U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Singapore, July 1997 (expanded)
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Singapore
Area: 641 sq. km. (247 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Singapore (country is a city-state).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Singaporean(s).
Population (1996): 3.4 million (including resident foreigners).
Annual growth rate: 1.9%.
Ethnic groups: Chinese 76%, Malays 15%, Indians 6%, others 3%.
Religions: Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu.
Languages: English, Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, Malay, Tamil.
Education: Years compulsory--none. Attendance--93%. Literacy--91%.
Health (1997): Infant mortality rate--4.7/1,000. Life expectancy--75
yrs. male, 82 yrs. female.
Work force (1996): 1.8 million. Industry and commerce--28%. Services--
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Constitution: June 3, 1959 (amended 1965 and 1991).
Independence: August 9, 1965.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state, 4-yr. term); prime
minister (head of government).
Legislative--unicameral 83-member parliament (maximum 5-yr. term).
Judicial--High Court, Court of Appeal, subordinate courts.
Political parties: People's Action Party (PAP), Singapore Democratic
Party (SDP), Workers' Party (WP), Singapore's Peoples Party (SPP).
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory at 21.
Central government budget (FY94): $10.7 billion.
Defense (FY94): 4.8% 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 (1996 -- at 1985 prices): $93.6 billion.
Annual growth rate (1996): 6.5%.
Per capita income (1996 -- purchasing power parity): $21,200.
Avg. inflation rate (1996): 1.3%.
Natural resources: None.
Agriculture (0.2% of real GDP): Products--poultry, orchids, vegetables,
Manufacturing (28% of real GDP): Types--electronic and electrical
products and components, petroleum products, machinery and metal
products, chemical and pharmaceutical products, transport equipment
(mainly shipbuilding and repairs), food and beverages, printing and
publishing, textiles and garments, plastic products, instrumentation
Trade (1996, excluding Indonesian trade, which is not reported by
Singaporean authorities): Exports--$145 billion: office and data
machines (22%), machinery (21%), petroleum products (12%),
telecommunication apparatus (12%), chemicals (6%), textiles and garments
(4%), transport equipment (3%). Major markets--U.S. (18.4%), European
Union (EU) (15%), Malaysia (18%), Hong Kong (9%), and Japan (8%).
Imports--$151 billion: aircraft, crude oil and petroleum products,
electrical machinery, manufactured goods, chemicals, foodstuffs, and
textiles and garments. Major suppliers: Japan (21%), Malaysia (15%), and
Official exchange rate (avg. 1996): Singapore $1.412=U.S.$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), Asia Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC), 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 of 641 sq. km. includes one large island and some 58 nearby
islets. The diamond-shaped main island is 42 kilometers (26 mi.) at its
broadest from east to west, and 23 kilometers (14 mi.) from north to
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 daily temperature is 27 degrees C (80
degrees F); the average annual rainfall is 240 centimeters (94 in.).
Rain falls all year around, but is most abundant from November to
Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
The estimated annual growth rate for 1997 is 1.9%.
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,
The government mandated that English would be the primary language used
at all levels of the school systems by 1987, and it aims to provide at
least 10 years of education for every child. In 1993, primary and
secondary school students totaled almost 442,000, or nearly 14% of the
entire population. In 1995, enrollment at the National University of
Singapore was approximately 18,300 (both undergraduate and graduate) and
approximately 40,500 at Singapore Polytechnic and Singapore's three
other polytechnics. The same year, the practical engineering-oriented
Nanyang Technological University, established in 1981, had 14,772
students. The country's literacy rate is 91%.
Singapore generally allows religious freedom, although religious groups
are subject to government scrutiny and some religious sects are
restricted or banned. Almost all Malays are Muslim; other Singaporeans
are Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists, Buddhists, Confucianists, or Christians.
Although Singapore's history dates from the 11th century, the island was
little known to the West 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 1826, 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
In 1921, the British constructed a naval base, which was soon
supplemented by an air base. But the Japanese captured the island in
February 1942, and it remained under their control until September 1945,
when it was recaptured by the British.
In 1946, the Straits Settlements was dissolved; Penang and Malacca
became part of the Malayan Union and Singapore became a separate British
Crown 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
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. 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 president, who is chief of state,
previously exercised only ceremonial duties. As a result of 1991
constitutional changes, the president is now elected and exercises
expanded powers over legislative appointments, government budgetary
affairs, and internal security matters.
The unicameral parliament consists of 83 members elected on the basis of
universal adult suffrage. In the last general election, in January 1997,
the governing People's Action Party (PAP) won 81 of the 83 seats. The
President may appoint up to six nominated members of parliament (NMP)
from among nominations by a special select committee. NMPs enjoy the
same privileges as MPs but cannot vote on constitutional matters or
expenditures of funds. 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 the 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.
The right of appeal to the Privy Council in London was abolished
effective April 1994.
