Singapore (sĬng´gəpôr, sĬng´ə–, sĬng´gəpôr´), officially Republic of Singapore, republic (2005 est. pop. 4,426,000), 299 sq mi (774 sq km). It consists of the island of Singapore and about 60 small adjacent islands at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, SE Asia. Singapore city, the capital, largest city, and chief port, is administratively coextensive with the republic. The distinction between Singapore and Singapore city has virtually disappeared, as the island is almost entirely urbanized.
Lying just north of the equator and located between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, Singapore is situated at the convergence of some of the world's major sea-lanes. It is separated from Indonesia to the south by the Singapore Strait and from Malaysia to the north by the Johore Strait. Singapore island is low-lying and is composed of a granitic core (rising to 580 ft/177 m at Bukit Timah, the country's highest point) surrounded by sedimentary lowlands. Singapore has a tropical rain-forest climate with uniformly high temperatures and rainfall throughout the year. The island was once covered by rain forest, which is now limited to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The coast is broken by many inlets. Keppel Harbor, the heart of the port of Singapore, is a natural deepwater anchorage between Singapore and the islands of Brani and Sentosa (Blakang Mati), off the S central coast of Singapore island.
The older urban areas of the city lie to the north and northeast of the port. Jurong Industrial Estate (c.20 sq mi/50 sq km), an industrial park built largely on reclaimed swampland, is in SW Singapore. The city-state's architecture is a mix of British colonial, traditional Malay and Chinese, and modern. Among Singapore's notable buildings are the city hall, the Raffles Hotel, the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, the bristly, aluminum-clad Esplanade performance complex and the nearby Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, and Old St. Andrew's Cathedral. The National Univ. of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological Univ., the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and the Singapore Polytechnic are the leading educational institutions, and there are art, history, and science museums. Singapore has a botanic garden, a zoo, and a bird park as well as many parks. Sentosa island has been developed as a recreation and amusement complex.
As a city-state, Singapore is one of the world's most densely populated countries with about 12,000 people per sq mi (about 4,600 people per sq km). A massive urban renewal program, begun in the 1960s, has replaced virtually all of Singapore's slums with modern housing units. As a result of family planning and a strict immigration policy, the annual rate of population increase has declined to just over 1%, down from 4.5% in the 1950s. The population is over 75% Chinese; the largest minorities are Malays (14%) and South Asians (8%). Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, and Christianity are the main religions of Singapore. The country has four official languages: Mandarin, English, Malay, and Tamil.
Less than 5% of Singapore's land is used for agriculture. Tropical fruits, orchids, and vegetables are intensively cultivated; rubber and copra are produced; and poultry, hogs, and tropical fish are raised. There are no exploitable natural resources in the country. Its power is produced by thermoelectric plants, and water is supplied by a number of reservoirs. Singapore has a fine rapid transit system, good roads, a railroad that crosses the island, and a causeway carrying road and rail traffic to the mainland.
Singapore's workforce is employed primarily in manufacturing, in the service industries, and in commerce, with a negligible proportion engaged in agriculture. The country has become a major center of international finance in recent decades. The economy slowed as a result of the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98 and the 2001 recession, but unemployment and inflation remained low. The increasing importance of China in manufacturing and finance, however, is seen as a threat to Singapore's future economic growth, and the nation has sought to develop its tourism industry (including casino gambling).
Singapore is one of the world's greatest commercial centers, with a large, modern port. Commerce has historically been the chief source of income. For many years the largest importer in Southeast Asia, Singapore is a free port and an entrepôt that reexports more than half of what it imports, notably rubber, petroleum, textiles, timber, and tin. It also exports locally manufactured goods such as computers and telecommunications equipment, petroleum products, oil drilling equipment, plastics, rubber products, and processed food and beverages. The country imports most of its food.
Singapore's chief trading partners are Malaysia, the United States, China, Japan, and Indonesia. With more than 300 factories and deepwater wharves, the Jurong Industrial Estate is Southeast Asia's largest industrial complex. It and the Changi International Airport are built largely on infill of marsh and shallow waters of the straits. The country has a number of large petroleum storage and refining facilities, and Keppel Harbor is one of the world's largest container-handling facilities. Development of the former British naval base at Sembawang on the Johore Strait as a commercial shipyard helped to enhance Singapore's status as a major center for shipbuilding and repairs.
Singapore is governed under the constitution of 1959 as amended. The country has a parliamentary form of government. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a six-year term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 84-seat Parliament, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms; additional members may be appointed. The supreme court, the nation's highest judicial body, has seven members. The People's Action party (PAP) is the most important of Singapore's numerous political parties; it has been in power since 1959.
