Friday, November 22, 2013

Singapore has transformed into a major technology hub

SINGAPORE is unique in many ways because it has a population of six million people on an area of 716 sq. kilometers. It cannot really be compared to hundreds of Asian cities because it is an independent, sovereign republic, a member of the United Nations, with protection treaties ensuring its position.
It is a prosperous state with plenty of money and self-made resources that are the envy of its neighbors in the east and west.
When I first landed there, it reminded me of the former British crown colony of Aden in the southernmost tip of Arabia. Aden had also been expected to grow and develop like Singapore during the British Raj.
Aden would possibly have become a really successful country on independence had it not fallen into the clutches of the Soviet Union through its native Yemeni clients in 1967.
Then it became a mere surrogate state espousing extreme Marxism similar to that of North Korea and Albania until it was saved many years later by its merger with Yemen to form the Republic of Yemen, which was far better economically under a free enterprise system.
Like Aden, Singapore was a free port with a vibrant, skilled population made up of Chinese, Malays and Indians.
When independence from Britain came in 1963, it was persuaded to join Malaya to form the state of Malaysia. It was a promising deal combining the vast land, population and resources of Malaya with the skilled and educated Singaporean workforce.
Unfortunately, the union of the two great and promising countries lasted only two years until 1965 because the Chinese community in Singapore and the Malays did not like each other at all.
The Malays decided to break up the union by asking Singapore to quit, I was told during my visits.
The Singaporeans turned the shock into an opportunity of the first order under the leadership of Lee Kwan You, one of the greatest Asian leaders of the twentieth century.
He decided to go it alone to make his tiny country unique and self-reliant with a creative economic system. He turned the country into a stunning technology center and a major tourist attraction.
He developed the little state into one of the best Asian countries luring millions of tourists and permitting cheap labor from other countries at least during the country’s formative years.
He was so busy building the state that it was impossible for me to obtain an interview for this newspaper, so I was content to meet with some wonderful senior aides.
When I decided to visit the state, I wondered what kind of tourism there would be given its size, which had compelled it to import sand and stones to reclaim land, while exporting desalinated water to pay for imports. But I was enamored of the place. It was well built and organized, had all the modern assets and tourist facilities, which were being enhanced all the time.
It had its nightlife and great five star hotels without going overboard. It was more like a small version of Malaysia which I wrote about recently. But Malaysia did not like the Chinese majority in Singapore, so it persuaded its partner in the federation to pull out.
There is plenty to see and enjoy during a weeklong visit and chances to go over to Malaysia and Thailand if you have the tourist visit visas. In fact, I would recommend this because they are so close and are smashing destinations.
On one of my tours, I included these countries, in addition to Taiwan and Hong Kong. These are some of the most attractive places in Asia.
Singapore currently ranks fourth among the world’s leading financial centers while its port is one of the five busiest in the world, just as Aden was the second or third busiest free port during the British period before it was ruined by the Marxists and the closure of the Suez Canal.
The canal was closed following the 1967 war in the Middle East when Israeli troops crossed the Sinai Peninsula and the Egyptians blocked the waterway. It remained closed for nearly 10 years until President Anwar Sadat sought help in reopening it and agreed to permit the Israelis to use it.
The Singapore economy depends on imports and re-exports especially in manufacturing which according to government figures constituted 26 percent of its Gross Domestic Product at one time.
Singapore has the third-highest per capita income in the world, which is just short of a miracle. Its staggering success was a prime motivation for the Malaysian leadership to follow suit at great speed, allowing it to reach its current heights.
It has a Westminster-style parliamentary system but its critics inside and outside the country would like to see more of the British features prevail. Its majority Chinese population has stamped the country with its language and culture.
When many Hong Kong Chinese left their country, Singapore welcomed them with their skills, wealth and education and gave them citizenship. This was extremely wise and farsighted. It allowed the country to progress further. The Malays and Indians — mainly from Tamil Nadu in the south of the subcontinent — are minorities with many carrying Singaporean passports.
Few countries have carried the name and stamp of an individual pioneer as much as Singapore over the past two centuries. This man was Thomas Stamford Raffles who arrived in 1819 and signed an agreement with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor on behalf of the British East India Company, which became the virtual ruler of India and the rest of the subcontinent until 1947.
The company said it would develop the southern part of the island as a trading post.
As usual, the entire island became a British colony until 1963. The only interlude was the World War II when Japan captured it with great ease, at the same time sinking two of Britain’s largest warships. This shocked Britain and signaled the beginning of the end of the British Empire.
Pictures of the British surrender are still used to highlight the ignominy of the capitulation. However, Japan was soon defeated in Asia by the allies, allowing the British to re-enter Singapore and force the Japanese to surrender in a similar demeaning fashion.
Raffles, whose name and reputation are still respected in the country, started building the island and developing it into one of the finest free ports in the world. There were indigenous Malays but the Chinese flocked to it until they became the majority of the population.
At present, the per capita income of this little land hovers around $60,000 and is still rising.

• Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.

No comments:

Post a Comment