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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Singapore: Background and U.S. Relations

Emma Chanlett-Avery
Specialist in Asian Affairs

A former trading and military outpost of the 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 substantially restricts political freedoms in the name of maintaining social stability and 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, and trade has burgeoned.

The People’s Action Party (PAP) has won every general election since the end of the colonial era in 1959, aided by a fragmented opposition, Singapore’s economic success, and electoral procedures that strongly favor the ruling party. Some point to changes in the political and social environment that may herald more political pluralism, including generational changes and an ever-increasingly international outlook among Singaporeans. In May 2011, opposition parties claimed their most successful results in history, taking six of parliament’s 87 elected seats. Though this still left the PAP with an overwhelming majority in Parliament, the ruling party described the election as a watershed moment for Singapore and vowed to reform the party to respond to the public’s concerns.

As one of the closest U.S. partners in ASEAN, Singapore is one of the strongest supporters of closer American engagement in Southeast Asia. Maintaining positive 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 2010, Singapore was the 13
h largest U.S. trading partner with $46.6 billion in total two-way goods trade, and a substantial destination for U.S. foreign direct investment. It is frequently ranked as one of the world’s freest economies—the Heritage Foundation’s 2011 Index of Economic Freedom ranked Singapore second, behind only Hong Kong. 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: July 15, 2011
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RS20409
Price: $19.95

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