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Civilopedia entry Edit
Singapore is a city-state on an island at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, in Southeast Asia. Here, at the Straits of Johor, the island sits just in the middle of a vital trade route connecting South Asia and the Indian Sea with East Asia and the Pacific. Before the colonial era, the region was home to a number of indigenous empires, namely Srivijaya, in Sumatra; Majapahit, on Java, and a network of Malay sultanates. When Europeans arrived, the Spanish and Portuguese sought (unsuccessfully) to convert the local population to Catholicism, and the English and Dutch looked to capitalize on the spice trade. But before 1800, the island of Singapore remained a small fishing village under the control of the Johor Sultanate, a Malay kingdom just across the water on the Malay mainland.
But in 1819, the island, with its potentially profitable location, fell into the sights of the British Empire, who desired to control the Straits in order to ensure that Indian opium could reach Chinese markets on British ships. Sir Stamford Raffles, a British officer, arranged a coup in Johor, and the newly installed sultan in return granted the British the rights to the island as a reward – just what Raffles had planned. Singapore became important as the center for British colonial operations in the region: not only a trade hub, but a laboratory for new cash crops and an extension of the British presence in India eastward. The British brought a range of new migrants to the island: Hokkien, Cantonese, and Hakka migrants from southern China; Tamil workers from southern India, and new immigrants from elsewhere in Malaya. Singapore became the vital heart of the British colonies in Malaya: what was to become known as the Straits Settlements.
In the 1900s, Singapore was destined for another twist of fate. The Imperial Japanese army took the island in a deadly siege in World War II. While the Japanese eventually surrendered, the British failure to protect the island meant that the population of the Straits Settlements were reluctant to return to colonial rule – the era of European imperialism was over. Through mass demonstrations and agitation, they eventually won their independence, but the next question arose – what would the character of a post-British Malaya be? Majority-Muslim Malaya saw the Malays as the natural inheritors of the former colony, and the Chinese as interlopers. Bloody ethnic violence resulted, and ethnic Chinese fled in large numbers to majority-Chinese Singapore and Singapore’s leader, Lee Kuan Yew. After tense negotiations, Malaya – now Malaysia – cast Singapore out in 1965.
Lee was determined not to have Singapore fail, and he ruled with what at times was a heavy hand, seeking to balance ethnic and labor tensions with a commitment to economic prosperity over all. Perhaps because of Lee’s determination, or simply because of Singapore’s fortuitous position in the Straits, Singapore emerged into the 21st century as an economic powerhouse. Today, with a cosmopolitan population of about six million and a global outlook, Singapore remains a politically stable but economically dynamic force in the region. It carries with it both a colonial legacy of drawing upon laborers and riches in the surrounding region, and, under Lee’s son Lee Hsien Loong, a "soft authoritarian" political orientation, but keeps its independent outlook and, above all, pragmatic approach to politics.
- Singapore's City-State symbol is the crescent and stars that appear on the flag of Singapore, which represent the values of the nation.