The Development of Singapore
Singapore was a trading center in the Srivijaya empire before it was destroyed in the 14th cent. by the Majapahit empire. It later became part of Johore (see Johor) in the Malacca Sultanate. The sparsely populated island was ceded (1819) to the British East India Company through the efforts of Sir T. Stamford Raffles; he founded the modern city of Singapore there that same year. In 1824, Singapore came under the complete control of the British and, although containing only a small fishing and trading village, quickly attracted Chinese and Malay merchants. The port grew rapidly, soon overshadowing Penang (see Pinang) and Malacca (see Melaka) in importance. With them Singapore became part of the Straits Settlements in 1826.
The development of Malaya under British rule in the late 19th and early 20th cent. made Singapore one of the leading ports of the world for the export of tin and rubber. The construction of a railroad through the Malay Peninsula to Bangkok swelled Singapore's trade, and the building of airports made it more than ever a communication center. A naval base at Sembawang, begun in 1924, was completed in 1938; the island, sometimes called the Malta of the East, was reinforced in the early days of World War II. After the swift Japanese campaign in Malaya, however, Singapore was successfully attacked across the Johore Strait, and on Feb. 15, 1942, the British garrison surrendered; Singapore was reoccupied by the British in Sept., 1945. In 1946, Singapore, no longer a part of the Straits Settlements, was constituted a crown colony, with Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Following a decade of Communist terrorism, Singapore, separated from Christmas Island and the Cocos-Keeling islands, became (June, 1959) a self-governing state.
In the 1959 general elections the People's Action party (PAP) won control of the government and continued in power after winning the 1963 elections. Under the policies of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's economic base was strengthened and a greater degree of social and cultural homogeneity was achieved. With the establishment in the 1960s of the Economic Development Board, the Development Bank of Singapore, and the International Trading Company and the subsequent influx of foreign investment, Singapore's industrial base was diversified, expanded, and modernized. Following a referendum (1962), Singapore merged (Aug., 1963) with Malaya, Sarawak, and Sabah to form the Federation of Malaysia. Frictions soon arose, however, and Singapore was, by mutual agreement, separated from the federation in Aug., 1965, becoming an independent republic. The exclusion of Singapore was largely due to Malay fears of Singapore's Chinese majority and its potential economic domination in the federation.
Singapore has remained in the Commonwealth of Nations, and it joined the United Nations in 1965; it was one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967. Close strategic ties to the United States are reflected in an agreement that provides access to Singapore's naval base by American warships. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was the dominant figure in Singapore's authoritarian political environment until his resignation in 1990 after 31 years in office. Singapore experienced steady economic growth and diversification during his tenure, but the country was criticized internationally during the 1980s and 1990s for severe treatment of political dissidents and a harsh system of justice.
In 1990, Goh Chok Tong became prime minister, but Lee retained considerable governmental influence, staying on as senior minister. In 1993, Ong Teng Cheong, former chairman of the PAP, became Singapore's first directly elected president. Despite the government party's overwhelming victory at the polls during the 1997 legislative elections, there were indications of growing popular opposition. Following an economic downturn in 1998, Singapore cut wages and allowed its currency to adjust downward, but it solidified its position as a world financial center. Sellapan Ramanathan (S. R. Nathan), running unopposed as the PAP's endorsed candidate, was elected president in 1999.
In legislative elections in 2001, the PAP again was swept into office, as a fragmented opposition failed to field candidates in 65% of the constituencies. Goh stepped down as prime minister in 2004 and was succeeded by Lee Hsien Loong, son of Lee Kuan Yew. The elder Lee remained in the government as minister mentor, and Goh succeeded him as senior minister. President Nathan was reelected in 2005. In the 2006 legislative elections more than 50% of the constituencies were contested, but the PAP again swept nearly all the seats.
By early 2009, Singapore's economy was severely affected by the global recession, which led to significant drop in exports, but the economy recovered as the year progressed. The 2011 elections saw nearly all the constiuencies contested, and the opposition garnered 40% of the vote, but PAP won more than 90% of the seats. The elder Lee and Goh stepped down after the elections. Later in the year Tony Tan, a former deputy prime minister, was elected president in a closely contested election.
See N. Barber, A Sinister Twilight: The Fall of Singapore, 1942 (1968); J. W. Salaff, State and Family in Singapore (1988); T. Li, Singapore Malay Society (1989); C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1985 (2d ed. 1989); J. Minchin, No Man Is an Island (2d ed. 1990); Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965–2000 (2000).