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Singapore - History

Although Singapore's history dates from the 11th century, the island was little known to the West until the 19th century, when in 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived as an agent of the British East India Company. In 1824, the British purchased Singapore Island, and by 1825, the city of Singapore had become a major port, with trade exceeding that of Malaya's Malacca and Penang combined. In 1826, Singapore, Penang, and Malacca were combined as the Straits Settlements to form an outlying residency of the British East India Company; in 1867, the Straits Settlements were made a British Crown Colony, an arrangement that continued until 1946.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the advent of steamships launched an era of prosperity for Singapore as transit trade expanded throughout Southeast Asia. In the 20th century, the automobile industry's demand for rubber from Southeast Asia and the packaging industry's need for tin helped make Singapore one of the world's major ports.

In 1921, the British constructed a naval base, which was soon supplemented by an air base. But the Japanese captured the island in February 1942, and it remained under their control until September 1945, when the British returned.

Singapore, since 1824 one of the Straits Settlements, which had been made collectively a crown colony in 1867, became itself a British Crown Colony after World War II, when the mainland Settlements joined the Federation of Malaya in 1948. As merdeka [malay for Independence ]grew to be a reality, there was continuous speculation on the most satisfactory way of achieving total independence, and the leading political party, the People's Action Party (PAP), under the chairmanship of Lee Kuan Yew, advocated independence through merger with the Federation of Malaya. Although the Federation of Malaya readily recognized the economic advantages inherent in such an association, it feared that such a political union with Singapore would open up the door for Chinese domination over the entire federation.

A formula for merger in which Malay domination could be maintained was offered through the possible inclusion of three British territories in Borneo, North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak and the oil-rich state of Brunei. The combined population of these areas was about 1.2 million, of which only 25 percent were Chinese. Such a solution, however, failed to be adopted before independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957.

In June 1959 Singapore was given the status of a state within the Commonwealth of Nations. Defense and external affairs remained in the hands of the United Kingdom, and internal security became a shared responsibility. In 1963 Singapore joined the newly independent Federation of Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak--the latter two former British Borneo territories--to form Malaysia.

Indonesia adopted a policy of "confrontation" against the new federation, charging that it was a "British colonial creation," and severed trade with Malaysia. The move particularly affected Singapore, since Indonesia had been the island's second-largest trading partner. The political dispute was resolved in 1966, and Indonesia resumed trade with Singapore.

After a period of friction between Singapore and the central government in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore separated from Malaysia on August 9, 1965, and became an independent republic.

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Page last modified: 16-02-2013 18:52:03 ZULU