Singapore (09/05)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

Flag of Singapore is two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and white; near the hoist side of the red band, there is a vertical, white crescent (closed portion is toward the hoist side) partially enclosing five white five-pointed stars arranged in a circle.


Republic of Singapore

Area: 685 sq. km. (264 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Singapore (country is a city-state).
Terrain: Lowland.
Climate: Tropical.

Population (2004): 4.24 million (including permanent residents, foreign workers).
Annual growth rate: 1.3% (total); 1.4% (residents).
Ethnic groups: Chinese 77%, Malays 14%, Indians 8%.
Religions: Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu.
Languages: English, Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, Malay, Tamil.
Education: Years compulsory--six. Attendance--94%. Literacy--94.2%.
Health (2003): Infant mortality rate--2.5/1,000. Life expectancy--77 yrs. male, 81 yrs. female.
Work force (June 2004, 2.16 million): Manufacturing and commerce--37%; services--41%.

Type: Parliamentary republic.
Constitution: June 3, 1959 (amended 1965 and 1991).
Independence: August 9, 1965.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state, 6-yr. term); prime minister (head of government). Legislative--unicameral 84-member Parliament (maximum 5-yr. term). Judicial--High Court, Court of Appeal, subordinate courts.
Political parties: People's Action Party (PAP), Workers' Party (WP), Singapore's Peoples Party (SPP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory at 21.
Central government budget (FY 2004 est.): $18.2 billion.
Defense (FY 2004 est.): 5.4% of gross domestic product.
National holiday: August 9.

GDP (2004 real, 1995 prices): $110 billion.
Annual real growth rate: 2.2% (2002); 1.1% (2003), 8.4% (2004).
Per capita GNP (2004--purchasing power parity): $24,560.
Natural resources: None.
Agriculture (under 0.5% of GDP): Products--poultry, orchids, vegetables, fruits, ornamental fish.
Manufacturing (27% of real GDP): Types--electronic and electrical products and components, petroleum products, machinery and metal products, chemical and pharmaceutical products, transport equipment (mainly aircraft repairs/maintenance, shipbuilding and repair), food and beverages, printing and publishing, textiles and garments, plastic products/modules, instrumentation equipment.
Trade (2004): Exports--$185 billion: petroleum products, food/beverages, chemicals, textile/garments, electronic components, telecommunication apparatus, transport equipment. Major markets--Malaysia (15%), U.S. (12%), EU (14%), Hong Kong (10%), Japan (6%), and China (10%). Imports--$169 billion: aircraft, crude oil and petroleum products, electronic components, radio and television receivers/parts, motor vehicles, chemicals, food/beverages, iron/steel, textile yarns/fabrics. Major suppliers--Malaysia (15%), U.S. (13%), Japan (12%), EU (13%), and China (10%).

Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The annual growth rate for 2004 was 1.3%, including resident foreigners. Singapore has a varied linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage. Malay is the national language, but Chinese, English, and Tamil also are official languages. English is the language of administration and also is widely used in the professions, businesses, and schools.

The government has mandated that English be the primary language used at all levels of the school systems, and it aims to provide at least 10 years of education for every child. In 2003, primary and secondary school students totaled about 506,000, or 12% of the entire population. In 2003, enrollment at the universities was 55,426 (full-time, part-time, and post-graduate) and 62,206 at the polytechnics. The Institute of Technical Education for basic technical and commerce skills has almost 17,941 students. The country's literacy rate is 94%.

Singapore generally allows religious freedom, although religious groups are subject to government scrutiny, and some religious sects are restricted or banned. Almost all Malays are Muslim; other Singaporeans are Taoists, Buddhists, Confucianists, Christians, Hindus, or Sikhs.

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.

In 1946, the Straits Settlements was dissolved; Penang and Malacca became part of the Malayan Union, and Singapore became a separate British Crown Colony. In 1959, Singapore became self-governing, and, in 1963, it 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.

