I’m heading off to Singapore later this week. I’ll be staying there almost a month, mostly talking to companies, meeting up with local contacts and analysts, but also visiting some Belgian businesspeople who have been living and working in the region for quite some time. My first visit to Singapore dates back to 1994. I had just spent the better part of a year finishing my PGPM studies at Xavier Institute of Management in Bhubaneswar (India) and I wanted to see and learn more about the other Asian countries before traveling back to Belgium (and start working). Traveling is a fantastic way to learn more about a country and my subsequent travels led me to many other Asian countries.
But let’s get back to the Republic of Singapore as it’s officially called. Singapore is a Southeast Asian city-state covering no more than 712 square kilometres. Although its surface increased from only 580 square kilometres in the 1960s (due to ongoing land reclamation projects), it’s still not more than a little dot on the world map, hence its nickname Little Red Dot. It is separated from Malaysia by the Strait of Johor to its north and from Indonesia by the Singapore Strait to its south.
Looking back at its history, the idea that Singapore could become an independent nation state was inconceivable a hundred years ago. Singapore was originally founded as a trading post of the East India Company by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Five years later the British obtained full sovereignty and Singapore became one of the British Straits Settlements in 1826. It became independent from the UK in 1963 and merged with Malaya (and hereby delivering the S and I to turn Malaya into MalaySIa). But only two years later, on August 9th 1965, Singapore also separated from Malaysia after heated ideological conflicts between the ruling parties of Malaysia and Singapore. The first Prime Minister of Singapore, the well known Lee Kuan Yew, almost cried on public television when he had to confess that Malaysia no longer wanted to be tied to Singapore. That’s why Singapore is sometimes also referred to as the Accidental Nation as it had preferred to stay united with Malaysia in 1965. Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party (PAP) has won control of Parliament with large majorities in every election since. However, in the most recent parliamentary elections in May 2011, the opposition (led by the Workers’ Party) made significant gains and increased its representation in the House to 6 elected Members of Parliament against still an overwhelming 81 for the PAP.
Since independence in 1965 Singapore, one of the four Asian Tigers (next to Hong-Kong, Taiwan and South-Korea), has been called an economic miracle because of how much it has achieved in a short span of time and in spite of its lack of natural resources. In the post-independence 1960s, all that the island possessed was a strategic entrepôt location, a hardworking population and visionary leadership. The Singaporean economy is today known as one of the freest, most competitive, most innovative and most business friendly in the world. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index Singapore is also consistently rated as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, along with the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand.
Most work in Singapore is in the services sector and the city-state has for instance become the world’s fourth biggest financial centre. The Singapore Exchange lists a whole range of interesting companies such as Wilmar International…