Imagine a country with 5.6 million inhabitants (of which around 4 million are citizens), surrounded by a collapsing giant – Indonesia – in the south and south-west, by the historically hostile Malaysia in the north, and that proverbial deep blue sea (Strait of Malacca, full of nasty pirates) over the horizon.
Officially Indonesia has 250 million mainly desperately poor inhabitants, but my friends, top UN statisticians working in Montreal, Canada (at the UNESCO Institute for the Statistics), believe that it has, already since one decade ago, well over 300 million ‘souls’ (remember the “Dead Souls” of Gogol, a pre-revolutionary Russian writer and his iconic novel about corruption?), some of them actually ‘so dead’ to the Indonesian government that it doesn’t even want to acknowledge their miserable existence, let alone to feed them.
Malaysia has 32 million people, and an incredibly complex and turbulent past. It is not a friendly country towards Singapore, which actually used to be a part of Malaya Federation for 2 years but got unceremoniously kicked out in 1965. While it is hardly ever pronounced now, the main reasons for the expulsion were that Singapore was ‘too Chinese’, and it had too many Communists at that time, including those inside the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
From the very beginning of its modern-day existence as an independent state, Malaysia readily and shamelessly collaborated with the West, particularly with the United Kingdom, brutally suppressing all Communist movements. Singapore was seen as a ‘Communist haven’ by the West and by many Malaysian leaders. The ruling party of Malaya, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), was, and always has been, a staunchly anti-communist force. It was interfering in Singapore’s politics, and was strongly supporting non-Communist wing of the PAP.
Needless to say, a sizeable pro-communist wing of the PAP was never too enthusiastic about the merger of their country with Malaysia. Predictably, the Brits were promoting the union, and for extremely pragmatic reasons – they believed that an ‘incorporated’ Singapore would be eventually forced into submission and its leanings towards Communism could then be easily side-tracked.
Malaysia gained independence from the UK in 1957, then Singapore was maneuvered into joining the Federation of Malaya in 1963. However, it was expelled two years later.
Singapore shall forever be a sovereign democratic and independent nation, founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of her people in a more just and equal society.
These were the words of the “Proclamation of Singapore” by Lee Kuan Yew on 9 August 1965.
Now, more than five decades later, Singapore is acknowledged as the country with the highest quality of life in Asia, and one of the highest in the world. It has strong and effective government, extremely low corruption rates, and some of the best social policies on Earth.
It is also, wrongly, perceived by many in the West as an ‘extremely capitalist’, business-oriented nation.
About time to ‘re-visit’ Singapore!
What has been achieved here since independence? What was the dream, the vision of Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), the country’s first Prime Minister, who governed with an iron fist but also with great foresight, determination and compassion?
Is Singapore really a ‘Mecca’ of capitalism, or is it, perhaps, a crypto-Communist or at least a socialist country; a ‘ban Communism but do it their way’ kind of nation?
Yes, the country is ‘transparent’, ‘open for business’, a great ‘magnet for foreign companies’. But investment does not disappear in deep pockets of local elites; instead everyone benefits here. And the government decides who is welcomed and who is not, and in which direction the country should be developing. Singapore is a curious hybrid of a controlled and planned economy, and of what is known as ‘free market’.
I have some 25 years of history with Singapore. I do research in its libraries and archives; I admire its world class art institutions, brilliantly diverse food. And I simply enjoy healthy brisk walks through its vast public spaces.
Sometimes I am not hundred percent sure what precisely Singapore is, but I always know what it isn’t – it never succumbed to that brutal, heartless, primitive and uneducated turbo capitalism of other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
It educates, heals, and houses its citizens, and it gives them time, space, health, culture and perhaps the best public transportation on Earth, so in summary, they can enjoy some of the highest quality of life on Earth.
It does not rob its own people.
Is it ‘enough’? I am not sure. But it is a lot, more than almost anywhere else on our planet Earth.
What makes one country truly “revolutionary”, “socialist” or even “Communist”?
Is it its ideology, its banners and fiery anti-imperialist speeches; is it that country’s political and internationalist stand?
