Republic of Singapore, independent republic in Southeast Asia, comprising 1 main island and about 50 small adjacent islands off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The main island, Singapore Island, is separated from Malaysia on the north by the narrow Johore Strait and is linked by road and rail to the Malaysian city of Johor Baharu. On the south, Singapore Island is separated from Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago by the Singapore Strait, an important shipping channel linking the Indian Ocean to the west with the South China Sea on the east.
The Republic of Singapore is considered a city-state because most of the territory of the main island is part of the metropolis of Singapore. The main island is densely populated, especially in its south central portion where the central business district and main port are located. About three-fourths of the people of Singapore, known as Singaporeans, are Chinese, but there are significant Malay and Indian minorities.
Singapore contained just a few fishing settlements and a small trading port when the islands became part of the British colonial empire in the 1820s. Britain developed Singapore into a major international trade center, and the local Malay population soon swelled with immigrants from China and India. Since becoming an independent republic in 1965, multiethnic Singapore has maintained political stability and high economic growth. Singapore is Southeast Asia’s most important seaport, financial center, and manufacturing hub, and its citizens enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living.
|II||LAND AND RESOURCES|
The total area of Singapore, including the main island and all the islets, is 685.4 sq km 264.6 sq mi). The larger islets, which all have small fishing villages, include Tekong, Ubin, and Sentosa. Singapore Island is low-lying with no prominent relief features. A central area of hills rises to a maximum elevation of 176 m (577 ft) at Bukit Timah. Numerous short streams, including the Singapore River, drain the island. Soils are relatively infertile, and clays and sand are the only mineral resources.
Because Singapore lies just north of the equator, the wet tropical climate has no clearly defined seasons. The average annual temperature is 27°C (81°F) and the average annual rainfall is 2,400 mm (95 in). Although rainfall is abundant throughout the year, November through January are the wettest months.
More than 85 percent of Singapore Island is built up for residential, commercial, and industrial use. Jungles and swamps once covered the island, but today only a small area of the central hills retains its natural jungle cover. One of the island’s largest remaining tracts of undisturbed rain forest is protected in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. This reserve, which includes the country’s highest point, Bukit Timah, covers an area of 164 hectares (405 acres). Since the early 1960s, land reclamation projects have been replacing Singapore’s once expansive coastal mangrove forests with developed areas. One example is Jurong, an industrial complex that lies on reclaimed land to the west of Singapore’s central business district. Coral reefs fringing the main island and offshore islands have also been lost to land reclamation in some areas. The reclamation projects have added about 17 percent of new land to the nation’s total area.
Many of Singapore’s wild animal species are endangered due to loss of habitat. The leopard, banded leaf monkey, slow loris, and giant squirrel were once common in the rain forests but are now nearly extinct. Animals that remain common include the macaque, colugo (also known as flying lemur), wild pig, and palm civet. Many types of reptiles and amphibians inhabit the islands. Birds are numerous and varied in Singapore. The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve on the northwest coast of Singapore Island provides an important habitat for migratory birds.
Although Singapore has numerous short streams and several reservoirs, the country lacks sufficient fresh water. About half its water must be imported from Malaysia through an aqueduct that runs under the causeway linking Singapore and Johor Baharu. Rapid economic and industrial growth and the rapid rise in vehicle ownership have increased air and water pollution. Closely regulated government controls on emissions, effluents, and other wastes have done much to alleviate these problems, however.
|III||THE PEOPLE OF SINGAPORE|
At the time of the 1990 census, Singapore had a population of 2,705,115; by the 2000 census, the population had grown to 4,017,733. The 2008 population estimate was 4,608,167. Immigration is highly restricted, so the natural population increase, which measures births and deaths, is an important indicator of the country’s future population growth. Singapore’s natural population increase is 0.5 percent annually, and this rate is expected to fall as much of the population ages beyond the childbearing years. The government is concerned about the slow growth rate because increasingly fewer working people must support a growing elderly population, straining available resources for health care and other social services. The government provides tax incentives to families that have several children, but the growth rate is still expected to fall because most Singaporeans prefer small families. The overall population density is 6,747 persons per sq km (17,475 per sq mi). Large residential areas with high-rise public housing estates are located throughout the main island, including the districts of Jurong in the southwest, and Geylang and Katong along the east coast.