Principal Government Officials
President--Ong Teng Cheong
Prime Minister--Goh Chok Tong
Senior Minister--Lee Kuan Yew
Deputy Prime Minister--Lee Hsien Loong
Deputy Prime Minister--Tony Tan
Communications--Mah Bow Tan
Community Development--Abdullah Tarmugi, Acting
Defense--Dr. Tony Tan
Education--Teo Chee Hean
Environment--Yeo Cheow Tong
Finance--Richard Hu Tsu Tau
Foreign Affairs--S. Jayakumar
Health--Yeo Cheow Tong
Home Affairs--Wong Kan Seng
Information and the Arts--George Yeo
Labor--Lee Boon Yang
National Development--Lim Hng Kiang, Acting
Trade and Industry--Yeo Cheow Tong
Ambassador to the United Nations--Bilihari Kausikan
Ambassador to the United States--Chan Heng Chee
Singapore maintains an embassy in the United States at 3501
International Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/537-3100, fax
The ruling political party in Singapore, in power since 1959, is the
People's Action Party (PAP), now headed by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
Goh succeeded Lee Kuan Yew, who served as Singapore's prime minister
from independence through 1990. Since stepping down as prime minister,
Lee has remained influential as Senior Minister.
The PAP has held the overwhelming majority of seats in Parliament since
1966, when 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
general elections of 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1980, the PAP won all of the
seats in an expanding parliament.
Workers' Party Secretary General J.B. Jeyaretnam became the first
opposition party MP in 15 years when he won a 1981 by-election.
Opposition parties gained small numbers of seats in the general
elections of 1984 (2 seats out of a total of 79), 1988 (1 seat of 81),
and 1991 (4 seats of 81). Meanwhile, the PAP share of the popular vote
declined from 78% in 1980 to 65% in 1997.
Singapore's strategic location on major sea lanes and industrious
population have given the country an economic importance in Southeast
Asia disproportionate to its small size. Upon independence in 1965
Singapore was faced with a lack of physical resources and a small
domestic market. In response, the Singapore Government developed an
international business outlook and an export-oriented economic policy
framework that encouraged two-way flows of trade and investment.
Singapore's economic strategy proved a success, producing real growth
that averaged 8.3% from 1960 to 1993. The economy appeared to have
achieved a soft landing in 1991 and 1992 with growth rates of 6.7% and
5.8% respectively, the lowest since the 1986 recession. In 1993, the
economy rebounded with a growth rate of 9.9%, largely because of the
recovery in the U.S. and the fast-growing market for disk drives and
other computer peripherals. In 1995, the growth rate was 8.8%; in 1996,
it was 7.0%.
Singapore's honest government, willing workforce, and modern and
efficient infrastructure have attracted investments from more than 3,000
multinational corporations (MNCs) from the United States, Japan, and
Europe. Foreign firms are found in almost all sectors of the economy.
MNCs account for more than two-thirds of manufacturing output and direct
Manufacturing and financial and business services are the twin engines
of the Singapore economy, and accounted for 27% and 31% respectively of
Singapore's gross domestic product in 1996. Tourism is also a major
income generator for the economy. The electronics industry leads
Singapore's manufacturing sector, accounting for 45.5% of Singapore's
total industrial output.
To maintain its competitive position despite rising wages and a
strengthening Singapore dollar, the government has been promoting higher
value-added activities in the manufacturing and services sectors. In
addition, as part of its regionalization strategy, the government is now
actively encouraging firms to invest abroad. Singapore's total direct
investments abroad reached $32.8 billion by the end of 1995. The two
largest of Singapore's investments in 1993 were in Malaysia (21.9%) and
Hong Kong (19%). There is also significant increased investment in
Indonesia (19%) and a move toward heavy investment in China (rising 57%
over 1992 to $275 million in 1993). Singapore has also been
strengthening its regional economic ties as a member of the newly
launched ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and as host to the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation (APEC) secretariat.
Trade, Investment, and Aid
Singapore's total trade in 1996 amounted to $296 billion, or more than
three times its GDP. Singapore imported $151 billion and exported $145
billion worth of merchandise. Japan was Singapore's main import source
(21% of the market), while the U.S. was Singapore's largest market,
absorbing 18.4% of Singapore's exports. Reexports accounted for 37% of
Singapore's total exports in 1993. Singapore's principal exports are
office and data machines, machinery, petroleum products,
telecommunication apparatus, chemicals, textiles and garments, and
transport equipment. Singapore's main imports are aircraft, crude oil
and petroleum products, electrical machinery, manufactured goods,
chemicals, foodstuffs, and textiles and garments.
Singapore continues to attract investment funds on a large scale despite
its relatively high-cost operating environment. The U.S. leads foreign
investment, accounting for 39% of new commitments to the manufacturing
sector in 1996. Cumulative investment by American companies in Singapore
is now approximately $15 billion (total assets). The bulk of U.S.
investment is in electronics manufacturing, oil refining and storage,
and the chemical industry.
