Singapore has only been an independent state since 1965. Before that, its history was closely linked to that of Malaysia.
In the 7th century, today’s main island of Singapore was populated by Malays, who came mainly from Java and Sumatra. Over the next few centuries, the island belonged to the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya, whose capital was on the island of Sumatra and which had intensive trade with India, Arabia and China. The kingdom stretched over what is now Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia to the southern part of today’s Thailand. Around the year 1150, the city of Temasek (or Tumasik, “city by the sea”) was founded, the forerunner of today’s Singapore. Even then, the strategically favorable location of the city was evident, which soon developed into a lively trade center and was fought over and over again.
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Modern times until the 19th century
In the 15th century, Malacca, which was founded around 1401 on the southwest tip of the Malaysian mainland, assumed the leading role in the region. Singapore (the name Singa Pura was first mentioned in 1535) lost its importance. This remained the case during the colonization of the Malay Peninsula, first by the Portuguese (1511), who founded numerous branches for the trade in spices and precious woods, and later by the Dutch (1641).
According to AbbreviationFinder, Singapore only gained new importance when Britain tried to push the Netherlands out of Southeast Asia towards the end of the 18th century. The English navigator Sir Raffles acquired the island from the Sultan of Johore, on whose territory it belonged, on behalf of the East Indian Company. In 1824, the exchange of areas of influence between Great Britain and the Netherlands was laid down in a contract: the Dutch renounced the Malay Peninsula, but instead they received the islands that are now Indonesia from the British. Two years later, Singapore was combined with the – now British – branches on the Malay Peninsula (Pangkor, Malacca, Penang) to form the so-called “Straits Settlements” (“branches on the straits”).
From 1832 Singapore was the capital of this area, which was declared the Crown Colony of the British Empire in 1867. Even then, the port of Singapore was one of the largest transshipment points for merchandise in Asia. Countless immigrants, especially Malays, Chinese and Indians, caused the city’s population to skyrocket. Singapore’s significant role as a trading port continued to grow as a result of trade, including with rubber, which was grown and processed in large plantations in the south of the Malay Peninsula and on Singapore.
20th and 21st centuries
The island was conquered by Japan in World War II, the British returned in 1945, but the revolt of the colonized peoples against their colonial masters was also present in Southeast Asia: in 1957, the southern part of the Malay Peninsula became the new state of Malaya, and in 1959 Singapore received it under the Commonwealth’s internal autonomy. Lee Kuan Yew became the country’s first prime minister and head of government from the People’s Action Party (PAP), which held this position until 1990. The government of Singapore must first strive to maintain the best possible relations with the areas of the Malay Peninsula, since the island relies on imports from the mainland, for example for agricultural products. For two years (1963-65) Singapore was part of the Malaysian Federation, then retired and became finally independent in 1965. The reason for leaving the federation was on the one hand ethnic differences between Malays and Chinese, who formed the dominant ethnic group in Singapore, on the other hand, the Federation Malaysia feared that the economically strong Singapore was too dominant. In the following, under Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore turned west in search of strong trading partners. Singapore supported the United States during the Vietnam War. In 1967, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines were among the founding states of the Southeast Asian Confederation of Nations ASEAN. It was only in the 1980s that contacts were made for future trade relations with the communist states of Asia, especially with the People’s Republic of China.
During the 31 years of Lee Kuan Yew’s reign and beyond, the PAP was the dominant party; it continues to win the majority of seats in parliament regularly in the elections. Under the autocratic Lee Kuan Yew and a consistently managed economic policy, Singapore developed into one of the safest and most prosperous countries in the world. The financial crisis in Asia in 1997/98 from Thailand could hardly change the stable growth rate. Singapore, for example, was able to grant multi-billion dollar loans to Indonesia and Thailand.
Political rights, especially freedom of assembly, speech and the media, are severely restricted. In order to achieve or maintain the status of a particularly safe and clean country, unusual measures were taken, such as the import ban on chewing gum. Chewing it in public is just as punishable as smoking. The death penalty has been on the drug trade since 1975, and anyone arriving in the country can read “Death for Drugs” on the entry form at the top. In September 1994, a Dutchman was the first European to be hanged for drug smuggling. The catalog of punishments dates in part from the colonial period and contains the death penalty as well as the corporal punishment.In 1998, a law was passed requiring foreigners living in Singapore to be tested for AIDS under the threat of punishment.
From 1990, Gho Chok Tong, also from the People’s Action Party (PAP), ruled as prime minister. Lee Kuan Yew was still considered the strong man in the background. Yew’s son Lee Hsien Loong has been Singapore’s third prime minister since 2004.