Background Notes: Singapore

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: May 15, 19905/15/90 Category: Country Data Region: Southeast Asia Country: Singapore Subject: Cultural Exchange, Resource Management, Military Affairs, History, Trade/Economics, International Organizations [TEXT] Official Name: Republic of Singapore


Area: 620 sq. km. (239 sq. mi.). Cities: Capital-Singapore (country is a city-state). Terrain: Lowland. Climate: Tropical.
Nationality: Noun and adjective-Singaporean(s). Population (1988): 2.6 million. Annual growth rate: 1.3%. Ethnic groups: Chinese 76%, Malays 15%, Indians 7%, others 2%. Religions: Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian. Languages: English, Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, Malay, Tamil. Education: Years compulsory-none. Attendance-94%. Literacy-87.1%. Health: Infant mortality rate- 7.4/1,000. Life expectancy-71 yrs. male, 76 yrs. female. Work force (1.3 million): Agriculture-1.1%. Industry and commerce- 58.1%. Services-33%. Government-8.1%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy. Constitution: 1965. Independence: August 9, 1965. Branches: Executive-president (chief of state, 4- yr. term); prime minister (head of government). Legislative- unicameral 81-member parliament (maximum 5-yr. term). Judicial- High Court, Court of Appeal, Court of Criminal Appeal. Political parties: People's Action Party (PAP), various opposition parties. Suffrage: Universal and compulsory. Central government budget (1986): $10 billion. Defense (1988): 5% of gross domestic product. National holiday: August 9. Flag: Two equal horizontal sections, red over white, with a white crescent and five stars in the upper left corner.
GDP (1988): $23.9 billion. Annual growth rate (1988-in real terms): 11%. Per capita income: $8,782. Avg. inflation rate (1988): 1.5%. Natural resources: None. Agriculture (0.4% of real GDP): Products-poultry, orchids, vegetables, fruits. Industry (17% of real GNP): Types-petroleum products, electrical and electronic products, shipbuilding and ship repair, food and beverages, textiles and garments, chemical products. Trade (1988, excluding Indonesian trade, which is not reported by Singaporean authorities): Exports- $39 billion: petroleum products, electronics equipment, electrical and nonelectrical machinery, telecommunications apparatus, garments. Major markets-US, Malaysia, Japan, European Community (EC). Imports-$44 billion: crude oil, machinery, manufactured goods, foodstuffs. Major suppliers-US, EC, Malaysia, Japan. Official exchange rate (avg. 1988): Singapore $2.01=US$1. Fiscal year: April 1-March 31.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and some of its specialized and related agencies, Commonwealth, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Five Power Defense Arrangement, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Colombo Plan, INTELSAT, Nonaligned Movement, Group of 77.


Singapore is located in Southeast Asia at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and is separated from Malaysia by the Strait of Johore, which is traversed by a 1.2-kilometer (3/4-mi.) causeway carrying a road and a railway. The Singapore Strait separates the country from Indonesia. Singapore is a focal point for Southeast Asian sea routes. Its total land area includes one large island and about 55 nearby islets. The diamond-shaped main island is 41 kilometers (26 mi.) at its broadest from east to west, and 22 kilometers (14 mi.) from north to south. Much of Singapore is lowland and originally consisted of swamp and jungle. Now mainly urban and industrialized, its geographical features are small in scale-the highest point on the main island, Bukit Timah (Hill of Tin), is only 177 meters (581 ft.) above sea level; the longest river is 14 kilometers (9 mi.) long. A central plateau of about 31 square kilometers (12 sq. mi.) contains a water catchment area and nature preserve. The main urban area lies on the southern part of the island, primarily on land reclaimed from swamp and sea. Singapore's climate is characterized by warm temperatures, high humidity, and copious rainfall. Virtually no seasonal temperature variation exists. The average maximum temperature is 31 C (88 F); the average rainfall is 158 centimeters (62 in.). Singapore has no pronounced wet or dry seasons.


