Social | Environmental | Rule of Law | Trade Policy | Money
Graphs: Growth | Income | Inflation | Unemployment | Well-being | Trade Volume | Trade (CAB) | Debt | Spending

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Full Report: Singapore

Overview

1910-1919: Singapore, Penang, and Malacca comprise the British-controlled Straits Settlements on the Malay Peninsula. Singapore is the area's primary port and a major producer of rubber and tin. Its diverse population includes Chinese, Indians, and Malays. British authorities open English-language primary schools, while the Chinese majority builds Chinese-language schools.

1920-1940: Singapore is largely unaffected by World War I, but the postwar rise in tin and rubber prices creates pockets of great wealth. Britain starts to build a naval base and airstrip. Anti-Japanese sentiment among Singaporean Chinese grows after Japan invades Manchuria in 1931. British officials outlaw anti-Japanese demonstrations and propaganda.

1941-1944: Japan invades the Malay Peninsula in December 1941. The British surrender Singapore in February 1942. Japan occupies Singapore for the remainder of the war, changing its name to Shonan ("Light of the South") and killing or imprisoning many Chinese intellectuals suspected of anti-Japanese activities or sentiments.

1945-1946: Allied forces retake Singapore in September 1945. Despite calls for a unified Malay Peninsula, Britain maintains Singapore as a separate crown colony. An interim military government restores utilities, reopens schools, and conscripts Japanese POWs to rebuild the port and airfield before handing control to a civilian administration in April 1946.

1947-1950: A communist movement called The Emergency gains power on the Malay Peninsula. The Emergency boycotts Singapore's 1948 elections. Only British citizens are allowed to vote. Colonial government offers primary education in Singapore's four main languages: English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil.

1951-1953: As a longtime British colony, Singapore has a British-appointed governor and a legislative council whose members are mostly wealthy Chinese businessmen. But government officials appoint a commission chaired by Sir George Rendel to redraft Singapore's constitution in preparation for limited self-rule.

1954-1955: Britain adopts the Rendel commission's blueprint for a new government structure. Elections for one 25-seat Legislative Assembly are scheduled, and automatic registration swells the voting ranks. The new Labor Front party, led by British-educated lawyer David Marshall, gains 10 Assembly seats and forms a coalition government that supports a unified Malaya and strongly opposes colonial rule.

1956-1957: Chief Minister Marshall faces student and labor unrest and a governor reluctant to cede control. He leads a delegation to England to negotiate self-rule. Among the delegates is Lee Kuan Yew, head of the People's Action Party (PAP). Talks stall over who handles internal security. Marshall resigns. His successor Lim Yew Hock's aggressive response to unrest helps allay Britain's security concerns.

1958-1960: Britain finally grants Singapore self-rule and schedules elections which bring the People's Action Party to power. PAP leader Lee Kuan Yew calls for national unity, social and economic reform, and for a Federation of Malaya that includes Singapore. Lee introduces a new flag, a new national anthem, and makes English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil official languages.

1961-1964: Minister of Finance Goh Keng Swee introduces a four-year plan to expand Singapore's trade-based economy. Singapore, Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, angering Indonesian president Sukarno, who severs relations with Malaysia, steps up border patrols, and stirs up Singapore's Malay population.

1965: Political tensions among Federation members mount until, on August 9, the Malaysian parliament votes Singapore out of the Federation. A tearful Lee Kuan Yew publicly rues Singapore's ouster: "My whole adult life, I have believed in merger and unity of the two territories."

1966-1969: Singapore becomes a republic. Lee promises to create an honest government and a single multicultural national identity, and to expand trade. Singapore joins Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand in the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN). Lee Kuan Yew's PAP party sweeps the 1971 elections, and he exploits the victory to press economic and labor reforms.

1970-1975: Government policies to expand trade and industry and attract foreign investment pay off. Singapore is a magnet for U.S. and European companies. Job opportunities abound, and the average worker's standard of living rises. By 1975, Singapore is the world's third largest oil-refining center and its third busiest port.

1976-1989: Singapore's economy continues its remarkable growth. PAP continues to dominate the country's politics. Lee Kuan Yew's paternalistic approach delivers stability, prosperity, and an orderly, well-educated society. But he is not above suppressing opponents within opposing parties and the press. Some critics mourn the loss of freedoms.

1990-1997: Lee Kuan Yew steps down as prime minister, but retains influence from his newly created "senior minister" position. Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Lee's handpicked successor, assumes the post and continues Lee's economic policies. In the January 1997 general election, the governing People's Action Party (PAP) wins 81 of 83 Assembly seats.

