Singapore reopens 200 years: from isolated desert islands to garden cities

It may take some time to find Singapore from the world map. It is a small point on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, with the Straits of Johor in the north, the Straits of Malacca in the west and the South China Sea in the east.

Although the land area is only one-hundredth of that of neighboring Malaysia, Singapore has become a major port city on the Indian Ocean to the Pacific route with its unique geographical advantages, and has developed a unique “mix and match” multi-culture.

From Desert Island to “Free Port”
In the 12th-13th century, Singapore was still an island called Temasek. Temasek means “Haicheng” in Java. In the tide of the ocean and monsoon, this small island ushered in the merchant ships of China and India, and also ushered in the first commercial port era.

In the following hundreds of years, Temasek’s control changed hands several times between Siam, Malacca and Johor. At the end of the 14th century, Temasek’s port was mysteriously destroyed, and the bustling wharf fell silent.

Until 1819, English Raffles landed. According to records, Singapore had only over 100 residents at that time, mainly “sea people” from the primitive forests in the north. These aborigines live by collecting, fishing and piracy. They don’t know that the island they live in will undergo earth-shaking changes.

In fact, Raffles is looking for a stronghold for Britain to expand its interests in Southeast Asia. Singapore, which has a superior geographical location, has been chosen and transformed from an isolated desert island into a British colony.

After the opening of the port, Singapore was designated as a “free port”. In addition to the exemption of customs duties, other port charges are also very low. At the same time, the British government has opened up to immigrants and has gradually implemented a modern administrative, judicial, educational and commercial system modelled on the British political system. In the 50 years since its opening, Singapore has become a prosperous port city.

After that, Singapore enjoyed hundreds of years of continuous peace and gradually became one of the most important port cities in Asia and even the world.

One of the “Four Little Dragons of Asia”
Singapore’s formal independence from the Malayan Federation in 1965 was a major turning point in Singapore’s fate. Singapore also lost Malaysia’s huge common market and natural resources. At this time, the behind-the-scenes import substitution policy also shows serious consequences.

At the beginning of independence, Singapore had to be in last stand, so that Lee Kuan Yew said bitterly: “We have to do everything ourselves and deal directly with major buyers and sellers in Europe, the United States and Japan. In such a world, we have no hinterland.” In this way, Singapore walked alone into the choppy sea of commerce.

The first step in revitalizing the economy is to stop blindly protecting inefficient local enterprises and attract investment from multinational companies through the government. It is worth mentioning that this was later used for reference by China and became the familiar policy of “attracting foreign investment”.

Singapore also realizes that it is not enough to retain multinational enterprises only by cheap labor and preferential policies. It must develop its own advantages and create a pro-business soft and hard environment. As a result, Singapore has lent money to several major banks at the same time and has “upgraded” its transportation facilities, water and electricity facilities and freight transport facilities. Among them, harbor construction is particularly important.

In the late 1960s, the Singapore Port Authority divided the docks on both sides of the Taiwan Strait into six major ports. By 1985, Singapore had replaced Rotterdam as the busiest port in the world. To this day, Singapore still enjoys this honor.

Singapore has an outstanding geographical position, and port trade must be one of the pillars of the economy. However, many people cannot imagine that Singapore, which “does not produce a drop of crude oil”, is the world’s third largest oil refining city after Boston and Rotterdam.

This is related to Singapore’s border with the Strait of Malacca. On the one hand, due to the prosperity of port trade, the amount of fuel needed by ships and planes is huge. On the other hand, East Asian countries such as China and Japan need to import a large amount of oil from the Middle East every year, while Singapore happens to be located between the world’s largest oil producing area and the shipping channel of the oil consuming area.

Lee Kuan Yew developed the chemical industry in the 1960s to enable Singapore to refine crude oil from the Middle East into refined oil. After decades of development, Jurong Industrial Zone located in Singapore has become the largest petrochemical production and logistics base in Asia and the third largest oil refining base in the world.

Singapore’s development depends not only on government policies, but also on Singaporeans’ own efforts. For example, Singapore’s territory is extremely limited and its hinterland is insufficient. Singaporeans have to explore overseas markets. In this process, the Singapore Chinese General Chamber of Commerce played a key role.

The Chamber of Commerce has maintained close ties with Chinese businessmen from Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand since the early 1970s. With China’s reform and opening up and the further development of economic globalization, the Chamber of Commerce organized the first “World Conference of Chinese Businessmen” in 1991. The unprecedented congress attracted more than 800 Chinese businessmen from 30 countries, providing new opportunities for Singapore to develop foreign trade and explore overseas markets and creating “economic hinterland” for Singapore.

“Switzerland in Southeast Asia”
With all our efforts in economic construction, Singapore has won the title of “economic star”, but it has also won the title of “only work, no life”. Only know the pursuit of wealth, I do not know etiquette, music, calligraphy and painting “evaluation. Lee Kuan Yew also said bluntly: “Poetry is something we cannot afford.”

