Singapore became in independent country on August 9, 1965. This island nation at the southern tip of western Malaysia has since become a regional powerhouse. Singapore’s 4 million citizens, by marked contrast with many other countries of Southeast Asia, enjoy a high standard of living second only to Japan’s in Asia.
Singapore has ancient beginnings. It was part of the Sultanate of Johore until 1819, when Sir Thomas
Stamford Raffles, representing Great Britain, made a treaty with the sultan and established the island as a British trading settlement. The name Singapore comes from the word Singapura, meaning “Lion City.”
As a Crown Colony of the British Empire, it became an impregnable fortress. In 1941 Japan entered World War II, simultaneously attacking Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, and Malaysia. By early 1942 the Japanese army was progressing rapidly down the peninsula. The city was shelled and bombed, and several thousand troops and civilians were killed in the fighting. The garrison on Singapore surrendered on February 15, 1942. Thousands of Allied troops were marched into captivity. The Japanese found themselves in possession of a valuable stronghold and significant quantities of Allied weapons and ammunition. Japan established an infamous prisoner of war camp at Changi, where Allied prisoners languished under inhumane conditions.
After World War II Singapore resumed its busy trading focus, and in 1959 it became a self-governing Crown Colony with Lee Kuan Yew, a British-educated barrister, as its first prime minister. On September 2, 1962, a referendum was held on whether to form a union with Malaya. Seventy-three percent of the electorate voted in favor. On September 16, 1963, Singapore became part of the new nation of Malaysia, a selfgoverning dominion of the British Commonwealth.
Four areas were combined to make up Malaysia: the Federated Malay States, Singapore, British North Borneo, and Sarawak. Indonesia and the Philippines opposed the union, and Indonesia supported rebels in Malaysia after its formation.
In 1965 Singapore left the Malaysia Federation to become a sovereign country. The island section of Malaysia was expelled over the status of ethnic Malay and Chinese in the population.
Singapore, as a separate nation, was a success. On September 21, 1965, it became the 117th member of the United Nations. President Lee Kuan Yew is regarded as the father of modern Singapore. As leader and founder of the People’s Action Party (PAP), he campaigned energetically to form a multiracial government along nonracial lines. He maintained law and order and emphasized hard work. The government is famous for efficiency, and its people for being hardworking and forward looking.
In August 1967 Singapore joined Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand to form ASEAN—the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The association pursued aims of accelerating economic growth, social progress, and cultural development, and the promotion of peace and stability in the region. In 1971 Britain ended its military association with Singapore with the closure of the British Far East Command.
Lee retired in 1990 as Singapore’s reputation for efficiency and hard work grew. Today, the nation-state is crowded—population density in 2003 was just over 6,000 people per square kilometer. Life expectancy is 77 years for males and 81 for females. Singapore has become the success story of Southeast Asia.