1998-2003: Singapore weathers the Asian financial crisis, but export dependence causes recession in 2001-02. Low unemployment and inflation inch upward, but quality of life remains high. The PAP maintains power. Competition from China spurs the government to seek trade alliances and economic restructuring. The spread of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) brings fear of an economic crisis.

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Political

1959-1960: Although Britain retains control of security, foreign affairs, and defense, independent Singapore holds elections for its new Legislative Assembly. Ten parties field candidates for 51 seats. Reformer Lee Kuan Yew's People's Action Party (PAP) wins 43. The Cambridge-educated lawyer becomes the first prime minister, but refuses to take office until Britain releases jailed communist PAP members.

1961-1962: The new government launches a four-year plan to attract foreign investment, expand industrial capacity, and build more schools and housing. When Lee and the Legislative Assembly support Malayan leader Tunku Abdul Rahman's call for a Federation of Malaya, PAP's communist wing forms the opposition Barisan Socialis ("Socialist Front") party in protest.

1963-1964: Opponents call the Federation of Malaya a front for British control. Singapore's Barisan Socialis party conspires with other opposition groups to scuttle the union. Lee jails Barisan leaders and calls for new elections. Aided by the arrests, his People's Action Party prevails. Indonesian president and Federation opponent Sukarno institutes a policy of "Confrontation" against Federation states.

1965-1967: Animosity grows between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian leaders distrust Singapore's largely Chinese population, and the Malaysian parliament votes Singapore out of the Federation. Within days, Lee Kuan Yew declares Singapore a republic. In 1967 Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

1968-1975: Despite five opposition parties who carry a third of the popular vote, Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP party sweep parliamentary elections in 1968 and 1972. Lee's policies create an extraordinary period of peace and prosperity. His golden touch even turns the 1971 British pullout to Singapore's advantage by converting the old British naval base into the world's third largest commercial port.

1976-1989: The People's Action Party retains control of parliament in the 1976 and 1980 elections. But the international press steps up criticism of Lee's paternalistic style. His government is not above suppressing or co-opting opposition voices, and the state brings economic pressure to bear on critical newspapers and broadcast media.

1990-1999: Lee resigns as prime minister in November 1990 after choosing his deputy Goh Chok Tong to succeed him. But Lee retains a special "senior minister" position. Constitutional changes make the presidency elective rather than appointed and grant the office more powers. The People's Action Party share of the popular vote declines to 65 percent in 1997. Sellapan Rama Nathan is elected president in 1999.

2000-2003: Despite recession, the People's Action Party remains overwhelmingly dominant, thanks to both its own popularity and harsh measures to limit opposition campaigning. It wins 84 of 86 seats in the 2001 general election. Elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew remains a highly respected and influential figure.

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Economic

1959-1965: Singapore has a small territory, no natural resources, and a poor, unskilled workforce. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee script a development strategy with the state as principal investor in an export-oriented free-market system. Mandatory contributions to the Central Provident Fund support retired and disabled workers and provide a rainy-day cash supply.

1966-1972: Lee Kuan Yew's government expands Singapore's manufacturing and industrial base, invests heavily in education and housing, and aggressively courts foreign corporations with strong technologies. State-run boards oversee industrial financing and development and construction of government housing. Gross domestic product (GDP) grows an average 12.7 percent.

1973-1980: The 1973 oil crisis ignites a global recession that slows Singapore's explosive growth. The 1979 oil crisis creates the worst recession since the 1930s. But Singapore's GDP grows an average 8.5 percent annually, and unemployment is zero. The government identifies financial services as a key growth market and invests accordingly.

1981-1984: Portfolio management, foreign exchange, and other such financial and business services join manufacturing as major economic engines. Singapore is Asia's third most important financial center after Tokyo and Hong Kong. Government targets computer technology and electronics as the next phase in Singapore's industrial development.

1985-1988: In 1985 slumping petroleum, shipbuilding, and electronics sectors send Singapore into its worst recession. The government responds by freezing wages, lowering taxes, and reducing Central Provident Fund contributions. By 1988, Singapore records the world's highest rate of annual economic growth (11 percent) and highest savings rate (42 percent of income).

1989-1995: Singapore's National Productivity Board unveils its Productivity 2000 initiative which calls for adapting work and management styles to meet future challenges such as stiffer trade barriers, more competition for foreign investors and markets, and the need to invest more in technology.

1996-2000: Manufacturing and services continue to power Singapore's export-oriented economy. Tourism and transportation are also important. In 2000 per capita GDP exceeds that of Canada, Britain, and the United States. Still bullish on globalization, Singapore launches initiatives such as the Jurong Town Corporation which builds and manages factories and industrial parks for foreign firms.

