Singapore: Power Player

Mention Asia, and most people are likely to come up with two names: China and India. However, tucked away in a nook of South-East Asia, near the Equatorial belt, a small country has steadily gained prominence in the last decade or so:. Singapore, or Singapura, as locals fondly call the city state, has become a major economic and political player of Asia in the last few years. Backed by the economic boom of south-east Asia over the 90’s, Singapore is now a well-developed country as well as an important commercial and educational hub of Asia.

Spanning just over 700 square kilometres of land space, with a population of around 4.5 million, Singapore is less than half the size of Delhi, in terms of both area and population. It is a salubriously green island state and is located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. It was formerly a British colony which became internally self-governing in 1959. In 1963 Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia, only to break away and become a fully independent country in 1965. It is a member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Uniquely Singapore

Unmistakeable signs of affluence greet you as soon as you touch-down at Changi Airport, Singapore’s swanky and state-of-the-art airport that consistently ranks as one of the two best airports of the world, the other being Hong Kong’s airport. Swift travelators, efficient baggage service and super-fast immigration procedures allow you to breeze through to the exit in a matter of moments, even as you absorb the shiny splendour of Singapore’s best-known edifice. Heaving sighs of relief—especially, if you’re travelling from India—you’re most likely to find a taxi waiting for you, instead of the contrary!

The trip to the city is smooth and fast, although even a short stay in a moderate quality hotel will burn a hole through your pocket: the cost of an average two-day business trip is likely to cost around SGD 1500, excluding flights. Even though Singapore is notoriously costly, you’ll find a multitude of people thronging its many malls. Food is expensive, but this does not discourage most of the populace from eating out: food-courts and eateries are mostly buzzing with people at all hours. Ironically, Singapore is one of the cheapest places to buy gold, diamonds and electronic items which can even be bought at bargain prices.

Getting around in Singapore is a breeze: The transport system here is almost embarrassingly efficient and traveling becomes quite a pleasure, if not pure bliss! Transport in the city is speedy, punctual and comfortable. You’re more than likely to turn up in time for appointments which you could miss were you traveling in India. The rail system (Mass Rapid Transit) is the speediest and most reliable. Heavy traffic throngs the roads of Singapore; yet crossing roads no longer involves putting one’s life at stake. Of course, one has to have a working knowledge of the city’s traffic rules: jaywalking is expressly prohibited and with good reason.

The city is clean, salubrious and extremely well-planned. It has a unbelievably low crime rate and is one of the safest places in the world. Illegal activities, if any, are met with swift and harsh retribution. These factors, and Singapore’s geeky atmosphere notwithstanding, most investors and tourists ubiquitously complain of the city’s “predictability”. “dullness” and “lack of vibrancy”. This is probably a result of a deep-rooted cultural orthodoxy which prevents the government from setting up alternate modes of tourist entertainment. However, as views change with the passing of generations, the government has now allowed two casinos to be set up. It hopes that apart from the 35,000 odd jobs and huge revenues that they will generate, the casinos will catalyse the city’s progress towards a livelier state of being.

The Indian Connection

Looking around, one is more than likely to find more than one Indian face in the crowd. In fact, Indians make up about 10% of the resident population, most of whom come from the southern states of India. Not surprisingly, Tamil constitutes one of the four official languages here. Among cities, Singapore has one of the largest overseas Indian populations. Incidentally, the President of Singapore, SR Nathan, is an Indian.

Singapore‘s economic boom has already sucked in millions of immigrants. To keep the economy growing and reduce pressure for wage rises, the government is keen to admit more foreigners. Singapore’s three tertiary education institutes have gained worldwide repute and attract a large number of foreign students. Every year, a large number of Indians move to Singapore to work and study. Indian students form a considerable portion of each year’s new cohort at NUS, SMU and NTU—the three universities of Singapore that are better known by their acronyms. Moreover, they also make up a considerable portion of the working populace.

According to recent reports, Singapore has the highest Net Employment Outlook: in other words, it’s the best place in the world to seek jobs. Many Indians come here and work mostly as software engineers in the technology departments of global corporate houses such as Citibank and UBS.

The city’s excellent business infrastructure is ably abetted by high-quality technological and it’s a matter of time before large foreign investments are made. Consequently, one can expect Indians to arrive here in bigger hordes.

Looking Ahead

So this is how Singapore stands now: rich, wholesome and appealing; but, unfortunately, with little space for expansion. Shortage of land area is proving to be a major drawback for investors even as real-estate prices are skyrocketing. True, Singapore still has a lot of green area which could be potential areas of construction activities in the future, but losing this greenery could be a cost that Singapore would not willingly like to incur.

But an alternative exists: Singapore now plans to, quite literally, break its boundaries. According to recent reports, the government is looking for alternate ways to accommodate the growth in population and businesses. Singapore already reclaims land from the sea by buying sand from Indonesia, and it could continue doing so: as much as 100 square kilometers have been reclaimed since independence, and evidently about 60 more can be reclaimed. However, Indonesia is now reluctant to sell sand on the pretext of environmental concerns, and hence another solution has emerged in the form of expanding upwards and downwards instead of sideways.

Building taller skyscrapers and replacing low-rise buildings would potentially provide a substantial amount of space. As for the move underground, that will not be anything new: oil-storing underground caverns are already being built. Subsequently, roads and perhaps even buildings could be built underground. And considering Singapore’s financial reserves, one can safely say that lack of money will not hinder any plans for development. All in all, the prospect of Singapore’s expansion is unusually exciting, for it will undoubtedly be another feat of human engineering.

Presently, Singapore is the strong-arm of the region described as South-East Asia. Interestingly, the term itself seems to reinforce the importance of India and China in Asia since South-East Asia is described as the conglomeration of countries south of China and east of India. Hence, its affluence and economic power notwithstanding, what remains to be seen now is whether Singapore will be able to garner as much global recognition (and perhaps fear) as India and China!

Shubhodeep Pal

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