The U.S provides no bilateral aid to Singapore.
In 1996, Singapore had a work force of about 1.8 million. The National
Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the sole trade union federation, comprises
almost 99% of total organized labor. Extensive legislation covers
general labor and trade union matters. The Industrial Arbitration Court
handles labor-management disputes that cannot be resolved informally
through the Ministry of Labor. The Singapore Government has stressed the
importance of cooperation between unions, management, and government
("tripartism"), as well as the early resolution of disputes. There has
been only one minor strike in the past 15 years.
Singapore enjoys virtually full employment with an unemployment rate of
less than 3% in 1996. The Singapore Government and the NTUC have tried a
range of programs to increase lagging productivity and boost the labor
force participation rates of women and older workers. But labor
shortages persist in the service sector and in many low-skilled
positions in the construction and electronics industries. Foreign
workers help make up this shortfall. There are about 360,000 foreign
workers in Singapore, constituting 22% of the total work force.
Transportation and Communications
Situated at the crossroads of international shipping and air routes,
Singapore is a center for transportation and communication in Southeast
Asia. Singapore is a regional aviation hub served by 64 international
airlines. Changi International Airport, opened in 1980, is being
expanded. The country also is linked by road and rail to Malaysia and
Telecommunications and telephone facilities are modern and
comprehensive, providing high-quality communications with the rest of
the world. Radio and television stations, though government-owned and
-operated, have been corporatized, with a view to privatizing them in
the future. Daily newspapers are published in English, Chinese, Malay,
Singapore is nonaligned. 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 United Nations and several of its
specialized and related agencies, and also of the Commonwealth.
Singapore has participated in UN peacekeeping/observer missions in
Kuwait, Angola, Namibia, and Cambodia. Singapore supports the concept of
Southeast Asian regionalism and plays an active role in the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and APEC.
Singapore relies primarily on its own defense forces, which are
continuously being modernized. Approximately 41% of government
expenditures are devoted to the defense budget. For 1997, total military
forces are estimated at 756,900. Reserve forces total about 250,000.
Singapore defense forces engage in joint training with all the ASEAN
nations and many others, including the U.S., Australia, New Zealand,
Taiwan, and India.
Singapore is a member of the Five Power Defense Arrangement together
with the 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 has consistently supported a strong U.S. military presence in
the Asia-Pacific region. In 1990 the U.S. and Singapore signed a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which allows the U.S. access to
Singapore facilities at Paya Lebar Airport and the Sembawang port. Under
the MOU, a U.S. navy logistics unit was established in Singapore in
1992; U.S. fighter aircraft deploy periodically to Singapore for
exercises; an increased number of U.S. military vessels visit.
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 U.S. policy in the
region and form a solid basis for amicable relations between the two
countries. The growth of U.S. 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 U.S. Government sponsors visitors from Singapore each year under the
International Visitor Program. The U.S. 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 U.S. 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
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Timothy A. Chorba
Deputy Chief of Mission--Emil Skodon
Economic/Political Counselor--William Monroe
Political Officer--John Chamberlin
Economic Officer--Bob Wong
Public Affairs Counselor--Michael Anderson
Commercial Counselor--John Bensky
Administrative Counselor--Joseph Hilliard, Jr.
Defense Attache--Capt. Terry Douglas, USN
The U.S. embassy in Singapore is located at 27 Napier Street, Singapore
258508 (tel. 65-476-9100, fax 65-476-9340).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the
modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set
terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop
bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the
password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries
international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory
Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs
Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on
obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication).
This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings;
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at .
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is
available on the Internet () and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at
(202) 482-1986 for more information.
These titles are provided as a general indication of material published
on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial
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.
Chew, Ernest (Ed.). A History of Singapore. Singapore, Oxford University
George, T.J.S. Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore. Great Britain: Andre Deutsch
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.
Milne, R.S. Singapore: The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew. Boulder, Colorado,
Westview Press, 1990.
Minchin, James. No Man is an Island: A Study of Singapore's Lee Kuan
Yew. Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1986.
Quah, John S.T. (Ed.). Government and Politics of Singapore. Singapore,
Oxford University Press. 1985.
Sandhu, K.S. (Ed.). Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern
Singapore. Singapore, ISEAS, 1989.
Seow, Francis T., To Catch a Tartar. Yale University Southeast Asian
Sesser, Stan. A Reporter At Large, "A Nation of Contradictions," The New
Yorker, January 12, 1992.
Singapore Year Book. Singapore: Government Publications Bureau.
Turnbull, C.M. A History of Singapore 1819-1975. Singapore, Oxford
University Press, 1989.
Vasil, Raj. Governing Singapore: Interviews with the New Leaders.
Singapore, Times Books International, 1988.
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