According to the constitution, as amended in 1965, Singapore is a republic with a parliamentary system of government. Political authority rests with the prime minister and the cabinet. The prime minister is the leader of the political party or coalition of parties having the majority of seats in Parliament. The president, who is chief of state, previously exercised only ceremonial duties. As a result of 1991 constitutional changes, the president is now elected and exercises expanded powers over legislative appointments, government budgetary affairs, and internal security matters.

The unicameral Parliament currently consists of 84 members elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage, and nine "nominated" members of Parliament. A constitutional provision assures at least three opposition members, even if fewer than three actually are elected. A "nonconstituency" seat held by the opposition under this provision since 1997 was again filled after the last election. In the last general election, in November 2001, the governing People's Action Party (PAP) won 82 of the 84 seats. The president appoints nominated members of Parliament from among nominations by a special select committee. Nominated members of Parliament enjoy the same privileges as members of Parliament but cannot vote on constitutional matters or expenditures of funds. The maximum term of anyone in Parliament is 5 years. Voting has been compulsory since 1959.

Judicial power is vested in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The High Court exercises original criminal and civil jurisdiction in serious cases as well as appellate jurisdiction from subordinate courts. Its chief justice, senior judge, and six judges are appointed by the president. Appeals from the High Court are heard by the Court of Appeal. The right of appeal to the Privy Council in London was abolished effective April 1994.

Principal Government Officials
President--S.R. NATHAN
Prime Minister--LEE Hsien Loong
Senior Minister--GOH Chok Tong
Minister Mentor--LEE Kuan Yew
Deputy Prime Minister--Prof. S. JAYAKUMAR
Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Defence--Dr. Tony TAN Keng Yam

Community Development, Youth and Sports--Dr. Vivian BALAKRISHNAN
Defense--TEO Chee Hean
Education--Tharman SHANMUGARATNAM
Environment and Water Resources--Assoc. Prof. YAACOB Ibrahim
Finance--LEE Hsien Loong
Foreign Affairs--George Yong-Boon YEO
Health--KHAW Boon Wan
Home Affairs--WONG Kan Seng
Information, Communications and the Arts--Dr. LEE Boon Yang
Manpower--Dr. NG Eng Hen
National Development--MAH Bow Tan
Trade and Industry--LIM Hng Kiang
Transport--YEO Cheow Tong

Ambassador to the United Nations--Mr. K V Vanu Gopala MENON
Ambassador to the United States--Prof. CHAN Heng Chee

Singapore maintains an embassy in the United States at 3501 International Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/537-3100, fax 202/537-0876).

The ruling political party in Singapore, reelected continuously since 1959, is the People's Action Party (PAP), now headed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lee succeeded Goh Chok Tong on August 12, 2004. Goh now serves as 'senior minister' and Lee Kuan Yew holds the title 'Minister Mentor', a newly created position.

The PAP has held the overwhelming majority of seats in Parliament since 1966, when the opposition Barisan Sosialis Party (Socialist Front), a left-wing group that split off from the PAP in 1961, resigned from Parliament, leaving the PAP as the sole representative party. In the general elections of 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1980, the PAP won all of the seats in an expanding Parliament.

Workers' Party Secretary General J.B. Jeyaretnam became the first opposition party member of Parliament in 15 years when he won a 1981 by-election. Opposition parties gained small numbers of seats in the general elections of 1984 (2 seats out of a total of 79), 1988 (1 seat of 81), 1991 (4 seats of 81), 1997 (2 seats of 83), and 2001 (2 seats of 84). Meanwhile, the PAP share of the popular vote in contested seats increased from 65% in 1997 to 75% in 2001. Since the opposition has contested less than half the seats in the last two elections, overall voter support for the PAP may be somewhat higher.

