Singapore is a small city gaining her nation status only in 1965. Singapore was a British colony. Like many territories in Asia, Singapore was captured by the Imperial Japanese army during WW II. The British military surrendered to the Japanese on 2/15/1942, a Chinese New Year day. The Japanese rule was brief but brutal killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. After Japan surrendered to the allied forces in 1945, all former British colonies including Malaya, Singapore, Borneo and Sarawak were returned to the British Empire in 1946. Post WW II, nationalism emerged and promoted self-governance movement in South East Asia which led to Malaya's independence in 1957 and Singapore's self-governance in 1959. Singapore declared independence in August 1963. Out of economic considerations, Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore joined to form the Federation of Malaysia in September, 1963. However, the Malay centric policies caused friction between the Chinese populated Singapore and the Muslim dominated Malaysia Federation. In 1965, Malaysia parliament voted 126:0 to expel Singapore. Singapore then declared to be an independent nation that year. China and India helped Singapore to become a member of the United Nations.
Lee Kuan Yew (aka LKY) was the founding Prime Minister of Singapore and the leader of the People's Action Party which is the dominating party in Singapore. LKY held the Prime Minister position from 1959 to 1990 for three decades, then maintained a senior minister position during Goh Chok Tong's tenure as Prime Minister from 1990 - 2004 and as a Minister Mentor from 2004 - 2011 when his son Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) became the Prime Minister. LKY died on March 23, 2015 at age of 91; his funeral received over a million mourners and hundreds of international dignitaries. So no doubt Singapore owed her success as a developed nation to LKY for his six decades of government service.
Since Singapore's independence, LKY focused on economic development; he brought Singapore from a poor nation having an unemployment rate over twenty percent, per capita GDP $428 (1960) to a prosperous country of per capita GDP of $3880 in 1979 (nine fold increase over his prime minister tenure) and $53120 in 2011 (14 fold rise at his retirement). Presently, Singapore is ranked 3rd in the world with per capita GDP over $58000. Of course, Singapore also owed her prosperity to her geopolitical position at the Malacca Strait, a conduit of 50% of world trade and over 12.5% of world's oil transport per day (15.2 M barrels per day).
Singapore is situated between Indonesia and Malaysia, two Muslim countries. From LKY through LHL, Singapore maintained a delicate foreign relation with her neighbors on the one hand and sought after the U.S. military presence in South East Asia on the other hand. Hence, it is no surprise that Singapore welcomes the US 'Pivot to Asia' policy and supports earnestly the Trans-Pacific Partner (TPP) program. However, there is a new changing factor that LKY recognized but did not live long enough to alter Singapore's foreign policy. This changing factor is China. Over the past three to four decades she has risen from a war-torn poor country to a fast developing nation not only surprised many of her neighboring countries but also alarmed the U.S. feeling insecure about her leadership position in Asia.
China's rise is predominantly in her economy, now being the second largest in the world. China has a long history being at the center of the world (The Middle Kingdom). But the two centuries of modern time gave China a humiliating status as a weak nation, militarily unable to defend herself from the Western invaders thus suffered from numerous unequal treaties. Worst of all, she was invaded by her smaller neighbor, Japan, with ambition to conquer the entire China using unspeakable atrocious killings to achieve it. Of course, this part of history should be in the hearts of the Singaporeans since Singapore was also Japan’s victim. During China’s plight; many Chinese fled from China and emigrated to many parts of South East Asia including Singapore, Indo-China, Malaysia and Indonesia. This history gives bondage among many oversea Chinese immigrants all over the world, including some Singaporeans, who are glad to see the rise of China.
China works hard and is rising fast despite of severe challenges to a poor and populous nation. Bearing the dual entity of a glorious ancient Chinese history and treacherous modern eras of humiliation, China is reviving with a clear mandate - focusing on the welfare of her people to fulfill a Chinese dream - prosperity for her citizens. This Chinese Dream is the reason why China repeatedly insisting that she will rise peacefully. However, the dreadful war memories also taught China an unforgettable lesson - she can never be weak again. This firm belief creates an auxiliary mandate to the Chinese Dream. The Chinese people and most Chinese immigrants worldwide do understand this.
China's twin mandates are coupled. China is trying to chart an economic development path to be inclusive and beneficial to the world as well as to herself. This noble goal is contained in her grand vision of building One Belt and One Road connecting Asia to Europe and beyond. China’s military development is by and large defensive in nature; she achieved her nuclear and space capabilities despite of being excluded by the Western military alliances and international space development community. Understanding this background and China's history, one can easily appreciate that China's rise is not a threat to her neighbors or to the world except when someone is purposely trying to thwart her economic development and threatening her national security, she must defend and take counter action.
Singapore had adopted a pro-US foreign policy when China was weak having no economic competitiveness in the world. Now China is a very different nation, Singapore should have seen that coming. From a small country point of view (especially Singapore with a population predominantly Chinese), it is more meaningful to talk heritage binding than talk nation alliance. LKY's foreign policies towards neighbors and the U.S, were smart but now it is time to reassess the reality and review the above mentioned history. Singapore must understand the true meaning of hegemony and national independence from a point of view of large country (such as China and the U.S.) versus a small nation (such as Singapore).
Singapore certainly has options in adopting her foreign policy but the choice must be made with careful analysis focusing on reality not following a legacy. What made it successful in the past may not be in the future. Singapore was ruled by the British Empire. The foreign policy change of the U.K., such as Brexit and Engaging China, and the other ASEAN nations such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia exhibiting signs of resetting their foreign policy towards China are case studies for Singapore to learn from. Singapore with her majority of population having Chinese heritage should have a even brighter future with China's peaceful rise than other Asian countries. This conclusion is obvious unless Singapore is taking part in any action against China's rise. At this juncture, when the U.S. just elected a new President, Donald Trump, who carries no ‘legacy’ baggage in foreign policy; it is the most opportune time for Singapore to reset her foreign policy regarding China and the U.S. Singapore could play a significant role in bringing the two great powers to a collaborating and friendly relation and ripe the benefits or Singapore could take sides causing more friction between the two great powers and suffer the worst consequence. Apparently, Singapore’s bright future hinges on her making a clear and wise choice.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District