With a population density of 4,231 persons per square kilometer (10,961 per sq. mi.), Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The annual growth rate has fallen, however, from 2.5% in 1965 to 1.3% in 1988. Health standards are high for the region, with about 1 physician for every 837 people (US has about 1 to 700). Singapore has a varied linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage. Malay is the national language, but Chinese, English, and Tamil also are official languages. English is widely used in professions, businesses, and schools. The government mandated that English would be the primary language used at all levels of the school systems by 1987, and aims to provide at least 10 years of education for every child. Primary and secondary school students total almost 470,000, or nearly 18% of the entire population. Enrollment at the National University of Singapore is 14,972 and 13,753 at Singapore Polytechnic. The practical engineering-oriented Nanyang Technological Institute, founded in 1981, now has 3,940 students. The overall literacy rate is 87% and is more than 90% for Singaporeans under 35. Singapore has religious freedom. Almost all Malays are Muslim; other Singaporeans are Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists, Buddhists, Confucianists, and Christians.


Although Singapore's history dates from the 11th century, little was known about the island until the 19th century, when in 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived as an agent of the British East India Company. In 1824, the British purchased Singapore Island, and by 1825, the city of Singapore had become a major port, with trade exceeding that of Malaya's Malacca and Penang combined. In 1830, Singapore, Penang, and Malacca were combined as the Straits Settlements to form an outlying residency of the British East India Company; in 1867, the Straits Settlements were made a British Crown Colony, an arrangement that continued until 1946. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the advent of steamships launched an era of prosperity for Singapore as transit trade expanded throughout Southeast Asia. In the 20th century, the automobile industry's demand for rubber from Southeast Asia and the packaging industry's need for tin helped make Singapore one of the world's major ports. It is now second largest in the world in terms of annual tonnage. In 1921, the British constructed a naval base, which was soon supplemented by an air base. The Japanese captured the island in February 1942, however, and it remained under their control until September 1945, when it was recaptured by the British. In 1946, Penang and Malacca were united in a single British Crown Colony called the Federation of Malaya; Singapore remained a separate colony. In 1959, Singapore became self-governing, and, in 1963, it joined the now-independent Federation of Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak (the latter two former British Borneo territories) to form Malaysia. Indonesia adopted a policy of "confrontation" against the new federation, charging that it was a "British colonial creation," and severed trade with Malaysia. The move particularly affected Singapore, since Indonesia had been the island's second largest trading partner. The political dispute was resolved in 1966, and Indonesia resumed trade with Singapore. After a period of friction between Singapore and the central government in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore separated from Malaysia on August 9, 1965, and became an independent republic.


According to the constitution, as amended in 1965, Singapore is a republic with a parliamentary system of government. The president, the ceremonial chief of state, is elected every 4 years by parliament. Political authority rests with the prime minister and the cabinet. The prime minister is the leader of the political party or coalition of parties having the majority of seats in parliament. The unicameral parliament consists of 81 members (80 of whom are from the governing People's Action Party-PAP) elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Up to 3 opposition candidates are invited to become nonconstituent members of parliament after any general election in which less than three opposition candidates are elected. Nonconstituent members may debate but may not vote on constitutional amendments or on bills requiring the expenditure of funds. After the last general election (September 1988), two members were named, one of whom subsequently was disqualified. The maximum term of any one parliament is 5 years. Voting has been compulsory since 1959. Judicial power is vested in the High Court and Court of Appeal. The High Court exercises original criminal and civil jurisdiction in serious cases as well as appellate jurisdiction from subordinate courts. Its chief justice, senior judge, and six judges are appointed by the president. Appeals from the High Court are heard by the Court of Appeal. Further appeal can be made in certain cases to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council at London.
Principal Government Officials
President-WEE Kim Wee Prime Minister-LEE Kuan Yew First Deputy Prime Minister-GOH Chok Tong Second Deputy Prime Minister-ONG Teng Cheong Ministers- Communications and Information-YEO Ning Hong Community Development-WONG Kan Seng Defense-GOH Chok Tong Education-Tony TAN Environment-Ahmad MATTAR Finance-Richard HU Tsu Tau Foreign Affairs-WONG Kan Seng Health (Acting)-YEO Cheow Tong Home Affairs-S. JAYAKUMAR Labor-LEEYock San Law-S. JAYAKUMAR National Development-S. DHANABALAN Trade and Industry-LEE Hsien Loong Ambassador to the United Nations-CHAN Heng Chee Ambassador to the United States-Tommy KOH Thong Bee Singapore maintains an embassy in the United States at 1824 R Street NW., Washington, D.C. 20009 (tel. 202-667-7555).