|A||Ethnic Groups, Languages, and Religion|
Singapore’s population is ethnically diverse. Chinese constitute about three-fourths of the population. Malays form the next largest group, and Indians the third. The country’s four official languages are Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil. Chinese is the primary language spoken in the majority of homes. English is the language of administration and business and it is widely spoken as a second language.
Singapore’s principal religions are Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. The majority of Chinese Singaporeans follow Buddhism, although Daoism (Taoism), and more recently Christianity, are also popular. Malay Singaporeans are predominantly Muslim, while more than half the Indian Singaporeans profess Hinduism.
Although education is not compulsory in Singapore, primary school is free for six years, and attendance is nearly universal. Some 67 percent of children also attend secondary school. Since 1987 English has been the language of instruction, but a policy of bilingualism requires that children also be taught Chinese, Malay, or Tamil. Institutions of higher education include the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University. Of Singaporeans aged 15 and older, 94 percent can read and write.
|C||Way of Life|
Like many other Asians, Singaporeans value a strong work ethic and close family relations. But some traditions have been altered by Western influences and Singapore’s rapid industrialization and modernization. For example, unlike families in China and India where several generations may share the same housing, Singaporeans of Chinese and Indian ancestry live in small, nuclear families. Housing favors smaller families, as most units consist of small apartments in high-rise buildings. Western clothing is common, and foods reflect the Chinese, Malay, and Indian origins of the people.
Since Singapore became an independent state in 1965, government policies have brought orderliness and efficiency to the country. Examples are supplanting slum and squatter areas with high-rise public housing projects, and strict controls on air and water pollution to ensure a healthier environment. While these policies draw few objections, other aspects of Singapore’s social engineering are occasionally considered extreme, such as one campaign that urged well-educated couples to produce children. The government has discontinued this particular campaign, but it remains committed to defining and promoting—either by law or through official campaigns—the appropriate public and private behavior of its citizens. Outsiders sometimes also consider Singapore’s criminal punishments severe. Singapore stresses, however, that its strict laws and sentences have made the nation one of the safest places in the world.
Singapore’s cultural life reflects its past colonial administration and the country’s diverse population. Chinese, Malay, Indian, and British influences are apparent in Singapore’s art, architecture, and fine arts. British colonial architecture, for example, is represented by the Parliament House, City Hall, and the Raffles Hotel. Chinese, Hindu, and Islamic architecture are represented in the ornate Shuang Lin Temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple, and the Sultan Mosque, respectively. Singapore’s National Museum complex consists of one museum devoted to the contemporary art of Southeast Asia, one to Asian cultures, and the third to the history of Singapore.
Modern Singapore was founded as a trading post of the British East India Company in 1819. Its strategic location on the Singapore Strait and its deep natural harbor made it an important port for British trade. It developed as an entrepôt, meaning it had a duty-free port that allowed the import of goods solely for the purpose of re-export. Nevertheless, when Singapore became an independent republic in 1965, its economic outlook was bleak. Its infrastructure was relatively undeveloped, unemployment was high, and its foreign markets were limited. Over the following decades, however, the government’s free-market policies, coupled with strict fiscal controls, created one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Singapore developed beyond its limited entrepôt role, with growth of the manufacturing and financial-services sectors bolstering the export-oriented economy. Its port became one of the busiest in the world.
