Singapore (also called the Lion City), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, 137 kilometres (85 mi) north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia’s Riau Islands by the Singapore Strait to its south. Singapore is highly urbanised but almost half of the country is covered by greenery. More land is being created for development through land reclamation.
Singapore had been a part of various local empires since it was first inhabited in the second century AD. It hosted a trading post of the East India Company in 1819 with permission from the Sultanate of Johor. The British obtained sovereignty over the island in 1824 and Singapore became one of the British Straits Settlements in 1826. Singapore was occupied by the Japanese in World War II and reverted to British rule after the war. It became internally self-governing in 1959. Singapore united with other former British territories to form Malaysia in 1963 and became a fully independent state two years later after separation from Malaysia. Since then it has had a massive increase in wealth, and is one of the Four Asian Tigers. The economy heavily depends on the industry and service sectors. Singapore is a world leader in several areas, it is the world’s fourth leading financial centre, the world’s second biggest casino gambling market, the world’s top three oil refining centre. The port of Singapore is one of the five busiest ports in the world. The country is home to more US dollar millionaire households per capita than any other country. The World Bank notes Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business.
Singapore is a parliamentary republic with a Westminster system of unicameral parliamentary government. The People’s Action Party (PAP) has won every election since the British grant of internal self-government in 1959. The legal system of Singapore has its foundations in the English common law system, but modifications have been made to it over the years, such as the removal of trial by jury. The PAP’s popular image is that of a strong, experienced and highly qualified government, backed by a skilled Civil Service and an education system with an emphasis on achievement and meritocracy; but it is perceived by some voters, opposition critics and international observers as being authoritarian and too restrictive on individual freedom.
Some 5 million people live in Singapore, of whom 2.91 million were born locally. Most are of Chinese, Malay or Indian descent. There are four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. One of the five founding members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, Singapore also hosts the APEC Secretariat, and is a member of the East Asia Summit, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Commonwealth.
Racial and religious harmony is regarded by the government as a crucial part of Singapore’s success and played a part in building a Singaporean identity. Due to the many races and cultures in the country, there is no single set of culturally acceptable behaviours. The country is generally conservative socially but some liberalisation has occurred. Foreigners also make up 42% of the population and have a strong influence on Singaporean culture. A.T. Kearney named Singapore the most globalised country in the world in 2006 in its Globalization Index. The Economist Intelligence Unit in its “Quality-of-Life Index” ranks Singapore as having the best quality of life in Asia and eleventh overall in the world. Writer and explorer Dan Buettner named Singapore one of the happiest places on Earth in his book Thrive.
Singapore is a major international transportation hub in Asia, positioned on many sea and air trade routes. The Port of Singapore, managed by port operators PSA International and Jurong Port, was the world’s second busiest port in 2005 in terms of shipping tonnage handled, at 1.15 billion gross tons, and in terms of containerised traffic, at 23.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). It is also the world’s second busiest in terms of cargo tonnage, coming behind Shanghai with 423 million tons handled. In addition, the port is the world’s busiest for transshipment traffic and the world’s biggest ship refuelling centre.
Singapore is an aviation hub for the Southeast Asian region and a stopover on the Kangaroo route between Sydney and London. There are 8 total airports in the country and Singapore Changi Airport hosts a network of 80 airlines connecting Singapore to 200 cities in 68 countries. It has been rated one of the best international airports by international travel magazines, including being rated as the world’s best airport for the first time in 2006 by Skytrax. The national airline is Singapore Airlines.
The island has a road system covering 3,356 kilometres (2,085 mi) which includes 161 kilometres (100 mi) of expressways. The public road system is served by many bus servicesand a number of licensed taxi-operating companies, and thousands of people use these services every day. Since 1987, the heavy rail passenger Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) metro system has been in operation.