It is not objective to call Singapore a “cultural desert”. On the contrary, 200 years of trade have attracted ethnic groups of different races and cultural backgrounds. They have gathered in Singapore to seek common ground while reserving differences and learn from each other, forming a unique cultural “mix and match” style.

Returning to Singapore at the end of the 19th century, we can see that there are vast primeval forests in the northern part of the island, as well as docks and villages built along the river. The southeast is a prosperous town: cargo ships from China, India and Europe are moored along the river. On the commercial streets on both sides of the river, Malays, Indians and Chinese with different skin colors and costumes walk. People speak all kinds of languages and look for opportunities to change their fate in this new land.

In cities and towns, there are not only public buildings built by Europeans, but also temples and guild halls with distinct Chinese characteristics-these spaces may belong to Fujian, Guangfu, Hakka, Chaozhou, Hainan and other major ethnic groups, and the builders may be famous businessmen. This pluralistic and harmonious historical landscape continues to this day and has become a cultural brand deeply rooted in Singapore society.

Britain’s long-term colonization affected Singapore’s urban construction and lifestyle, but did not take away the light of Singapore’s native culture. On the street corner of Singapore city, Chinese food, Indian food and other restaurants are located in different neighborhoods and have everything. On specific days, different races celebrate unique national festivals.

By the 1990s, Singapore had gradually transformed itself into a developed financial center and an international transportation hub. Economic problems were no longer overwhelming. Only then did cultural issues officially enter the government’s vision.

After Goh Chok Tong succeeded Singapore as prime minister in 1990, he hoped to turn Singapore into a delicate and elegant “Switzerland of Southeast Asia”. In the following ten years, landmark cultural facilities such as the Victoria Memorial Hall, the Victoria Theatre, the Singapore Art Museum, the Asian Civilization Museum and the Binhai Art Center broke ground one after another.

These large cultural facilities are not self-indulgent image projects. During the construction of the project, the government attaches great importance to the community service function of cultural facilities to make them close to the life of ordinary people. In 2000, the Singapore government also issued a “urban renewal” plan, proposing to shift from building cultural hardware to building cultural software. To put it bluntly, it is to shift from building houses with artworks to creating culture and art itself.

Prospect of “Garden City”
In late-developing countries, “development” and “environment” are often regarded as a pair of “contradictions”, so it is difficult to give consideration to “environment” when choosing “development”. However, for Singapore, the particularity of the port city has forced it to rule out the development mode of “first development and then governance” from the very beginning.

On the one hand, Singapore is a small country, which means its environment is very fragile. If the “blue sky and white clouds” cannot be taken into consideration from the beginning of industrialization and the environment is destroyed, Singapore, the “little red dot”, will disappear from the earth sooner or later. On the other hand, Singapore’s leaders and government also realize that as a port city that lacks the support of its hinterland, Singapore must develop its own characteristics if it is to compete with China and India, the rising powers, and “garden city” is Singapore’s label for attracting global talents and investment.

Singapore has always adhered to the policy of “giving priority to environmental protection”. When it attracts foreign chemical enterprises to settle down, it uses scientific and reasonable planning to reduce the threat of enterprises to the environment to a manageable level. In addition, Singapore attaches great importance to greening. Even though land resources are extremely scarce, the government insists on reserving a large amount of land for greening.

When we look down at Singapore from a high altitude, what we can see is not the containers and reinforced concrete often found in port cities, but the continuous green fields. To this day, Singapore still has one of the highest greening rates in the world.

Since independence in 1965, Singapore has experienced long-term stable development. Nearly 50 years after independence, Singapore’s GDP per capita ranks 10th in the world. However, with the changes in the world economy, trade and politics, Singapore inevitably faces new challenges. The sluggish GDP growth in recent years has forced Singapore’s leaders to rethink the country’s development direction.

Many people believe that Singapore’s relative decline is related to China’s rise. Moreover, with the support of China’s investment, Malaysia has gradually caught up with or even surpassed Singapore in terms of port facilities, which makes people more doubtful about Singapore’s development prospects.

In fact, China’s rise should not only be seen as a threat. As a country where more than 70% of the population are Chinese, Singapore and China maintain close economic and trade ties. China’s “the belt and road initiative” initiative has provided Singapore with new development opportunities.

Besides, Singapore still has its own advantages, such as advanced management experience. Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University is an example. In the past ten years or so, the university has taught Chinese officials Singapore’s management experience through the “mayor’s class”. From this, we can see that Singapore’s management mode has always been a “golden signboard” that can provide sufficient support for Singapore’s future development.

In addition, the global trade network, the multi-cultural tradition of integrating east and west, the unique hub location, and the flexible and pragmatic economic strategy all enable people to maintain their expectations for Singapore’s port city near the equator 200 years after its opening.