During the last three decades of the 20th century, Singapore’s booming economic growth largely outperformed the world economy. At the same time, Singapore managed to maintain an inflation rate below world averages and large budget surpluses. Because of its phenomenal economic growth, Singapore became known as one of Asia’s “Four Tigers,” along with Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. Because of its sound fiscal policies and diversified trading partners, Singapore was the least affected of all Asian countries during a financial crisis that hit the region in 1997. However, Singapore’s economy is particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in global demand for electronics products, which make up a significant portion of the country’s exports.
In 2006 the gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at U.S.$132 billion, or $29,474 per capita, among the highest per capita GDPs in the world. The economy centers around services, notably financial and business services.
In 2006 Singapore’s labor force consisted of 2.3 million people. Women make up 40 percent of all workers. Some 70 percent of the total labor force was employed in the service sector in industries such as banking, finance, retail, and tourism. Manufacturing and construction employed 30 percent of the labor force. Agriculture and fishing employed just 0.3 percent of Singapore’s working people.
Services comprise 65 percent of the GDP. In this sector, financial and business services are the most important, followed by wholesale and retail trade, transportation and communications, and tourism. Electronic commerce (e-commerce), an increasingly important component of the service sector, is supported by Singapore’s well-developed telecommunications infrastructure. Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange. Singapore is Southeast Asia’s third most important tourist destination after Malaysia and Thailand, and in 2006 some 7.6 million tourists visited Singapore. Most visitors were from other Southeast Asian nations, especially Malaysia, and from Japan.
Manufacturing accounts for 29 percent of the GDP. Industry has grown rapidly since the 1960s, and Singapore now produces a diversity of goods, including electronic items, chemicals, transportation equipment and machinery, petroleum products, rubber and plastic products, and fabricated metal products. Electronic goods—notably computer disk drives, communications equipment, and televisions—account for about half of the country’s manufacturing output. Singapore is one of the world’s largest petroleum-refining centers and is also an important shipbuilding center. The leading industrial area is the Jurong Industrial Estate.
|D||Agriculture and Fishing|
Agriculture and fishing contribute only a tiny share of Singapore’s GDP. Just 0.9 percent of Singapore’s total area is farmland. Vegetables, pigs, and poultry are raised for domestic consumption, although the vast majority of food must be imported. The fishing industry is centered on the port of Jurong.
Singapore has no energy resources, so it must rely solely on imported fuels. Crude oil is imported and refined in the country. Singapore also imports natural gas to meet its energy needs. Some of the petroleum imports are used to fuel electricity-generating plants.
|F||Transportation and Communications|
Singapore is a major world port and has extensive dock facilities along Keppel Harbour on the southern coast. Changi International Airport in the eastern part of the main island is one of the largest and most modern international airports in the world. Singapore Island is serviced by the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, one of the cleanest and most efficient transit systems in the world. It is supplemented by the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system. The government has significantly expanded both rail systems since the mid-1990s. Numerous roads and expressways also cross the island. Vehicle traffic is discouraged and controlled in high-density areas by an electronic road-pricing system, which uses an electronic scanning device to charge road-use fees. Singapore is linked with West Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia) by a toll road bridge and a causeway (with road, rail, and water-pipeline links) across the Johore Strait.
Singapore is developing as a global hub of information and communications technology, and telecommunications is a vital aspect of the economy. The government has placed high priority on upgrading and expanding the country’s already well-developed telecommunications infrastructure, including a nationwide high-speed, broadband network connecting computers with the Internet. Personal use of computers and mobile communications devices is high in Singapore, and about half of all homes are connected to the Internet.
The government of Singapore closely regulates the broadcasting industry and other mass-media communications. For example, all newspapers are public companies and are subject to the scrutiny of the government. In addition, the government may restrict the sale of foreign periodicals that are deemed to influence domestic political issues. Singapore has three English daily newspapers, the most widely circulated of which is The Straits Times. There are also three dailies in Chinese, one in Malay, and one in Tamil.
