Singapore remains acutely aware of its small size, with a total population at about the five million mark (3.2 million Singapore citizens, 500 thousand permanent resident foreigners, and 1.2 million other foreigners). As in the past, a feeling of vulnerability often drives Singaporean policy. Militarily, Singapore constantly seeks technological advantage and is an avid consumer of advanced American (and Israeli) defense products.
In foreign policy, the perception of vulnerability is manifested in a policy best described as "be friends with everyone," which may have benefits in terms of relations with its neighbors, particularly Singapore's solidarity with ASEAN partners, but has at times put the United States and Singapore at odds on issues such as human rights in Burma. But out of the sense of vulnerability comes perhaps Singapore's greatest strength: a continuous drive to succeed. Singapore today remains highly competitive precisely because it has willed itself to be number one, constantly challenging its people to improve.
Singapore is strategically located on the Straits of Malacca. Singapore is one of the most highly developed and sophisticated industrial, commercial, financial and consumer economies in the world. The population was approximately five million, with nonresident foreign workers accounting for one quarter of the total. In 2007, real GDP grew 7.7% and the economy was expected to grow by 4% to 6% in 2008, according to official forecast. The global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 had a sharp impact on Singapore's open, trade-oriented economy. Singapore saw its worst two quarters of contraction in late 2008 and early 2009, but quickly recovered with strong performance in later quarters. The official growth forecast for 2010 is between 13% and 15%.
With a per capita GDP of more than US$30,000, Singapore is an excellent market for a wide variety of U.S. products and services and is a good first stop for any exporter to Asia. It is the 11th largest export market and 15th largest trading partner of the United States in 2007, according to trade data from the U.S. Census. Malaysia is Singapore's top import source while the U.S. ranked second followed by the PRC, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Germany.
Reflecting its role as a major entrepot, trade is three and a half times Singapore's GDP. The country retained its position as the world's busiest container port in 2007. Singapore serves as a major distribution center for U.S. companies interested in selling not only to Singapore but also to the region. The World Bank's report, "Doing Business 2007: How to Reform," ranked Singapore as the easiest country in which to do business. More than 1,500 U.S. firms operate in Singapore and many have their Asia Pacific headquarters here. The country has an excellent infrastructure, including an airport and seaport that are among the best in the world, an extensive road network and subway system, state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities and reliable public utilities.
With a single party - the People's Action Party (PAP) - and set of leaders ruling the country for five decades, Singapore had what political scientists called a dominant party system or a hegemonic party system, similar to that of Japan or Mexico. The PAP leaders, convinced that a city-state without natural resources could not afford the luxury of partisan politics, acted after 1965 to "depoliticize" the power structure. Economic growth and political stability would be maintained instead by the paternal guidance of the PAP. Politics, as a result, was only exercised within very narrow limits determined by the PAP. Singapore was thus administered by bureaucrats, not politicians, in a meritocracy in which power was gained through skill, performance, and demonstrated loyalty to the leaders and their policies.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Singapore government under Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew laid the foundation for a national security system based on total preparedness, which involved more than 10 percent of the adult population in some type of national service. After 1967 all males were required to register for two years national service at age sixteen. By 1989 almost all males under the age of fifty had received military training in the armed forces, or training in the police force or in a public service related to civil defense.
Singapore's national security perceptions under Lee were influenced by the country's size and geographic location and by changes in the regional military balance. The nation's military planners acknowledged that if it were attacked by a larger power, Singapore could not defend itself with its own resources for more than a few weeks. However, they believed that the total preparedness for war of the country's military and civilian populace would deter potential adversaries from regarding Singapore as an easy target for aggression. Singapore's foreign policies were carefully planned to accommodate national security considerations. In 1989, for example, Lee stated that Singapore would consider normalizing its relations with China only after Indonesia had completed its plan to do the same. This position was consistent with Singapore's national security policy of deferring to the foreign policy concerns of its larger neighbors.
After the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) fell to communist forces in 1975, Singapore viewed the growth of communist influence in the region, and the reduced American military presence in Southeast Asia, as a potential threat to its national security. Singapore's leaders feared that a militaristic Vietnam, supported by the Soviet Union, would promote communist movements in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Throughout the 1980s, the Lee government supported the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN) in opposing Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia; the government also promoted the improvement of bilateral military cooperation with its ASEAN partners as part of its national security strategy. By the late 1980s Singapore was continuing to strengthen its military relations with its neighbors, although the threat of Soviet and Vietnamesesupported aggression against any one of the six ASEAN members appeared on the decline.
From 1965, subversive groups posed no threat to Singapore's political system, and there was no recurrence of the ethnic and communist-inspired riots of the 1950s and early 1960s. British statutes that had allowed the indefinite incarceration of persons accused of advocating the violent overthrow of the government were still in force in 1989 under the Internal Security Act of 1960. Although the government continued to use this statute to discourage radical political movements, by the late 1980s it had established a policy of releasing most persons detained under the Internal Security Act within a few months of their arrest unless they were referred to the court for trial.
Singapore relies primarily on its own defense forces, which are continuously being modernized. The defense budget accounts for approximately 33% of government operating expenditures (or 4.3% of GDP). A career military force of 55,000 is supplemented by 300,000 persons, either on active National Service, which is compulsory for able-bodied young men, or on Reserve. The Singapore Armed Forces engage in joint training with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and with the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and India. Singapore also conducts military training on Taiwan.
Singapore is a member of the Five-Power Defense Arrangement together with the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia. The arrangement obligates members to consult in the event of external threat and provides for stationing Commonwealth forces in Singapore.
Singapore has consistently supported a strong U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1990, the United States and Singapore signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which allows United States access to Singapore facilities at Paya Lebar Airbase and the Sembawang wharves. Under the MOU, a U.S. Navy logistics unit was established in Singapore in 1992; U.S. fighter aircraft deploy periodically to Singapore for exercises, and a number of U.S. military vessels visit Singapore. The MOU was amended in 1999 to permit U.S. naval vessels to berth at the Changi Naval Base, which was completed in early 2001. In July 2005, the United States and Singapore signed a Strategic Framework Agreement to expand cooperation in defense and security.
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