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09 SEA NewEra.indd 179 4/27/10 1:58:23 PM 09 SEA NewEra.indd 180 4/27/10 1:58:24 PM 181 Ho Khai Leong Modern, multicultural, efficient, and dynamic are words often used to describe Singapore. In the light of its history, the composition of its population, and the blend of the traditional and modern in its people’s way of life, this is hardly surprising. Throughout Singapore’s history, these characteristics have attracted visitors to its shores, further contributing to the country’s development and growth. However, Singapore’s success lies not in its high GDP per capita — US$30,723.61 in 2007 — but in the ingenuity and cooperative spirit of its people. This is particularly apparent in its politics, which have focussed on economic development and political stability since early in the country’s history. HISTORY Singapore’s reputation as a global city with high growth possibilities is not a modern myth stemming from its present status as a first-world country. Rather, it has been rooted early in the country’s history. Colonial Period (1819–1942) The British, who were expanding their influence in the Far East, appreciated the strategic position of Singapore, which was ideally situated in the middle of the trade routes between China and British India. The resources of timber, a deep harbour and a ready supply of fresh water made the island a favourable base for the expansion of British influence in the region. Within a few years of its founding by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, the British port of Singapore out-competed the neighbouring Dutch ports of call in Indonesia, primarily 9 Singapore 09 SEA NewEra.indd 181 4/27/10 1:58:24 PM Reproduced from Southeast Asia in a New Era: Ten Countries, One Region in ASEAN edited by Rodolfo C. Severino, Elspeth Thomson and Mark Hong (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at SOUTHEAST ASIA IN A NEW ERA: Ten Countries, One Region in ASEAN 182 thanks to its free-port status. To further consolidate Singapore’s position as a trading entrepôt, the island, together with Malacca on the Malay Peninsula and Penang, came to be administered by the British East India Company in 1826 as the Straits Settlements, and as a residency of the Presidency of Bengal in British India in 1830. During this time, Singapore grew steadily both as a trading centre and as an important economic player in the region. The factors contributing to its growth in those days were very much the same as for the growth of modern Singapore. Thanks to the opening of the China market, the development of new modes of communication and transportation, and the production of rubber and tin in Malaya, as well as its status as a free port, Singapore developed rapidly and attracted many traders of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Arabic origin. Bringing their trade knowledge and skills, these merchants eventually settled in Singapore in order to continue their trading activities whilst acting as middlemen between Asian and European traders. However, this economic success was ill matched by the somewhat ineffective administration of the island. As trade in Singapore boomed, so did the population . This led to overcrowding in the main trading settlement districts and the onset of disease, strife and chaos. The inefficiency of the local administration led to many complaints from the merchant community. Thus, in response, the British government formally made the island a Crown Colony in 1867. Despite adopting various measures to address the serious social problems within Singapore, the colonial government was unable to resolve the social problems accompanying the impact of the First World War (1914–18). The economic slowdown brought about by the war led to a slew of social problems, such as a severe housing shortage and poor health and living standards, as well as a growing sense of unhappiness with the British colonial administration. In a bid to quell the potential unrest that could have erupted because of such dissatisfaction, the colonial administration strove to consolidate its power in Singapore and demonstrate its willingness to defend its colonies by constructing a naval base there. The naval programme was further motivated by British concerns over the rise of...


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