Singapore ‘From Third World To First’
Singapore ‘From Third World To First’. I am on my second visit to Singapore. On both the occasions I tried to find an answer to my doubt that how Singapore could flourish and rise to a level of being an international financial center just in a span of 50 years being such a small city-state nation.
I am on my second visit to Singapore. On both the occasions I tried to find an answer to my doubt that how Singapore could flourish and rise to a level of being an international financial center just in a span of 50 years being such a small city-state nation. To several people like me, the 800- page voluminous book titled “From Third World to First” authored by Lee Kuan Yew the first Prime Minister and father of Singapore Nation, gives an account in detail about the Singapore development story.
This book is written for the benefit of younger generation of Singaporeans who took stability, growth and prosperity for granted. Lee Kuan Yew wanted present day Singaporeans to know how difficult it was for a small country of just 640 square kilometers with no natural resources to survive. As the main naval base in the Far East, it had neither prospect nor aspiration for nationhood until the collapse of European power in the aftermath of the Second World War. Lee Kuan Yew was its first Prime Minister. At the age of 90 he still continues to mentor the government presently headed by his son Lee Hsien Loong as the third Prime Minister.
The Japanese occupation of Singapore during 1942-45 aroused nationalism and self-respect in Lee Kuan Yew. He determined to get rid of British colonial rule. Lee returned to Singapore in 1950 and involved himself with trade unions and politics, formed a political party, and at the age of 35 became the first Prime Minister of an elected government of Singapore.
He along with his friends formed a united front with the communists. They however parted ways later. Lee and his team believed that the long term future for Singapore was to rejoin Malaya and they did so in September 1963 to form Malaysia. But, later developments left Lee and his team with no alternate but to leave Malaysia. By August 1965 the separation was complete. Singapore became world's only sovereign city-state and an island country.
Lee never expected that in 1965 at the age of 42 he would be in charge of an independent Singapore, responsible for the lives of its two million people. He faced tremendous odds with an improbable chance of survival. It is not a natural country but man-made, a trading post the British had developed into a nodal point in their world-wide maritime empire. When it formed, it inherited the island without its hinterland, a heart without a body! On August 9, 1965 Lee Kuan Yew started out with great apprehension on a journey along an unmarked road to an unknown destination! Building an army from scratch was one of its top priorities. The British made no offer to help Singapore build an army. By the time Lee stepped down as PM in 1990, the Singapore Armed Forces grown into a professional force.
Anyone who predicted in 1965 that Singapore would become a financial center would have been thought mad. How did the luminous modern office blocks in the city center with banks of computers linking Singapore with London, New York, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and other major financial centers have come up? The financial world that time was beginning in Zurich. Zurich banks opened at 9 am, later Frankfurt, later London. In the afternoon Zurich closes, then Frankfurt and London. In the meantime New York is open. So London hands over financial money traffic to New York. In the afternoon New York closes; they had already handed over to San Francisco.
When San Francisco closes in the afternoon, the world is covered with veil. Nothing happened until next day, 9 am Swiss time, then the Swiss banks open. Singapore was thought in between, before San Francisco closes, Singapore would have taken over. And when Singapore closes, it would have handed over to Zurich. Then for the first time since creation, Singapore will have a 24-hour round-the-world service in money and banking. In 1968 when Singapore was a third world country, foreign bankers were to be assured of stable social conditions. The country made a modest start with an offshore Asian Dollar Market.
Later the Asian Dollar Market traded in foreign exchange and financial derivatives in foreign currency denominated securities and undertook loan syndication, bond issuance and fund management. Recalling transformation of his life over a period, Lee Kuan Yew says that while as a boy of six he rode in a bullock-cart on wooden wheels on a dirt track, as an adult after 50 years he flew in a Supersonic Concorde from London to New York in three hours.
Though he and his team knew little in 1959 about how to govern, they could proceed since they had a burning desire to change an unfair and unjust society for the better. Lee Kuan Yew passed the political baton to Goh Chok Tong in 1990 and Goh to Lee Hsien Loong in 2004. Both of them retained their predecessors in their cabinets either as Senior Ministers or as Mentors.
The story of Singapore’s progress is a reflection of the advances of the industrial countries-their inventions, technology, enterprise and drive. It is part of the story of man’s search for new fields to increase his wealth and wellbeing. With each technological advance Singapore advanced-containers, air travel and air freight, satellite communications, intercontinental fiber-optic cables.
Lee however concludes…the island of Singapore will not disappear…but the sovereign nation it has become, able to make its way and play its role in the world, could vanish! The future is as full of promise as it is burdened with uncertainty.
(From the book “From Third World to First” by Lee Kuan Yew, father of Singapore Nation)