Or is it the quality of life enjoyed by its people; the way their country treats them: their health, education, housing, quality of air, public spaces, public transportation and cultural life?
I am convinced that it is both. Social and economic success without ideology and fighting spirit, leads to emptiness and in the end, to destructive consumerism.
Ideology without high quality of life helps Western propagandists to trigger subversion.
But where does Singapore stand, if measured by these scales?
It has some of the highest Human Development Indexes on Earth (HDI of UNDP), the highest in Asia, 5th in the world in 2017, and perhaps it would get the prime and become the number one on Earth, if non-Western criteria were to be applied.
The students of Singapore are scoring the best in the world in several fields and appear to be more creative than the Westerners. Most of the education facilities are free, and so is health, covered by efficient national insurance schemes. Public transportation is some of the best (if not the best) in the world, and heavily subsidized by the state. The arts in Singapore are flourishing – the country is impressively cosmopolitan, ecological, promoting ‘Asian values’, and attracting some of the greatest thinkers, artists and performers from China, India, Malaysia and the West.
Its libraries and archives are also some of the best in the world, and totally free, even for foreigners.
Since independence, the Singaporean government forced people to leave their backward kampungs (villages) – many of them consisted of malaria-infested dwellings in the middle of swamps. In exchange, families were given flats in concrete buildings: with clean running water, electricity, top notch sanitation system, but also with playgrounds, parks, sports facilities, and public transportation.
All this was not unlike the urban design created in the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Korea (both North and South) or Cuba.
From the very beginning, Singapore relied on the so-called ‘mixed economy’ – on a strong, powerful, incorruptible socially driven state/government, and paralleled by a thriving private sector, which, however, was forced to put the interests of the country well above its profits.
Singapore also counts on one of the fairest legal systems on Earth, but also one of the toughest, with the death penalty often used for drug trafficking, and for extreme and violent crimes.
It is clearly based on the ‘Asian model’: the minority is expected to yield to the interests of the majority.
Contrary to that in the West, the rights of the ‘minorities’ are pedantically protected, but often against the interests of the majority. The Western system clearly evolved from the ideas of protecting small and extreme rich groups of people (‘minorities’) against the masses of the poor (majority). On these foundations was also constructed the global imperialist system, through which the West has been brutalizing, plundering and ‘ruling’ the world for several centuries.
Based on various surveys, the Singaporeans are the “happiest people on the Asian continent”. No wonder: the country has some of the lowest crime rates in the world, perhaps the best and the most generous ‘social net’ of any officially capitalist country on the planet, tremendous opportunities for its citizens, and an exciting, cosmopolitan lifestyle.
There are no homeless people on its 68 islands and islets; one can walk safely basically anywhere, even in the middle of the night. Enormous public parks are everywhere, hugging the coast, and the river. The Botanic Gardens of Singapore are so stunning, that UNESCO inscribed them as a world heritage site.
For Singaporeans and the residents of the country, almost all cultural events, as well as educational facilities and spots, come free of charge.
Housing is heavily subsidized, especially for families that are buying their first (and mostly only) home. The great majority of Singaporeans live in huge but very well constructed apartment blocks, not unlike those that were erected in such Communist countries like the Soviet Union or former Czechoslovakia.
Rich foreigners (so-called ‘expats’) enjoy no such privileges: they pay through their ears and noses, sometimes twice, sometimes four or even five times more than the locals. Singapore is often voted as the most expensive city in Asia, up there with Tokyo and Hong Kong. But that is for the corporate types – for foreigners who would do just about anything in their power to be based in Singapore, instead of being based in totally collapsed, polluted and unlivable regional capitals like Jakarta or Manila. That ‘anything’ includes almost daily ‘commutes’ on one of the best airlines in the world (of course, the legendary Singapore Airlines) between Singapore and Jakarta.
For the Singaporeans, their country is perhaps one of the cheapest in the so-called ‘first world’.
If this is not a kind of socialism, one has to wonder, what really is.
