Since it's separation from Malaya, Singapore has combined it's advantages of a small concentrated urban city island state, a natural transportation hub between East and South Asia and beyond and a homogeneous overseas Chinese entreprenuerial majority to become an economic power belying it's miniscule physical size.
Freed from the responsibilities and constraints of Malaya in managing the delicate balance between the indigenous Malays and the entreprenuerial newly settled Chinese, an independent, small and sprightly Singapore bounded ahead of the motherland economically, building an efficient manufacturing infrastructure to complement its shipping and air ports, as well as a lively service industry.
Still one of the most competitive economices worldwide and with an almost corruption-free business and government sector, Singapore's major threats is it ever-increasing costs, though at least until the mid 1990's, productivity kept pace providing the required value on investment.
Singapore realised many years ago that its own domestic market would never be able to support it's own entrepreneurial flair and Singaporean business is active both regionally (in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia for example), and internationally. Even before that Singapore's growth was based on manufacturing, particularly in the electronics sector, before increasing competition for low labour cost centres in South East Asia and later China caused a shift of focus to the service and IT sectors.
Singapore's consumers are amongst those with the highest levels of income in the world, though entry level positions are relatively poorly paid. Discretionary income is slightly less due to large compulsory contributions to the government's retirement fund (EPF) high taxes on automobiles and high housing costs due to the lack of space, and one of the highest costs of living world wide.
Two decades ago, when Singaporeans were asked by visitors what their hobbies or out of work activities were the response was likely to be "shop till you drop". It is unlikely that that has changed. If ever there was a case of a group of people defining their ego through their possesions, Singaporeans would have to come close.
Singaporeans are highly brand conscious, partly due to the importance of "face", and a passion for foreign goods. Wine and imported spirits are the beverages of choice amongst the middle, upper, chattering and yuppie classes, while drinking imported beer is seen as "not too shabby". However Singaporeans dont have the hard drinking culture of their East Asian cousins.
Singapore is the most wired nation in South East Asia, due to both their small concentrated population, relative wealth and government policy, including the encouragement of IT entrepreneurism. In terms of percentage on line they also come close to South Korea and Taiwan, two of the most wired populations on earth.
While some Singaporeans in moments of frustration refer to the ruling Singapore party the PAP as "Pay and Pay", it was the PAP's political brand of social engineering of the right and benevolent authoritarianism that underlies the security on which Singapore's success has been built. Lee Kuan Yew remains in his retirement years as Singapore's Cheif Minister, with a highly successful and more human faced Goh seemingly ensconsed as Prime Minister until he wishes to leave, upon which time, most analysts agree, Lee's son BG Lee will take over the leadership.
Singapore's governance is the envy of many neighbouring states such as Thailand and Malaysia whose leaders dribble at the mouth at the freedom such a system would give them to enact their own policies. The PAP has virtually no opposition, and even after the gradual lifting of many media restrictions over the past decade, opposition parties have failed to find issues on which to motivate a basically apolitical electorate. Singapore remains an authoritarian state where dissidance is viewed with suspicion, though world interest has been distracted by more colorful politics in Malaysia, where the great majority of the press performs a role more like the PR company for the ruling government through a combination of threats and self censorship.
Singapore's political problems however are external rather than internal. Rising Islamic influence and militancy in Indonesia and Malaysia which virtually surround Singapore on all sides threaten the secular basis of these governments. Always aware of their exposure, Singapore has always made defence a priority, and investment in neighbouring countries offers a not unimportant strategic value of becoming more involved in the business sectors of neighbouring states.
Religion and Ethnicity
While Singapore likes to portray themselves as multi-cultural, they remain one of the more mono-ethnic societies in the world, if one was to lump all Chinese ethnic groups into one, with more than 75% being Chinese. 15% are Malay, and around 6% Indian. That said while the Singapore elite may be assimilationists when it comes to politics, they make up for it by acknowledging and encouraging freedom of religion and cultural expression where it is not preceived to threaten the authority and security of the state. Accordingly, you can eat Indian, Chinese, and Indian food on almost every street corner, but Muslim school children cannot wear the traditional tanjung to school.
The majority of Singaporeans are Buddhist (the great majority of Chinese), though substantial populations for Chinese are Christian, Confucianist (though many Conficianists would not describe Confucianism as a religion), Taoists or "free-thinkers". Virtually all Malays (15%) are Muslim, and Indians are either Hindus or Sikhs.
Another key strategic policy in Singapore's development has been their adoption of English as the national language, although their history is given some acknoweldgement by the national anthem remaining in Bahasa Melayu. Chinese, and Tamil are the other official languages, spoken by some Chinese and Indians respectively. While Malaysia dithered between supporting Bahasa Melayu as a symbol of independence and English to develop international business relationships in the past 2 decades resulting in low standards in both, Singapore's insistence that their population should master both their mother tongue and English made Singapore a far more comfortable place for international business.
Singapore's commitiment to globalization has seen the introduction of several policies designed to attract foreign talent to Singapore, and while there have been some murmours of discontent due to the current unemployment situation, applying for an receiving a work visa for Singapore is far easier than in Malaysia or Thailand.
Singapore can lay claim to the cleanest and most modern business environment in Asia. Efficiency is a keynote, and Singapore is perceived as one of least corrupt not only in Asia, but the world. According to Transparency International it is seen as less corrupt than the USA. Red tape and legalism was a feature of Singapore business a decade ago, but the streamlining of regulatory responsibilities has reduced this somewhat in recent years.
Singapore's business practicies also favour competence more so than neigbouring countries where advancement is most often related to personal relationships, paper qualifications, political patronage or positive ethnic discrimination. This is a major factor behind the relative efficiency, professionalism and 'work culture' in Singaporean organizations.
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