Singapore's strategic location on major sea lanes and industrious population have given the country an economic importance in Southeast Asia disproportionate to its small size. Upon independence in 1965, Singapore was faced with a lack of physical resources and a small domestic market. In response, the Singapore Government adopted a pro-business, pro-foreign investment, export-oriented economic policy framework, combined with state-directed investments in strategic government-owned corporations. Singapore's economic strategy proved a success, producing real growth that averaged 8.0% from 1960 to 1999. The economy picked up after the 1997 regional financial crisis, with a growth rate of 9.4% for 2000, but then fell back in tandem with the economic slowdown in the United States, Japan, and the European Union (EU), as well as the worldwide electronics slump, so that GDP shrank by 2.4% in 2001. The economy rebounded in 2002, up 2.2%, but declined to 1.1% growth in 2003, due to the effect of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the first half of the year. In 2004, the economy expanded by 8.4%, driven by the growth in world electronics demand and in the economies of its major trading partners, the U.S., EU, China, and Japan.

Singapore's largely corruption-free government, skilled work force, and advanced and efficient infrastructure have attracted investments from more than 7,000 multinational corporations from the United States, Japan, and Europe. Foreign firms are found in almost all sectors of the economy. Multinational corporations account for more than two-thirds of manufacturing output and direct export sales, although certain services sectors remain dominated by government-linked companies.

Manufacturing and services are the twin engines of the Singapore economy and accounted for 27% and 62%, respectively, of Singapore's gross domestic product in 2004. The electronics industry leads Singapore's manufacturing sector, accounting for 40% of Singapore's total industrial output, but the government also is prioritizing the development of the chemicals and biomedical/pharmaceutical industries.

To maintain its competitive position despite rising wages, the government seeks to promote higher value-added activities in the manufacturing and services sectors. It also has opened, or is in the process of opening, the financial services, telecommunications, and power generation and retailing sectors to foreign service providers and greater competition. The government also has pursued cost-cutting measures, including tax cuts and wage and rent reductions, to lower the cost of doing business in Singapore. The government also is actively negotiating free trade agreements with key trading partners, and concluded one with the United States that came into force January 1, 2004.

Trade, Investment, and Aid
Singapore's total trade in 2004 amounted to $354 billion, an increase of 27% from 2003. Despite its small size, Singapore is the 15th-largest trading partner of the United States. In 2004, Singapore's imports totaled $169 billion, and exports totaled $185 billion. Malaysia was Singapore's main import source, as well as its largest export market, absorbing 15% of Singapore's exports, with the United States falling behind to 12%, from 15% in 2002. Re-exports accounted for 45% of Singapore's total sales to other countries in 2004. Singapore's principal exports are petroleum products, food and beverages, chemicals, textile and garments, electronic components, telecommunication apparatus, and transport equipment. Singapore's main imports are aircraft, crude oil and petroleum products, electronic components, consumer electronics, microelectronics manufacturing equipment, motor vehicles, chemicals, food and beverages, iron and steel, and textile yarns and fabrics.

Singapore continues to attract investment funds on a large scale despite its relatively high-cost operating environment. The United States leads in foreign investment, accounting for 33% of new commitments to the manufacturing sector in 2004. As of 2003, the stock of investment by U.S. companies in the manufacturing and services sectors in Singapore reached about $61.4 billion (total assets). The bulk of U.S. investment is in electronics manufacturing, oil refining and storage, and the chemical industry. More than 1,500 U.S. firms operate in Singapore.

The government also has encouraged firms to invest outside Singapore, with the country's total direct investments abroad reaching $93 billion by the end of 2003. China was the top destination, accounting for 12% of total overseas investments, followed by Hong Kong (8%), Malaysia (9%), Indonesia (7%), and the United States (6%).

The United States provides no bilateral aid to Singapore.

In December 2004, Singapore had a total labor force of about 2.3 million. The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the sole trade union federation, comprises almost 99% of total organized labor. Extensive legislation covers general labor and trade union matters. The Industrial Arbitration Court handles labor-management disputes that cannot be resolved informally through the Ministry of Labor. The Singapore Government has stressed the importance of cooperation between unions, management, and government ("tripartism"), as well as the early resolution of disputes. There has been only one strike in the past 15 years.