Singapore generally maintains a positive balance of trade. In 2004 the country exported goods and services worth U.S.$178 billion, while imports cost U.S.$163 billion. Much of the country’s trade involves the transshipment of goods produced in the region. Singapore’s port is the busiest in the world in terms of shipping tonnage. The chief imports, in order of value, are machinery and transport equipment; basic manufactures, such as textile yarn, fabric, iron, and steel; miscellaneous manufactured articles; petroleum and petroleum products; and food and live animals. The country’s major exports are electronics products, machinery and transportation equipment, and refined petroleum products. Singapore has numerous trading partners in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Leading purchasers of Singapore’s exports are Malaysia, the United States, the European Union (EU), Hong Kong, and Japan; imports come mainly from Japan, Malaysia, the United States, the EU, and China.
Singapore maintains strong trade with its regional neighbors as a charter member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Singapore is a full participant in the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), established in 1992 with the goal of establishing nearly free trade among member nations. With the formal implementation of AFTA in 2002, member nations are to gradually reduce tariff barriers to 5 percent or less. Singapore has pursued free-trade agreements with some of its non-ASEAN trading partners as well, finalizing one with the United States in 2003 after several years of negotiations. Singapore became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.
|H||Currency and Banking|
The unit of currency is the Singapore dollar (1.60 Singapore dollars equal U.S.$1; 2006 average). Although Singapore does not have a central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore performs most functions of a central bank. The country’s currency, however, is issued by the Board of Commissioners of Currency. There are more than 130 commercial banks, most of which are foreign-owned.
Singapore is a parliamentary democracy governed under a 1959 constitution, promulgated when Singapore became a self-governing state. The constitution was amended in 1963 when Singapore joined with Sarawak, North Borneo (now Sabah), and the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia. In 1965 the constitution was amended again when Singapore separated from Malaysia to form an independent republic. Voting is compulsory for all Singaporeans 21 years of age and older.
A president, elected to a six-year term, is Singapore’s head of state, and a prime minister is head of government. The president used to be elected by parliament, but by a 1991 constitutional amendment the president is now elected directly by the voters. In order to run for president, candidates must be declared eligible by the Presidential Elections Committee, a body composed of governmental ministers that screens candidates based on qualifications outlined in the Singapore constitution. The president acts on the advice of the cabinet, which is responsible to the parliament and headed by the prime minister. The cabinet is appointed by the president from among the members of parliament.
Legislative power is vested in a one-house parliament, which includes 84 members who are popularly elected to serve five-year terms. They are elected from single-member and multi-member constituencies. For the latter type, known as group representation constituencies, members are elected in teams of 4 to 6, and at least 1 member of each team must be of a minority (non-Chinese) ethnic group. In addition to elected members, the parliament may also include up to 9 politically neutral members nominated by the president and up to 3 members appointed from opposition political parties. Nominated members serve two-year terms and have restricted voting rights. The purpose of the nominated and appointed members is to ensure parliament represents a wide range of views. Nominated members are distinguished professionals or public servants.
Judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court and the subordinate courts. The Supreme Court consists of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president, with the consent of the prime minister.
Although Singapore is nominally a multiparty nation, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has been the dominant political party since the country became independent. In the 2001 general election the PAP won 82 seats in the parliament. Opposition parties include the Workers’ Party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Singapore has no widespread public social security or unemployment benefit scheme. However, Singaporeans enjoy modern and affordable health care, which is heavily subsidized by the government. Health conditions are similar to those in other developed nations. For example, Singapore strictly enforces sanitation and public health regulations. Life expectancies are among the highest in the world and infant mortality rates are among the world’s lowest. As in other developed countries, the major causes of death are heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
In 2004 Singapore had 50,000 members in its army, 9,000 in its navy, and 13,500 in its air force. Beginning at age 18 all male citizens and permanent residents must serve two years of national service.