The ruling political party in Singapore (in power since 1959) is the People's Action Party (PAP), headed by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. In the 1963 general elections, the PAP won 37 of the 51 seats in parliament. In October 1966, the opposition Barisan Sosialis Party (Socialist Front), a left-wing group that split off from the PAP in 1961, resigned from parliament, leaving the PAP as the sole representative party. In the April 1968 general elections, the PAP won all 58 seats-51 without opposition. In the general elections of 1972, 1976, and 1980, the PAP won all of the seats in an expanding parliament. In an October 1981 by- election, the PAP lost a seat to the Workers' Party Secretary General J.B. Jeyaretnam, the first time an opposition party had won a seat since 1963. In the 1984 elections, the PAP polled 62.9% of the popular vote, a 12% drop from 1980 returns, and lost a second seat. In 1988, the PAP polled 61.9% of the popular vote to win 80 of 81 seats. Following the 1988 elections, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew indicated that in 1990 he would retire as head of government but not from politics. First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong has been designated to assume the office of prime minister as part of a transition process to a new generation of political leaders.


Singapore's strategic location and industrious population have given the country an economic importance in Southeast Asia out of proportion to its small size. Following independence, its economy expanded rapidly. Average annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) during the 1970s was close to 10%, and for 1980-84 it was 8.5%. Following a recession in 1985-86, the economy steadily recovered and registered an impressive 11% GDP growth rate in 1988. The 1988 per capita income, $8,782, is the third highest in Asia after Japan and Brunei. At the end of 1988, official foreign exchange reserves stood at $16.6 billion. Singapore began as an entrepot (warehousing and transshipment) center for the region but began to industrialize and modernize its infrastructure after independence. The marine and oil services and processing industries were among the leaders in the important manufacturing sector. The late 1970s and early 1980s brought an increasing emphasis on high technology high-value-added goods and services, which made Singapore an electronics and regional banking center. Government policy, aimed at providing modern housing for most of the population by 1990, spurred public and private building, creating a construction and property boom in the early 1980s. However, by 1984, the government's accelerated construction program was nearly concluded, and there was a massive oversupply of new buildings. Property values tumbled. At the same time, there was a near-collapse of marine and petroleum-related industries worldwide, a shakeout in the US electronics market, and worsening economic conditions in Malaysia and Indonesia. The net result was Singapore's first recession after 21 years of sustained growth. Real GDP growth plummeted to -1.6% in 1985, began to show the first signs of recovery in mid-1986, and has been remarkably buoyant since. Singapore continues to upgrade worker skills and to search for new products and markets to drive its export-led economy. One major effort is to become a complete business center, offering multinationals a manufacturing base, a developed financial infrastructure, and excellent communications to service regional and world markets. Trade In the past, about two-thirds of Singapore's imports and exports consisted of entrepot trade. With rapid industrialization, however, the relative importance of this sector has declined. The trade pattern reflects a shift toward importing capital goods and raw materials for industry and exporting locally manufactured products. In 1988, the United States was Singapore's largest trading partner. Major exports to the United States consisted of crude rubber, electronic equipment, electrical machinery, and textile products; major imports from the United States were machinery and other manufactured products.
US Investment and Assistance
The United States is the largest source of foreign investment in Singapore, with more than one-third of all private foreign investment and a quarter of total investment. US private investment played a leading role in Singapore's rapid economic expansion, particularly in general manufacturing, electronics, and in modernizing regional distribution facilities. US activities also include oil refining, shipping, banking, hotels, insurance, and importing and exporting. The resident US business community, including dependents, was estimated at about 5,000 in late 1988. Total US investment in Singapore at the end of 1988 stood at $3 billion, with investment flows continuing at a brisk pace. The United States has a small military training assistance program with Singapore but provides no other bilateral aid.
