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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Singapore: Background and U.S. Relations

Emma Chanlett-Avery
Specialist in Asian Affairs

A former colonial island trading and military outpost of the far-flung British Empire, the tiny Republic of Singapore has transformed itself into a modern Asian nation and a major player in the global economy, though it still largely restricts political freedoms in the name of maintaining economic growth. Singapore’s heavy dependence on international trade makes regional stability and the free flow of goods and services essential to its existence. As a result, the island nation is a firm supporter of both U.S. international trade policy and the U.S. security role in Asia, but also maintains close relations with China. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) went into effect in January 2004.

The People’s Action Party (PAP) has won every general election since 1959, aided by a fragmented opposition, Singapore’s economic success, and electoral procedures that strongly favor the PAP. In 2010, new changes to the constitution guarantee that more non-PAP members will be represented in the parliament, but opposition candidates’ campaigning is likely to be limited by existing controls over freedom of speech and assembly.

As one of the closest U.S. partners in ASEAN, Singapore is a supporter of closer American engagement in Southeast Asia. Maintaining strong relations with both China and the United States is a keystone of Singapore’s foreign policy. Singapore often portrays itself as a useful balancer and intermediary between major powers in the region. China’s economic power makes it a crucial component of trade policy for all countries in the region, but Singapore’s ties with Beijing are multifaceted and extend to cultural, political, and educational exchanges as well. Singapore adheres to a one-China policy, but has an extensive relationship with Taiwan and has managed it carefully to avoid jeopardizing its strong relations with Beijing.

In 2009, Singapore was the 11
th largest U.S. trading partner with $22 billion in U.S. exports. Since the U.S.-Singapore FTA entered into force on January 1, 2004, exports to Singapore have increased 73%. In addition to trade, mutual security interests strengthen ties between Singapore and the United States. A formal strategic partnership agreement outlines access to military facilities and cooperation in counterterrorism, counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, joint military exercises, policy dialogues, and shared defense technology.

Date of Report: February 25, 2011
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS20490
Price: $29.95

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