Singapore has enjoyed virtually full employment for long periods of time. Amid slower economic growth in 2003, unemployment rose to 4.6%. As of end-June 2005, the rate of unemployment dropped to 3.4%. Much of the unemployment is structural, as low-skill manufacturing operations move overseas. From 1990 to 1997, the number of foreign workers in Singapore increased rapidly to cope with labor shortages. Foreign workers comprise 27% of the labor force; the great majority of these are unskilled workers.

Transportation and Communications
Situated at the crossroads of international shipping and air routes, Singapore is a center for transportation and communication in Southeast Asia. Singapore Changi International Airport is a regional aviation hub served by 68 international airlines. It is being expanded with the construction of a third terminal, as well as a dedicated low-cost terminal for budget airlines, both slated for completion in 2006. The Port of Singapore is among the world's busiest and ranks second globally as a center for containerized transshipment traffic, after Hong Kong. The country also is linked by road and rail to Malaysia and Thailand.

Telecommunications and Internet facilities are state-of-the-art, providing high-quality communications with the rest of the world. Radio and television stations are all ultimately government-owned or government-linked. The print media is dominated by a company with close ties to the government. Daily newspapers are published in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.

Singapore relies primarily on its own defense forces, which are continuously being modernized. The defense budget accounts for approximately 31% of government operating expenditures (or 5% of GDP). A career military force of 14,200 is supplemented by 40,800 persons on active National Service, which is compulsory for able-bodied young men, and approximately another 225,000 reservists. The Singapore Armed Forces engage in joint training with all the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and with the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and India.

Singapore is a member of the Five-Power Defense Arrangement together with the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia. Intended to replace the former defense role of the British in the Singapore-Malaysia area, 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 October 2003, Singapore and the U.S. announced their intention to expand cooperation in defense and security, and to negotiate a Framework Agreement for a Strategic Cooperation Partnership.

Singapore is nonaligned. It is a member of the United Nations--it occupied a rotational seat on the Security Council 2001-02--and several of its specialized and related agencies, and also of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth. Singapore has participated in UN peacekeeping/observer missions in Kuwait, Angola, Namibia, Cambodia, and East Timor. It provided a training unit to assist in training Iraqi police, and in October 2003, Singapore deployed a naval ship and an air force transport plane to the Persian Gulf to support the multinational coalition effort to bring stability and security to Iraq. Singapore supports the concept of Southeast Asian regionalism and plays an active role in ASEAN and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The United States has maintained formal diplomatic relations with Singapore since that country became independent in 1965. Singapore's efforts to maintain economic growth and political stability and its support for regional cooperation harmonize with U.S. policy in the region and form a solid basis for amicable relations between the two countries. The United States and Singapore signed a bilateral free trade agreement on May 6, 2003; the agreement entered into force on January 1, 2004. The growth of U.S. investment in Singapore and the large number of Americans living there enhance opportunities for contact between Singapore and the United States. Many Singaporeans visit and study in the United States. Singapore is a Visa Waiver Program country.

The U.S. Government sponsors visitors from Singapore each year under the International Visitor Program. The U.S. Government provides Fulbright awards to enable selected American professors to teach or conduct research at the National University of Singapore and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. It awards scholarships to outstanding Singaporean students for graduate studies at American universities and to American students to study in Singapore. The U.S. Government also sponsors occasional cultural presentations in Singapore. The East-West Center and private American organizations, such as the Asia and Ford Foundations, also sponsor exchanges involving Singaporeans.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Patricia L. Herbold
Deputy Chief of Mission--Judith Fergin
Economic/Political Counselor--Laurent D. Charbonnet
Senior Economic Officer--Paul D. Horowitz
Senior Political Officer--Christopher Kavanagh
Consul--Julie Kavanagh
Public Affairs Counselor--Valerie Fowler
Commercial Counselor--George Ruffner
Management Counselor--Karen C. Stanton
Defense Attache--Capt. C. Rivers Cleveland, USN

The U.S. Embassy in Singapore is located at 27 Napier Road, Singapore 258508 (tel. 65-6476-9100, fax 65-6476-9340). The Embassy's website is at