The government's development policy from independence has emphasized industrialization. Separation from Malaysia removed any semblance of a large domestic market, leading naturally to emphasis on manufacturing for export. To support this policy, the government introduced new and remarkably successful financial incentives for export-oriented industry and provided efficient infrastructure for manufacturing. Singapore opened its economy and has pursued a vigorous free-trade policy ever since. Labor legislation enacted in 1968 reduced labor unrest and gave employers more flexibility in hiring and firing. By the early 1980s, Singapore had become a relatively high wage locale by Asian standards, but the government moved in 1985 to restrain wage increases and reduce other costs with a view to making Singapore more competitive. Several institutions played a key role in carrying out the industrialization policy. The Development Bank of Singapore was responsible for industrial financing. The Jurong Town Corporation was charged with developing industrial estates. Its major achievement, the Jurong Industrial Estate, is a government-planned satellite community devoted to manufacturing, which had more than 1,400 factories in production in the early 1980s and many others in various stages of completion. The government's Economic Development Board has organized a massive program to promote foreign investment in Singapore and has set up a network of offices in Europe, Japan, and the United States (in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Houston). These efforts resulted in a dramatic increase in the level of foreign and local investment. From 1962 to 1974, the manufacturing sector grew an average of 20% per year and registered an annual average increase of more than 10% through 1981. After a pause in 1982, growth resumed in 1983. Manufacturing increased as a percentage of total economic activity from 17% in 1960 to 29% in 1988. Extensive petroleum refining operations make that industry-in terms of total value of production-the largest in Singapore. It is closely followed by electronics, transportation equipment and marine services- including ship repair-textiles, electrical machinery, and food industries. The manufacturing sector contracted because of the recession, but the prospects for high- tech manufacturing are still bright. Construction was the cutting edge of the economy in the early 1980s, providing as much as 30% of total growth. Although the frenzied pace of construction in that period left a massive surplus of offices, hotels, and warehouses, the program also resulted in modern housing for most Singaporeans and an up-to-date system of ports, airports, and roads. Construction of a 66.8-kilometer (41.5- mi.) rapid transit system is underway. The first stage was completed in December 1987.
Singapore's limited agrarian land is devoted primarily to intensive cultivation of vegetables, some poultry and pork, and other food crops. Although rice is a dietary staple, it is not grown domestically. All the island's other food requirements are imported. Singapore is a major exporter of orchids and tropical fish.
Singapore has a work force of about 1.3 million. The National Trades Union Congress, the sole trade union federation, has 209,000 members or about 98% of total organized labor. Extensive legislation covers general labor and trade union matters. The Industrial Arbitration Court handles labor-management disputes. In recent years, few incidents have occurred to ruffle the generally harmonious state of labor-management relations. Singapore enjoyed virtually full employment in the early 1980s with an unemployment rate of only 3%. The 1985 recession drove the jobless figure to more than 6% in mid-1986, but with the recovery, it dropped back to 3.3% in mid-1988. Spot labor shortages persist, however, in some growth areas, such as electronics and in industries, such as construction, where foreign workers predominate.
Transportation and Communications
Situated at the crossroads of international shipping and air routes, Singapore is a center for transportation and communication in Southeast Asia. The world's second most active port (after Rotterdam), Singapore handled 153 million tons of cargo in 1988. Singapore is a regional aviation hub served by 50 international airlines. Changi International Airport, opened in 1980, is being expanded. The country also is linked by road and rail to Malaysia and Thailand. Telecommunications and telephone facilities are modern and comprehensive, providing high-quality communications with the rest of the world. Radio and television stations are government- owned and operated. Privately owned daily newspapers are published in English, Chinese, and Malay.