Humans have inhabited Singapore for about 2,000 years. The original seaport, Temasek, may have been a trading center in the Malay kingdom of Sri Vijaya until the 14th century, when title passed to the Javanese kingdom of Majapahit. The settlement most likely received the name Singapura (Sanskrit for “Lion City”) between the 11th and 14th centuries. It was destroyed in the late 1300s and replaced by Malacca (now Melaka) as the most important port in the area. For more than 400 years Singapore Island was inhabited only by a few Malays who lived in small fishing villages.
British colonial administrator Thomas Stamford Raffles founded the modern city in 1819 on the site of a fishing village. The sultan of Johor deeded the land to the English East India Company in 1824. In 1826 Singapore was incorporated, along with Malacca and Pinang, into the British colony of the Straits Settlements. Singapore soon became a major commercial center. It benefited from both its advantageous location on the narrow passage between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and from its designation as a free port where ships could avoid certain taxes on their cargo. Its growth as the most important port in the region attracted thousands of migrants from China, India, and other parts of Southeast Asia and established the ethnic and cultural diversities that are still characteristic of its population. By far, however, many more Chinese migrated to Singapore than other groups.
After World War I (1914-1918) Britain designated the island its principal naval base in East Asia and undertook extensive military construction. Singapore was captured and occupied by the Japanese in 1942 during World War II. As the British retreated, they only partially destroyed the causeway that linked Singapore with the Malay Peninsula and the Japanese had easy access to the great port. Important installations, however, such as the world’s largest floating dry dock, were destroyed to deny them to the Japanese. Singapore was returned to the British when Japan lost the war in 1945.
The following year the United Kingdom designated Singapore a separate crown colony, and on June 3, 1959, Singapore became a self-governing state in the Commonwealth of Nations. For security and economic reasons, Singapore sought to join with the Federation of Malaya, which had become fully independent in 1957. At first cautious, because Singapore had a left-wing government at that time, Malaya eventually agreed to a union because it feared that Singapore would become Communist if left on its own. Malaya also called for the inclusion of other Malay states to provide an ethnic balance to Chinese Singapore. On September 16, 1963, Singapore, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo (renamed Sabah), and Sarawak united to form the Federation of Malaysia.
The union was uneasy, however, and in 1965 Singapore separated from Malaysia and became a sovereign state within the Commonwealth. It also became a separate member of the United Nations (UN). In December of that year the island was proclaimed a republic. Inche Yusof bin Ishak, who had been Singapore’s head of state since 1959, became the first president. His successors were Benjamin Henry Sheares, who held the office from 1971 until his death in 1981, and C. V. Devan Nair, who took office in 1981. Nair resigned the presidency in 1985 and was replaced by Wee Kim Wee. From 1959 to 1990 executive power was exercised by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. His People’s Action Party (PAP) captured parliament in every election from 1968 on, and he governed with a firm hand. Fearing Communist subversion, Lee staunchly supported U.S. policies in Southeast Asia, and in 1971 he led Singapore into a defense alliance with Australia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and New Zealand. Lee’s attitude toward the Communist regimes in the region was a more conciliatory one after the end of the Vietnam War (1959-1975). In 1990 he finally extended diplomatic recognition to mainland China.
Lee resigned in 1990 and designated Goh Chok Tong as his successor. However, Lee remained influential in Singaporean politics as a senior government minister. In 1993 Singapore held its first direct presidential elections, and Ong Teng Cheong received nearly 60 percent of the votes cast. Ong declined to run for a second six-year term and was succeeded in 1999 by S. R. Nathan, a former government minister and ambassador to the United States. Nathan became president without an election after Singapore’s Presidential Elections Committee declared his two rivals ineligible. Meanwhile, the PAP retained its ruling-party status, winning most parliamentary seats in the 1991, 1997, and 2001 general elections.
Lee Kwan Yew’s eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, became Singapore’s new prime minister in August 2004. Goh had resigned the position as part of a carefully planned and controlled succession process. Lee had been deputy prime minister since his father’s resignation in 1990. He had played a key role in Goh’s government, spearheading reforms aimed at reigniting Singapore’s economy.