Tag Archives: Singapore

SINGAPORE LOSES ITS FOUNDING FATHER

Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore is one of the greatest success stories of the modern world.

The modern history of the country started in 1819, just under 200 years ago.  The British were looking for a strategic location to base their growing merchant and naval fleets and to thwart Dutch regional influence.

The then Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolan in Sumatra, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, landed in Singapore after surveying neighboring islands.   A colony was soon founded with a population of only 150. Today, the population is almost 5.5 million.   Singapore’s success was based on free trade, which made it a vibrant commercial center, attracting merchants from all over Asia, the Middle East and the United States, as well as Great Britain, which dominated the globe in the nineteenth century.

The port city saw its greatest period of growth after the British opened the Suez Canal in 1869.   Control of vital sea-gates around the globe contributed to the dominance of the British Empire.   It was possible for British vessels to sail from England to Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus in the Mediterranean, before continuing their journey through the Suez Canal and Aden, then on to points east, including Singapore.   The naval base at Singapore enabled the British to dominate the Far East and Australasia.   Singapore was a vital sea-gate, one of the arteries of empire.   Many believe this fulfilled the prophecy in Genesis 22:17 that Abraham’s descendants would “possess the gates of their enemies.”

Everything went well until the Japanese attacked the city the day after Pearl Harbor.   Once regarded as an impregnable fortress, the city surrendered on 15th March, 1942.   It remained under Japanese occupation for three-and-a-half-years.   Looking back, it was a major turning point in the decline and fall of the British Empire, perhaps the biggest single turning point.   It showed that the seemingly invincible British, a white race that ruled the greatest empire in history, could be defeated by a non-white peoples considered backward and inferior.

After the defeat of Japan, the British returned, but it was impossible to return to the pre-war order.   New political parties were formed that campaigned for independence.

In 1963, the people of Singapore voted to join the new Malaysian Federation, which the British had created six years earlier.   Only two years later, Singapore, an island of mostly Chinese immigrants, had to leave the Moslem dominated federation and go it alone.

In 1965, at the time of independence, the total Gross National Product of Singapore was only $1 billion.   Fifty years later, it’s $300 billion.   Per capita income has grown from less than $500 per year to well over $55,000, second only to Japan in East Asia.   The island state has been transformed in fifty years from a Third World outpost to a thriving city-state that belongs proudly to the First World of wealthy, affluent countries.

This achievement was the work of one man, Lee Kuan Yew, the longest serving prime minister in the world (from 1959 to 1990). Singapore’s former prime minister died at the weekend.   The man who cried when the federation broke up and Singapore had to go it alone, had a clear vision of what was needed – a free enterprise system which would become a regional financial center.   This does not mean that government was not involved.   He was mildly authoritarian, with restrictions on freedom of speech and the press.   He also oversaw massive public housing projects, which contributed to a rising standard of living for the people. The US could learn from its medical system.

He leaves behind a wealthy, efficient and honest administration – one of the modern world’s greatest success stories.   Other developing nations, struggling to survive in the contemporary world, could learn a great deal from Singapore and the man who built its modern economy.

Singapore is also symbolic of Asia’s growing might, accompanied by the decline of its former imperial master Great Britain, and the West in general.

The world has changed a great deal in the fifty years since Singapore became an independent republic.   It’s experience should give many nations pause for thought and reflection.

 

COMMENTARY

Dollar

I want to begin by clarifying something I wrote in yesterday’s post.     I shared a quote from Eleanor Clift on the McLaughlin Group, “The dollar is the indispensable currency,” she said. I added that, on this point, she is correct.

I should have added two words to that comment, “for now.”

The dollar right now is riding high and doing better than other major currencies.  But that does not mean the dollar is really strong. In fact, just yesterday Singapore and China announced the start of direct currency trading, bypassing the US dollar, which has been volatile and is not backed by anything. It’s just paper and is held up by confidence and nothing else. Note the following from Channel News Asia.

“BEIJING:  China will allow direct trading between its currency and the Singapore dollar from Tuesday (Oct 28), making it easier for companies here to do business with their Chinese counterparts.

The Sing dollar will be added to the China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) platform, which currently offers transactions between the yuan and 10 foreign currencies. The announcement came on Monday (Oct 27), after an agreement at the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) in Suzhou, co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

Previously, companies that wanted to convert a large amount of Sing dollars to renminbi (RMB) or vice versa had to do so via an intermediate currency such as the US dollar.

“This will lower foreign exchange transaction costs and encourage greater use of the two currencies in cross-border trade and investments,” the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in a news release on Monday.

DPM Teo called this is a “major and significant” development which will reduce the cost of doing business and make it more convenient.”

Singapore is a major hub for the internationalization of the Chinese currency.   Some predict China will overtake America as the number one economy next year.   This means China can take on the burden of being a trading currency just as the US dollar has been.

___________________________________________________

I’ve been reading a novel by Brad Thor set in Afghanistan. The 2009 book is titled “The Apostle.” The author clearly knows the country well and I’ve learned a lot about Afghanistan from it. Frankly, the book is as close to the country as I want to get!

I would like to share two paragraphs with you. The subject is not Afghanistan. The main character is Harvath.

“Harvath just couldn’t understand the liberal mindset. He was convinced that they believed deeply in what they said and what they did; his only problem was that it so often flew in the face of reality. They continually focused their rage on their protectors rather than their enemy. They denigrated their country, believing it was the source of all evil in the world. The truth was, when it came to Islam, it had been violent since its inception. Its clearly stated goal was worldwide conquest. And while Harvath believed there were peaceful and moderate Muslims, he knew from studying the religion that there was no such thing as peaceful and moderate Islam.

“The entire religion was a mess and needed a complete gut-rehab. And though he had a good feeling his country’s new president would probably not agree with him, he also knew that until the politically correct crowd stopped making excuses for them and undercutting any motivation to reform their religion themselves, the majority of Muslims wouldn’t do anything . . . Islam had been Islam for fourteen hundred years and what it had been was violent.”

__________________________________________________________

Which reminds me of the three teenage girls, all born in the USA and from the Denver area, who were detained in Frankfurt en route to Syria to fight with ISIS. All three were of Sudanese and Somali descent. It is not necessarily the case any more that second generations born in America become more American. It seems that, when it comes to Islam, assimilation doesn’t work any more.

__________________________________________________________

This is certainly the case in Tower Hamlets, a rundown poverty stricken area of east London, profiled this morning on PBS’ Focus on Europe. Tower Hamlets has the UK’s highest percentage of Muslims, over 30%. They are mostly from Bangladesh and Somalia.   A recent election there has led to accusations of corruption, including vote rigging. This is unheard of in British elections. Or was, until a significant percentage of Muslims took over an area and introduced their own brand of politics, just like home.

__________________________________________________________

It may seem a big jump from ISIS to Downton Abbey but it’s appropriate at this point.   The fifth series is already showing in the UK on ITV. It starts in the US on January 4th. Apparently, Lord Grantham is going to lose his dog in this series. The reason is quite simple – the dog is named Isis. Lord Grantham has had his dog for four seasons of the show, while the terrorist group is quite new. But viewers do not want to be reminded of terrorism when watching the series in their living rooms. Besides, Isis joined the family in 1912 and the series is now up to 1924. That’s about it for a Labrador’s lifespan.   Ours only made it to five.