Unlike the West, Singapore does not plunder. It is tremendously rich, because its people are very hard working (most of them are Chinese and share with China both work ethic and honesty). Singaporeans are also extremely well educated, by some standards the best educated in the world.
Several years ago, Singapore evolved from a manufacturing center, into a research and science hub, as well as the regional transportation hub with Changi – repeatedly voted as the best airport in the world (never leaving the top 5). Its hi-tech port is used by the entire region.
Singapore is also renowned for its schools, which are mainly free for the locals, but not cheap at all for the foreigners, although they give generous scholarships for talented students from the region. The same can be said about its hospitals and the medical centers, which attract patients from the regional countries with collapsed, capitalist and monstrously overpriced medical systems (U.S.-style, but with some ten times lower incomes), like Indonesia and the Philippines.
Then the government decided to turn Singapore into a world-class city for the arts.
It was a great success. Its museums are second to none in the Southeast Asia, and some of the best on the continent. Art schools, cosmopolitan and subsidized concert halls, the creative fusion of arts and education – all this is on par with Beijing, while putting even such cities like Hong Kong to shame.
Just take a walk at night, and admire traditional Chinese statues exhibited freely along the river, as well as masterpieces by Salvador Dali or Botero, a Columbian sculptor and painter, originally known for his corpulent women, but also the one who, several years ago, created the powerful exhibition depicting the U.S. torture chambers at the notorious Abu Ghraib. It is all here in Singapore for everyone to admire. It is free for the Singaporeans. While Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines cannot come up even with one decent National Museum, or a world-class public concert hall (Kuala Lumpur has one, but it belongs to the Malaysian oil company “Petronas”).
The arts in Singapore are not just influenced by the West, although such great performers like the Argentinean concert pianist Martha Argerich, are now household names here. Singapore is obsessed with Chinese Opera, Russian Ballet, as well as the classical music coming from all corners of India.
Many Westerners strongly dislike Singapore. Some of them never set their foot here (although they have no problems living in such centers of Western imperialism, like New York, Paris or London).
Mainly, it is a complex of inferiority that is haunting them. They feel poor here, and they are simply not permitted to behave like the masters of the universe. Coming here from almost anywhere in Europe or North America, the gap is really big. Singapore is too rich, too clean and elegant, but also too ‘socialist’ – designed to serve the people who call it home.
It is evidently a Chinese city, with an international flair, and the West ‘does not like China’.
Most of the Westerners ‘like poor Asian countries’, where uneducated women in their teens are ready to fall, out of desperation, around the neck of even the most brutal and uneducated Western males. They like to feel superior, in control, and rich. As long as their 100 dollar bills go far, very far, they are willing to overlook the terrible desperation of the Western neo-colonies, to breath polluted air, to eat terrible food and live in the mega-cities with almost no greenery, no beauty and no culture (culture all over Southeast Asia, but particularly in Indonesia, was ruined, massacred, by Western pop-culture and implanted radical forms of religion).
In Singapore, religions play very little role. Singaporean women are in control – educated and confident. They don’t need balding sugar daddies and their potbellies. Westerners are no gods here – they are treated very politely (as everyone here is) – but not extraordinarily.
Singapore is proud. It believes in ‘Asian values’. It does not need to be lectured by the Europeans with their collapsing infrastructure, social systems, and unwavering desire to plunder and control the world.
But Singapore can also be tough. It has to be.
In the past, it had already been attacked by Indonesia, antagonized by Malaysia and, of course, colonized by the West.
Not everything here is so orderly as it appears, and the law often closes eyes, at least half-way. Not when it comes to crime committed by the locals, or when the common disputes are concerned, but when the foreigners bring in their ‘dirty money’. Singapore, as well as Hong Kong and the West, allows hundreds and some say even thousands of Indonesian and other Southeast Asian unsavory ‘businessmen’ and corrupt government officials, to wash their money here, to buy top end real estate or to send their offspring to the local schools and universities. The deal is clear: you can come and buy your condominiums, but you lay low, behave properly, and leave your wild feudalist gangster habits back in Jakarta or Manila.
