U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: Singapore, November 1997 

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). 
Terrain: Lowland. 
Climate: Tropical.


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%. 
Religions: Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu. 
Languages: English, Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, Malay,
Education: Years compulsory--none. Attendance--93%. Literacy--91%.

Health (1997 est.): Infant mortality rate--4.7/1,000. Life expectancy--
yrs. male, 82 yrs. female. 
Work force (1996 est.): 1.8 million. Industry and commerce--28%.


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 est.): $93.6 billion.
Annual growth rate (1996 est.): 6.5%.
Per capita income (1996 -- purchasing power parity): $21,200.

Natural resources: None.
Agriculture: Products--poultry, orchids, vegetables, fruits.
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, machinery, petroleum products, telecommunication
apparatus, chemicals, textiles and garments, transport equipment.
Major markets--U.S. (18.4%), 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 U.S. (15%).


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 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 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 January.


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, and schools.

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

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.

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 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. 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
Law--S. Jayakamur
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 
Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/537-3100, fax 202/537-0876).


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

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 export sales.

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 Thailand.

Telecommunications and telephone facilities are modern and 
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,
and Tamil.


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


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.

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 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 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
Consul--David DonohuePublic Affairs Counselor--Michael Anderson

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).


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: http://travel.state.gov
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 202-512-2250. 

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 202-647-4000. 

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-
(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 (www.stat-
and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more


These titles are provided as a general indication of material
published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse
unofficial publications.

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 Press, 1991.

George, T.J.S. Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore. Great Britain: Andre
Deutsch Limited, 1978.

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 Studies, 1994.

Sesser, Stan. A Reporter At Large, "A Nation of 
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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