Background Notes: Singapore, October 1998
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State

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 (1997): 3.7 million (including resident foreigners).
Annual growth rate: 1.9% 
Ethnic groups: Chinese 77%, Malays 14%, Indians 7%. 
Religions: Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu. 
Languages: English, Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, Malay, 
Education: Years compulsory--none. Attendance--93%. Literacy--
Health (1997): Infant mortality rate-3.3/1,000. Life expectancy--
75 yrs. male, 80 yrs. female. 
Work force (1997): 1.87 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 (FY98): $27.2 billion.
Defense (FY98 est.): 4.6% 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 (1997--nominal, at current prices): $96.3 billion.
Annual growth rate (1997): 7.8%.  (1998 est.) 0.5--1.5%.
Per capita GNP (1997--purchasing power parity): $29,000.
Natural resources: None.
Agriculture: Products--poultry, orchids, vegetables, fruits.
Manufacturing (23% 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 equipment.
Trade (1997, excluding Indonesian trade, which is not reported by 
Singaporean authorities): Exports--$185.6 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--$196.9 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 one of the most densely populated countries in the 
world. The annual growth rate for 1997 was 3.5%.

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 has mandated that English be the primary language 
used at all levels of the school systems, and it aims to provide 
at least 10 years of education for every child. In 1998, primary 
and secondary school students totaled almost 470,000, or 12% of 
the entire population. In 1998, enrollment at the National 
University of Singapore is approximately 22,300 (both 
undergraduate and graduate) and approximately 53,553 at Singapore 
Polytechnic and Singapore's three other polytechnics.  The 
practical engineering-oriented Nanyang Technological University, 
established in 1981, has 15,661 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 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 newly 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
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
Trade and Industry-Lee Yock Suan
Ambassador to the United Nations--Kishore Mahbubani
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 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 

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), 1991(4 seats of 81) and 1997 (2 seats of 81). Meanwhile, the 
PAP  share of the popular vote declined from 78% in 1980 to 65% 
in 1997.


The ongoing region-wide Asian financial crisis, which began in 
1997,has created uncertainty and instability in Singapore's 

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%; and in 1997, the growth rate was 
7.2%.  The latest forecasts indicate that only minimal growth 
will be achieved in 1998 as a result of the global economic 

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 23% and 29% 
respectively of Singapore's gross domestic product in 1997. 
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 $26 
billion by the end of 1995. The two largest of Singapore's 
investments in 1995 were in Malaysia (20%) and Hong Kong (14%). 
There was 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 1997 amounted to $382 billion,  nearly 
three times its GDP. Singapore imported $196 billion and exported 
$185 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 42% of Singapore's total exports in 1997. 
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 38% of new commitments 
to the manufacturing sector in 1996. In 1997, cumulative 
investment by American companies in Singapore reached 
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 1997, Singapore had a work force of just under 1.9 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 

Singapore enjoys virtually full employment with an unemployment 
rate of around 2% in 1997. 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. In 1997,  
there were 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 
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, 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 APEC.


Singapore relies primarily on its own defense forces, which are 
continuously being modernized. Approximately 49% of government 
operating expenditures are devoted to the defense budget. For 
1997,  total military forces were 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; and a 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 

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-- Steven Jay Green
Deputy Chief of Mission--Herbert Schulz
Economic/Political Counselor--William Monroe
Political Officer--John Chamberlin
Economic Officer--Bob Wang
Consul--David Donahue
Public Affairs Counselor--Thomas Gradisher
Commercial Counselor--Jonathan Bensky
Administrative Counselor--James Forbes
Defense Attache--Capt. Terry Douglas, USN

The U.S. embassy in Singapore is located at 27 Napier Road, 
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: 
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-
888-362-8668 (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 

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 an 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 


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

David Kim Hin Ho. The Seaport Economy: A Study of the Singapore 
Experience. New York; Coronet Books, 1996.

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

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.

Murray, Geoffrey. Singapore: The Global City-State. New York; St. 
Martin's Press, 1996.

Peebles, Gavin. Singapore Economy. New York; Edward Elger Pub., 

Perry, Martin and Lily Kong. Singapore: A Developmental City 
State. New York; John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

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 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.


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