The other issue, for which Singapore is often criticized by the Left, is its defense contracts with, and some even say military reliance on, Israel.
This question is, however, much more complex than how it appears on the surface. Singapore does not share any ideology or political positions with Israel, and it absolutely does not endorse apartheid. Of course, it is not a ‘perfect country’, but with time it has become, by all measures, one of the best functioning multi-cultural societies on Earth, definitely much more egalitarian than the Western countries. Minorities here are not just being ‘tolerated’ – they are directly influencing and shaping the nation.
Singapore sees Israel as a geographically small and extremely rich country, surrounded by the ‘enemies’. It does not analyze ‘why’ – it just wants to pragmatically learn and improve its own survival skills. Singaporean tough military conscription system is shaped on the Israeli model; both young men and women are called to armed force service, and then again, on several occasions in their life, for military exercises and training.
The ‘thread’ is usually never defined, at least openly. But it is clear that it is both Indonesia and Malaysia; two countries with much greater and much poorer populations, with Wahhabi Sunni Muslim majorities which are increasingly militant and fanatically pro-capitalist and anti-socialist.
Both Indonesia and Malaysia have already managed to thoroughly ruin their environments, as well as their economies, (especially in Indonesia); they are ‘growing’ only thanks to a thorough plunder of the natural resources. Confusion, undefined anger and frustration are never channeled into the revolutionary strives by the left-wing politics, as they are, for instance, in Latin America, but also in the Philippines and often in India. Both these neighboring countries of Singapore have been thoroughly brainwashed by the Western anti-left-wing propaganda.
Singapore, with no doubt the cleanest and ecologically-oriented society, is regularly covered by a deadly haze coming from the burning tropical forests of the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo).
While Malaysia and Singapore are already locked in a dangerous dispute over fresh water supply.
Desperate, exasperated the Indonesian poor are crossing into Singapore in search of manual jobs. Singapore, unlike the EU and North America or Japan, has an ‘open door policy’. Almost everyone can come and visit, mostly visa-free. Many people are even allowed to settle and work here, enjoying almost the same rights and privileges as the Singaporean citizens (roughly 30% of people living in Singapore are foreigners, a much greater percentage than in the U.S. or the U.K.). But everything has to be done ‘legally’ here, and things are monitored closely.
Nowhere else on Earth does exist such a tremendous contrast between the affluence and social egalitarianism, and the misery accompanied by unequal distribution of wealth, as between Singapore and Indonesia. It is enough to take a high-speed ferry between Singapore and the Indonesian island of Batam, to understand. The two places are separated by only 20 kilometers of water, but they might have been on two different planets, or in heaven and hell.
Therefore, Singapore is scared.
In Indonesia, social frustration and anger always leads to racist outbreaks. Three genocides (1965, East Timor and the ongoing one in Papua) have always had a racist, as well as fascist and extreme religious undertone. When Suharto (an anti-communist and pro-Western fascist and bigoted dictator) was stepping down from power, it was Indonesian Chinese women who were dragged from their cars and gang-raped, right in front of grinning police officers. In Indonesian history, there have been countless anti-Chinese pogroms, some organized by the Dutch, some by the Indonesians themselves.
And Singapore is predominantly a Chinese country.
And it is not just ‘genetic’. The culture of Singapore is Chinese, the work ethic, the way of life, are too. Its secularism is Chinese (while in both Indonesia and Malaysia religiousness is compulsory, and atheism de facto illegal), and so is its obsession with knowledge and education. Building the nation, constructive patriotism – all that is Chinese.
China (PRC) is the closest trade partner of Singapore, but also, the two countries are now extremely close allies.
But again, all this is hardly ever discussed. These issues are clearly taboo, but why?
