*Singapore: Unlikely Power*

Authored by John Curtis Perry, this is a good one-volume introduction to the history of Singapore, with the most interesting section being the one on the Japanese wartime occupation.  Here is one excerpt:

For the Indonesians, struggling against the Dutch, freedom from colonial rule did not satisfy; they wanted as well to redraw geographical lines of sovereignty.  Their new leader, Sukarno, in 1961 announced an aggressive policy of Konfrontasi (Confrontation), dreaming of forming a vast united Malay state, “Maphilindo,” to include Indonesia, the Malayan Peninsula (and implicitly Singapore), all of Kalimantan, and even the Philippines.

Indonesia by size and population would naturally dominate such an aggregation.  Sukarno vowed to use force to crush Malaysia calling it “neo-colonial.”  His people seized Singaporean fishing boats; he ordered sabotage carried out on Singapore’s port and a boycott that hurt Singapore’s trade.  These threats and acts did nothing to advance his cause but fanned Singapore’s sense of vulnerability.

Recommended.

Comments

So Singapore is an "unlikely power".

Singapore is a little city with 5 million people. Japan has 125 million people and China with a lot of nukes has 1.3 billion people.

Where does the power part come into play? Is Singapore a "food power"? Is it a "crack down on dissent" power?

I don't recall *one* invention coming out of Singapore.

It's the Singapore of Asia

It's an economic power. $85,382 per capita PPP GDP is no joke.

For what shall it profit a country, if he shall have a big GPD, and have no soul? I don't envy their deal with the devil. No civil rights, no democracy worth this name, no free press, no culture worth the name.

It has rule of law, in the British sense. That's major. And it does have a soul. Free press etc? Awesome thing to have, especially if you have two huge oceans protecting you on both sides, an English channel separating you from the continent, or a couple of hundred years of war to reach accommodation with the neighbors. Singapore did not have that luxury. It has certain geopolitical realities to live with (note the recent news from Jakarta) and whether or not you think they're wrong, and it certainly may not be your cup of tea, there are practical reasons why it is that way.

"I don’t recall *one* invention coming out of Singapore." - this.

Every time I hear about anyone praising Singapore (or China for that matter) I ask them one question: Name a single company or invention from Singapore other than Singaporean Airlines.

Almost everyone fails. Now do the same for similar sized advanced economies - Finland (Nokia, Kone, Angry Birds, Linux), Denmark (Lego, Maersk, Carlsberg), Sweden, Switzerland,...even for much poorer Estonia or Czech Rep. I can name some companies, products or software originating from there. Not so for Singapore.

The Straits time or whomever its holding is called.

I guess I must be a nerd, since Creative, the sound card company and Chartered semiconductor foundries immediately come to mind. But these are indeed has been companies, sound cards are now an afterthought, and Chartered semiconductor belongs to them Arabs that own GlobalFoundries.

Honestly, I would fail with Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, and the Czech republic. Well, actually I can pass with Switzerland, but only because of Credit Suisse and UBS, which kind of seems like cheating. Finland, I would only get Nokia (I didn't associate Linux with Finland, although I knew Linus Torvalds was a Finn). Denmark, I would only get Lego, although I am at least aware of Maersk.

Singapore would be hard, but naming Chinese companies is easy! Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, Geely, ICBC, Haier, Huawei, FAW, Chery Auto . . . if I thought harder, I would probably be able to name more, but that's off the top of my head. I would also toss in Lenovo, but that's kind of cheating since it was originally IBM. Anyhow, I think those are all PRC, not Taiwan, though I'm not 100% certain. And while they're not really "inventions" but services, Wechat and QQ are both Chinese. Sure it's not in proportion with their population, but it's better than, say, India (Tata Motors . . . um, and that's basically it. I'm sure there are others. The English East India Company? But that was dissolved in the 1870's).

Anyhow, I'm not sure what this is supposed to prove.

Is Volvo still Swedish? I guess Skoda and Tatra are not Czech anymore (or were they from the Slovakian part?).

Volvo Group which has various holdings is still Swedish yes. Volvo Cars is now Chinese, formerly American, passed around in a game of hot potato every 10 years or so.

Is IKEA still Swedish? How much can you tax plan a company out of a country until it stops being from there. IKEA is arguably Swiss-Luxemburgian.

NOL, Creative, Temasek.

It's okay to be uninformed, but why brag about it so much?

Creative Labs had a soundcard in virtually every computer in the 90's. There's big shipping, oil and palm oil companies here too, but doesn't exactly have consumer appeal so why would you know about them.