2001-2003: Fast-paced growth causes shortages in skilled labor, and a global recession cools demand for Singapore's exports. In October 2001, the government announces a $6.2 billion economic stimulus package, including tax cuts and increased spending on infrastructure. The economy comes out of recession but stumbles again in early 2003 as fear of the SARS virus, and the virus itself, spread through East Asia.

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Social

1959-1960: Densely populated Singapore embraces four national languages (English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil); three distinct ethnic groups; and many faiths (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhism, and Christianity among them). The Chinese majority, while represented in all strata of society, dominates politics and state government. Malays work as policemen, servants, or laborers. Indians are often shopkeepers or laborers.

1961-1963: To upgrade living conditions and break down ethnic barriers, Singapore's new Housing Development Board builds high-rise apartment complexes and relocates low-income citizens. Integrated complexes feature schools, shops, and recreation areas. Many families use their compulsory contributions to the Central Provident Fund to buy apartments.

1964-1965: The government preaches cooperation, discipline, and austerity. But tension between the Chinese and the downtrodden Malay population boils over. Fomented by extremist groups from Kuala Lampur, race riots between Malay and Chinese youths kill 23 and injure hundreds. Lee Kuan Yew travels the country to restore calm.

1966-1970: New labor laws mandate longer hours and give employers more hiring and firing power, but workers see changes, too, and for the first time get sick leave and unemployment benefits. Birthrates rise, and the state forms the Family Planning and Population Board to offer clinical services, education, and incentives such as priority housing and education in exchange for voluntary sterilization.

1971-1980: A booming economy and the state's emphasis on education raise living standards, reduce poverty, and blur class lines. Most families occupy -- and many own -- government apartments. Command of English and technical or professional skills characterize the upwardly mobile. Interracial marriage is rare. Lower and working classes rely on extended family networks for support.

1981-1988: Good nutrition, sanitation, and health care produce long life expectancy and low infant mortality rates. To meet industry's growing need for manpower, the state expands vocational training and encourages women to work, which boosts household incomes and further lowers the birthrate. A pro-birth campaign offers tax rebates and day care subsidies for third children.

1989-2003: Following Lee Kuan Yew's resignation after 30 years in office, Singapore's government becomes more pluralistic. Its economy feels the drag of the global slowdown. Standard of living remains high, but more unskilled refugees from troubled Indonesia arrive, and members of Singapore's professional class depart. In early 2003, the deadly SARS virus claims lives despite aggressive containment measures.

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Environmental

1959-1979: As a tiny city-state bent on developing industry, housing stock, and roads, Singapore confronts air and water pollution and waste disposal challenges. In the early '70s the government creates an anti-pollution unit in the Prime Minister's Office, sets up the Ministry of the Environment, and passes its first environmental laws.

1980-1989: High-density development helps Singapore successfully manage garbage disposal and wastewater treatment. Tough laws and a preference for "clean" industries help mitigate the toll from a transportation boom. By 1989, five expressways crisscross Singapore. The government taxes gasoline and cars and opens a $5 billion mass-transit bus system.

1990-1995: Singapore is a party to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, which drafts conventions on climate change, hazardous wastes, ocean pollution, and other green issues. It refrains from signing the 1992 Kyoto protocols. In 1993 Singapore prosecutes 36 industries for illegal discharges into the sewer system.

1996-2003: Singapore is the world's most densely populated area, yet it remains without a central environmental authority. Air and water quality compare favorably with the world's cleanest cities, but forest fires in Indonesia threaten both. Singapore earns high marks for environmental management.

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Rule of Law

1959-1968: Singapore abolishes jury trials except for capital offenses. The constitution creates two lower courts (magistrate and district) and an independent Supreme Court with justices appointed by the president. Magistrate courts handle civil and minor criminal cases; district courts hear serious criminal offenses. The president also appoints the attorney general.

1969-1970: A 1969 amendment abolishes all jury trials. Citizens have the right to legal counsel and a speedy trial before a magistrate or judge. Defendants can appeal verdicts. The constitution forbids government interference in the judicial process. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act in 1969 reaffirms judicial independence.

1971-1980: The state cracks down on growing drug use, particularly heroin. The 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act mandates jail terms for drug dealers and importers and creates programs to rehabilitate users. Police take blood and urine samples from all suspects. A 1978 constitutional amendment legitimizes this and other police actions that preserve public safety and prevent drug abuse.

