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).
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
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,
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
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,
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%
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
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).
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: 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-
888-362-8668 (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 http://www.state.gov.
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 (www.stat-usa.gov)
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
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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