Sukarno's strategy has to be considered in light of his successful armed grab of Netherlands New Guinea. From a Western perspective it seems obvious that Western demobilisations and preparations to withdraw were not made from a position of weakness, but of shifting Cold War priorities that could (and would) be shifted back on short notice. From Jakarta it all looked like a magnificent regional muddle. Banning Western journalists did not especially help the Indonesians understand the evolving situation.

From Singapore's perspective... well, a lot of the tensions of merger were generated by the unexpected costs of fending off the Confrontation. Which ended with the surprise downfall of Sukarno just a month after independence. History might be quite different if his grip had slipped just a bit earlier.

Another factor was US commitment to decolonization. Eisenhower positively loathed them and wasn't alone in it, Suez shook out the way it did for a reason. We rightly strong armed the Dutch out of Java/Sumatra, but wrongly kept pushing them out of New Guinea which turned out to be unready for independence, look at PNG.

Dismantling the European empires was a major US policy goal into the early '60s, and then abruptly, in about 1963, it wasn't.

The issue was never questioning decolonization, but whether foreign Austronesians (Indonesians) or native Melanesians (native New Guineans) would rule in western New Guinea.

The Dutch originally planned for Western New Guinea to be its own status/state separate from Indonesia, but Sukarno objected. There was a brief attempt by UK, Netherlands, and Australia to see to it that Western New Guinea be on its own (thus allowing for potential unification with Papua New Guinea since the inhabitants of the island had much in common, and Western NG had little in common with Indonesia except that the Dutch colonized them), but it ended because those states did not want to risk military confrontation with Sukarno.

They appealed to the US for help (I believe during the Kennedy administration), but because the US was hoping they could woo Sukarno away from Khruschev at the time the US refused and the plan came to nought and Indonesia took over. At the time, the US response was that a military confrontation with Sukarnoa on behalf of "Stone Age peoples" made no sense.

The Confrontation still resonates today. Decades ago, Singapore hung two Indonesian agents who bombed MacDonald House on Orchard Rd. In 2014 the Indonesians named a new warship after the bombers.

It is worth keeping in mind that even moderate, democratic Muslim societies see nothing wrong with making heroes of terrorist murderers.

Which religious category of state does that not apply to? Christian, Jewish, Roman Catholic? Come to that, Hindu, Buddhist, .......?

Well apart from Ireland, obviously. When was the last time Britain named a warship after someone who snuck into Belgium and blew up some shoppers by placing a bomb in convenient office building?

USA: John Brown. They sing of him still, I assume?

So in other words you can't. Especially ironic because the US has named ships John Brown, but for a differnt John Brown.

I guess neither Mujahideen nor allied Central American drug lord will grace with their names American boats. I mean, their names are weird. By the way, shouldn't US Navy ships be named after Saudi kings as well as American presidents? Some people like Obama, some people like Trump, but in Washington everyone loves your Saudi friends, so different from those Iranian Fundamentalists.

Why does TC have a fetish about Singapore? I'm still slowly working through the rather boring book by Jim Baker, "Crossroads" on Malaysia / Singapore that TC recommended. My hunch: TC is fooled by the mystique behind "the mysterious Orient". In fact, Singapore is just a 'haven' for rich SE Asia tycoons who, like Switzerland is for Europe, want to escape their home countries where services are third rate and they risk being kidnapped. Seriously, that's all there is to it. If these tycoons were accepted to Switzerland, they'd have gone there instead. It's just a historical accident they're in Singapore. Also the geographical proximity to their SE Asian home country helps somewhat as well.

What country(ies) should TC have a fetish about? And on what grounds?

Most libertarians lead toward "enlightened" despotism.

They aren't a bunch of liberals making things up as they go along.

Mel Gibson teamed with Peter Weir to make several very good movies early in Gibson's career including The Year of Living Dangerously (1983), which is set in Indonesia during the uprising against Sukarno. Sukarno used the phrase "living dangerously" in speeches - it comes from an Italian phrase (vivere pericolosamente). I highly recommend the film. [Another very good collaboration between Gibson and Weir is Gallipoli (1981).] Whether Singapore or New Zealand is "the future" would be a good debate between Cowen and his friend Peter Thiel.

Singapore strictly controlled labor unions, a source of radical ideas, successfully resisted communist subversion and aligned itself with the US and its allies.

Singapore also had the largest military of any nation in the area.

Singapore is not a country. Its a State. Many towns and sub-provinces across asia have stronger claims of calling themselves countries. Country and State is not the same thing.

Crossroads by Jim Baker is also a pretty good history, though shorter.

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