Singapore at 200 | Daily News

Singapore at 200

When Sir Stamford Raffles set foot in what is now Singapore in 1819, exactly 200 years ago, little did he or anyone else in his entourage think that the tiny speck of land at the end of the Malay Peninsula would one day become a global economic powerhouse.

While the colonial legacy left by Raffles in the City of Lions or Singha Pura (the island has been inhabited from 1299 and the name existed well before 1819, based on the belief that lions had been sighted in the area) is a subject of controversy, there is no doubt that his decision to treat Singapore as a separate “Free Port” entity with its own administrative structure would one day stand in good stead for the City State.

This year is important for Singapore due to two reasons. It is celebrating the bicentennial of its founding by Raffles (whose two statues are must-see landmarks as is the newly renovated hotel that bears his name) and today (August 9), it will mark the 54th anniversary of Independence from Malaysia with a National Day Parade. Singapore became a bustling metropolis by the standards of that time during the few years that Raffles was in charge – although the longest duration he spent in the island was just eight months. In the ensuing 200 years, Singapore has leapfrogged into developed status even as many other Asian countries are still struggling to get there.

It is difficult to think of Singapore without thinking of Malaysia, the giant neighbour to the North. In fact, Singapore was one of the 14 states of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965. Malaysia itself was formed on September 16, 1963 in the merger of the Federation of Malaya with the former British colonies of North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. However on August 9, 1965, Singapore declared Independence. Today, the two countries share land and sea borders and there are plans to build a high speed rail line between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which will obviate the need to fly. Tempers recently flared between the two neighbours on a number of issues but since then things are on an even keel.

Sir Stamford Raffles may have laid the foundation for modern Singapore, but its success in the last 54 years is almost solely due to the efforts of one statesman who is revered not only in Singapore, but in all of Asia – Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away in March 2015. A legend in Asian politics, LKY as he was affectionately known, guided the country’s destiny with zero tolerance for corruption and ethnic strife.

LKY was a visionary who was absolutely committed to make Singapore, a tiny island of just 718 Sq Km, a success story on the world stage. Having seen the progress achieved by Sri Lanka, which was ahead of other Asian countries (barring Japan) by 1948, Yew once spoke of his desire to emulate that success. However, he watched in dismay as Sri Lanka succumbed to the twin evils of communal politics and corruption that dragged it back. He was determined to eliminate such ethnic politics from the Singaporean political landscape and instill a sense of discipline in the populace. Today, both these ideals have been realized.

Singapore’s 5.6 million residents now enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world with 88% home ownership, 85 years life expectancy and a Per Capita Income of over US$ 90,000, which is second only to Qatar in Asia. Many developed Western countries are far behind Singapore in this respect.

Singapore is also a global economic hub and financial powerhouse. Its Changi International Airport is one of the world’s busiest, many major companies have their world headquarters in the city, there is a superb transport/telecom/education/health infrastructure and some of the world’s most iconic buildings are in Singapore. One example is the Marina Bay Sands, the second most expensive building in the world. More than seven million overseas visitors flock to the city each year, to see attractions ranging from the Jurong Bird Park to Sentosa Island.

But Singapore knows that it cannot rest on its laurels in a competitive world. It is not going to get any bigger and there are huge challenges in being a small island nation – from the water supply to climate change. It is already thinking of the next 54 years while many other countries still look only at the next election cycle. Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP), has already chosen its Fourth Generation (4G) leaders in this regard to take the country towards the 2060s. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and others have already called upon the 4G leaders to build a “reservoir of trust” with the people of a changing Singapore which is becoming more open to immigration and diversification.

LKY had a special place in his heart for Sri Lanka and Singapore is still one of the few countries Sri Lankans can visit without a visa. Such people to people contact and excellent diplomatic relations will no doubt help improve this special relationship further.


 

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