Singapore knows where it stands, and where it is located. Southeast Asia has been a killing field for the West. Whenever any country decided to go Communist or socialist, it was smashed, bombed back to the stone ages. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia lost millions of inhabitants, just because they decided to kick out Western colonialists and embark on the Communist path. Indonesia lost between 1 and 3 million people because the West wanted its natural resources, but also because in 1966 (one year after the 1965 coup), the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was poised to win elections, democratically and clearly. East Timor lost 30% of its citizens because its leading political force – FRETILIN – was built on Marxist ideology. And Thailand’s massacres of its own left, as well as collaboration with the West against anything even remotely progressive in the region, has got the country permanently stuck between the third and the first world, with hardly any progress.
Singapore is a very small country. It is not a heroic nation, like Russia, Cuba or Syria. It only wants to work and play hard, and for its people to live well and in peace.
It knows perfectly well, that if it makes one ‘wrong’ statement or one ‘wrong’ move, it could be smashed to pieces, no matter how well trained and equipped its NAVY and air force are, no matter how healthy and prepared its people are.
It is willing to compromise, to pay, and even to bend its beliefs, if necessary. It is resigned to be silent about the collapse of Indonesia, and about the insanity of the Malaysian politics. All that, but only to a certain extent.
It is an extremely interesting, even fascinating place; a country where the government destroyed Communists, only to build a crypto-Communist state, using the ‘market economy’. It is pure madness, but it works, and it works extremely well.
It is loved by some, while despised by others (although many who hate it do so out of ignorance, envy or misunderstanding).
Most Singaporeans love their country – it is, after all, their home, for which they fought, which they built shedding sweat, tightening belts, sacrificing lives.
Whatever Westerners say, almost all Southeast Asians either love or at least envy Singapore. Vietnamese government people as well as their city planners go there to study, trying to understand how to build great cities “for the people”, not “against them” like in Indonesia or the Philippines.
And the main criticism or ‘outrage’ of the Western backed NGO’s? Well, just ask people in Manila, Jakarta or in Hanoi, if they’d mind if the individuals who are ruining what is left of nature in their cities would get few cane hits over their buttocks, or if the corrupt business people and government officials would have to, once in a while, face a firing squad for robbing poor people.
I am not passing my judgment here, I am only saying: “Ask the people.” That’s how democracy should function, no? By consulting the local citizens, not the Western ‘advisers’ and Western-paid ‘civil society’.
Naturally, some Singaporeans do not like their country. But if they don’t, they are free to go. The Singaporean passport is one of the most powerful on Earth. When they leave, they are extremely well educated, healthy, self-sufficient, and speak at least two languages. They are respected. Both men and women are.
I call Singapore a “crypto-Communist country”. But I don’t say it loudly; neither do I do it too often, in order not to provoke the beast in the West, and its lackeys in Southeast Asia.
Yes, ideologically and rhetorically, Singapore “betrayed the left”. Practically, however, it built a socialist, or call it a ‘utopian Communist paradise’ for its people. During the process, it got greatly influenced by China, while influencing China in return.
To look obedient, it participated in a couple of Western military adventures. It never openly snapped at a rotting, corrupt and collapsing giant next door – Indonesia. It knows better. Whenever disasters strike and Indonesia is in agony, Singapore sends, discreetly, its doctors, rescue teams, even military, to help. But it never openly criticizes. And it never hears any ‘thanks’.
It is clear that the Singaporean leaders have been reading and studying the great Chinese classic – “Art of War”.
And it is obvious that the Singaporean people, ‘citizens of the happiest country in Asia’, will never allow their model to be abandoned. The dreadful scenarios which the West injected into Southeast Asia, and which it has been shamelessly glorifying as ‘tolerant’ and ‘democratic’, are just too close and too visible to be overlooked. They keep haunting, only few miles away, playing like a brutal horror film, over and over again.
Singapore is a plush oasis in a dry and hostile desert of the region’s social collapse. It is surrounded from all sides. It looks soft, sometimes too soft, but in reality, it is tough. Therefore, it will not surrender; it will be defending its people and its “Asian values”, and it will, most likely, in the end, “bring Southeast Asia back to Asia”, instead of succumbing to bizarre Western colonialist models that are robbing and raping the local people and entire nations.
• First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)
• All photos by Andre Vltchek