Singapore is nonaligned and seeks cordial relations with all nations. As a small country heavily dependent on world trade, it has a special interest in maintaining wide international contacts. It is a member of the Commonwealth and also the United Nations and several of its specialized and related agencies. Singapore supports the concept of Southeast Asian regionalism and plays an active role in the Association of South East Asian Nations, founded in 1967.


Singapore relies primarily on its own defense forces, which are continuously being modernized. The Singapore armed forces comprises 50,000 army, 3,500 navy, and 6,000 air force personnel. Reserve forces total about 200,000. Singapore is a member of the Five Power Defense Arrangement-United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia. Designed to replace the former defense role of the British in the Singapore-Malaysia area, the arrangement obligates members to consult in the event of external threat and provides for stationing Commonwealth forces in Singapore.


The United States has maintained formal diplomatic relations with Singapore since that country became independent in 1965. Singapore's efforts to maintain economic growth and political stability and its support for regional cooperation harmonize with US policy in the region and form a solid basis for amicable relations between the two countries. The growth of US investment in Singapore and the large number of Americans living there enhance opportunities for contact between Singapore and the United States. Many Singaporeans visit and study in the United States. The US Government sponsors visitors from Singapore each year under the International Visitor Program. The US Government provides Fulbright awards to enable selected American professors to teach or conduct research at the National University of Singapore and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. It awards scholarships to outstanding Singaporean students for graduate studies at American universities and to American students to study in Singapore. The US Government also sponsors occasional cultural presentations in Singapore. The East-West Center and private American organizations, such as the Asia and Ford Foundations, also sponsor exchanges involving Singaporeans. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has visited the United States several times. He last official visit was in April 1988.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador-Robert Orr Deputy Chief of Mission-Arthur Kobler Economic/Political Counselor-Thomas H. Martin Political Officer-Edward Dong Economic Officer-J. Anthony Holmes Public Affairs Counselor-Richard Gong Commercial Counselor-George Ruffner Administrative Counselor-Robert B. Courtney Defense Attache-Capt. Patrick Cooper, USN The US Embassy in Singapore is located at 30 Hill Street, Singapore 0617 (tel. 338-0251).


These titles are provided as a general indication of material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications. Bedlington, Stanley S. Malaysia and Singapore: The Building of New States. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978. Bloodworth, Dennis. The Tiger and the Trojan Horse. Singapore: Times Books International, 1986. Chan Heng Chee. The Dynamics of One Party Dominance: The PAP at the Grass Roots. Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1976. George, T.J.S. Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore. Great Britain: Andre Deutsh Limited, 1978. Goh Keng Swee. The Practice of Economic Growth. Singapore: Federal Publications, 1977. Hassan, Riaz, ed. Singapore: Society in Transition. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1976. Josey, Alex. Singapore: Its Past, Present and Future. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1979. Lim, Chong Yah. Policy Options for the Singapore Economy. Singapore: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1988 Nair, C. Devan, ed. Socialism That Works. The Singapore Way. Singapore: Federal Publications, 1976. Singapore Year Book. Singapore: Government Publications Bureau. Available from the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402: American University. Area Handbook for Singapore. 1977. US Department of Commerce. Foreign Economic Trends-Singapore. International Marketing Information Series: Semiannual. Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- May 1990 -- Editor: Juanita Adams Department of State Publication 8240 --Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. (###)