The eyes of the world are riveted on the upcoming nuclear disarmament talks between Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un set to take place in Singapore on June 12th. Though the sovereign city-state and island country of Singapore has been in the news lately for this meeting, it’s always been an interesting part of the world. Over the past 200 years, this former British colony and trading post has experienced an equally riveting transformation from a colony to a player on the international stage.
What catapulted Singapore, once named the “Malayan Tiger,” from a collection of insignificant fishing villages to the renown international city of extravagance and architectural wonder it is today?
Track Singapore’s history since the British Stamford Raffles founded the backwater colonial trading post, in 1819.
In 1819 Singapore was politically fractured, allowing the British to gain control there by replacing an unpopular Sultan with another, promising a yearly stipend for political and economic power. There were about one thousand people living in Singapore in 1819 until British trade completely reshaped the city.
200 years later Singapore, known as the Garden City, has been called the “world’s smartest city” and is one of the globe’s most competitive countries. The country is renowned for its technological savvy and, likewise, is one of the most expensive places to live.
Singapore is made up of one main island with more than 60 islets, making the availability of land for expansion, housing, industry, and growth very limited. The country is so small that many of its military defense assets are quartered in foreign countries. At the age of 18, men are conscripted into the military or related government service for two years. Their formal education is subsidized as partial compensation for their service. Singapore maintains a reputation as a modern, efficient, and well-respected military. It is allied with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. However, in 1819 there were no such military forces committed to securing the Sultan of Johor’s nominal control.
There was no de facto government on the islands in 1819. The British cobbled together a titular native head of state and for all intents and purposes ran the colony as it suited their purposes. This arrangement continued until 1926 when Singapore ceased to be a trading post and became a full-fledged possession of the British Empire. During WWII The Japanese dissolved this arrangement, virtually destroying Singapore. Years of turmoil ensued until 1965 when the Republic of Singapore was created.
How Modern Singapore Compares to the Trading Post of the 1900’s.
The current government of Singapore is considered by many to be authoritarian, with a convoluted parliamentarian form of government. The government tends to exclude its minority parties through plurality voting. This country is considered by many international watch-dog groups to be “partly-free” and was labeled a “flawed democracy.” However, the country is respected for being one of the least corrupt countries and for maintaining a reliable judicial system.
Only in Asia can you find an economy that has transformed itself from virtually nothing to an economic powerhouse, in a span of little more than 200 years. Singapore’s market economy ranks with Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The superlatives of tech-savvy, innovation, efficiency, and growth are only a few that describe this dynamic and vibrant economy. The GDP regularly exceeds 6% annually.
Like many other nations that have served as a crossroads of trade, this city has no one dominant culture, people, tradition, or language. While English is the primary language, the country has four official languages including Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin as well as English. Their religious preferences are similarly diverse with Buddhism as the primary religion, followed by Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism.
If you are planning on driving a car in Singapore, take into consideration that they drive on the left side of the road. The population is less than that of Manhattan, which is approaching 7 million.
In my novel Braxton’s Century, the fictional Prince Braxton serves as Royal Envoy to Singapore, journeying to visit the area’s thriving rubber plantations. When I wrote the novel, I keyed in on the dynamic and “Wild, Wild, West” character of the locale as Braxton created a consortium of investors and rubber plantation owners. The objective was to improve the efficiency of the growers, maximize trading, and dominate the world rubber market. If you enjoyed this short history of Singapore, you might find Braxton’s fictional adventure there interesting, too.
Sit back and imagine what that world might have been. Maybe the realities of the late 1800’s are not much different than today. Singapore certainly has a “sheriff,” but even a strong sheriff cannot mitigate the dynamics associated with a teeming collective of diverse cultures with the same objectives, money, and trade!
We hope to publish Braxton’s Century soon. You can help!
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