1981-1990: Singapore embraces community policing and opens small neighborhood posts in all 10 police divisions. Patrol cars are wired with computers that issue instant crime alerts. In 1989, 15 percent of police officers are women, and Singapore supports six kinds of correctional facilities, from maximum-security prisons to drug treatment centers and day-release programs.

1991-2003: Singapore's judiciary demonstrates its independence by ruling against the government in many political and civil rights cases. Though state officials intimidate political opponents and censor the press, they make no attempt to reverse, remove, or intimidate judges. Singapore remains a tightly ruled society but maintains its balance between openness and control.

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Trade Policy

1959-1969: Singapore's strategic location on the Strait of Malacca has made it the entrepôt for exchange between Europe and Southeast Asia. The 1967 formation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines sets the stage for regional cooperation.

1970-1979: Dependence on Britain declines, and the United States and Japan emerge as major sources of industrial products. Malaysia and Indonesia still supply raw materials such as rubber, tin, and spices. Singapore becomes a major oil-refining center, weathering global oil crises in 1973 and 1979. ASEAN member ties strengthen with Indochina's fall to communism and Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia.

1980-1985: Powered by machinery and transportation equipment, its principal exports, and buoyed by the success of its new electronics industries, Singapore's total exports grow an average of 5.5 percent each year. A worldwide recession in 1985 slows demand for the country's exports, especially computer parts and petroleum products.

1986-1990: Exports to the United States surpass imports. Eighty percent of the exports -- mainly computer, machinery, and electronics -- are manufactured in Singapore, more than half by American firms with factories there. Japan is the single largest supplier, with 25 percent of total imports. Singapore becomes China's fifth largest trading partner and a major investor in the Chinese economy.

1991-1997: A practitioner and longtime advocate of liberalized trading policies, Singapore proselytizes in the region through both ASEAN and the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) organization. A founding member of the World Trade Organization, Singapore hosts the first WTO Ministerial in 1996.

1998-2000: Singapore's trade balance reaches a surplus of $10 billion in 2000. The U.S. remains its single largest trading partner, followed by Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Japan. Principal exports include machinery, petroleum products, chemicals, and garments. Largely duty-free imports and exports, streamlined customs procedures, and liberal tax continue to bolster trade and attract foreign investment.

2001-2003: Singapore agitates for an ASEAN Free Trade Zone (AFTA) and unveils its intention to create bilateral free-trade arrangements with Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States. Unrest in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand underscores Singapore's reputation as the most stable country in the region, but the government sees a great challenge in competition from new WTO member China.

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Money

1959-1969: Singapore's new government uses domestic savings and foreign investment to finance growth. It joins the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, securing multiple loans. Its currency is tied to the U.S. dollar. The Development Bank of Singapore opens in 1968. This public-private partnership underwrites economic development.

1970-1979: The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country's central bank, aggressively polices the exchange rate to keep prices stable after the currency is allowed to float freely. After 1975 Singapore's budget surpluses threaten the exchange rate and competitiveness. After 1978, the government abolishes all controls on currency exchange. The Stock Exchange of Singapore opens in 1973.

1980-1989: The 1985 recession prompts major tax relief, stricter regulation of financial futures market and securities industry, and a series of reductions in mandatory contributions to the Social Security-like Central Provident Fund. A Securities Industry Council is created to advise the finance minister. Singapore stops borrowing from World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

1990-1996: Singapore's compulsory Central Provident Fund, founded in 1955, deposits a predetermined portion of worker income into a tax-exempt account, with employer match. The Fund, which covers worker retirement and disability, also creates consistent budget surpluses and a national savings rate nearly 50 percent of GDP. Singapore retires its miniscule remaining debt in 1995.

1997-1998: The 1997 Asian financial crisis inflates Singapore's prime lending rate to nearly 8 percent and devalues its dollar slightly against the U.S. dollar. Debt-free status helps Singapore recover quickly. The lending rate soon falls back to 6 percent, and huge foreign reserves -- the world's largest in per capita terms -- cushion the dollar.

1999-2003: The devaluation of other Asian currencies erodes Singapore's competitiveness. With virtually no official controls on the movement of capital, Singapore cannot use monetary policy to stimulate or suppress economic activity. The government opts to cut business costs by reducing employer contributions to the Central Provident Fund rather than devalue the currency.

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Categories: Overview | Political | Economic | Social | Environmental | Rule of Law | Trade Policy | Money
Graphs: Growth | Income | Inflation | Unemployment | Well-being | Trade Volume | Trade (CAB) | Debt | Spending

Related: Video | LinksView all categories for years from to | See Full Report | Print