Singapore’s Strategy for Long-term Survival

Recently, a very wise man gave me an invaluable perspective on Singapore’s long-term survival strategy. I’ve long acknowledged the ingenuity and foresight of the Singapore Government, but the government never ceases to amaze and leave me in awe time and time again.

c.1275, from O.Fr. hostage “person given as security or hostage,” either from hoste “guest” via notion of “a lodger held by a landlord as security,” or from L.L. obsidanus “condition of being held as security,” from obses “hostage,” from ob- “before” + base of sedere “to sit.”

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

Throughout civilization, mankind has applied the concept of hostage mostly to political and military purposes. Political authorities or generals would hand over one or several hostages in the custody of the other side, usually as guarantee of good faith in the observance of agreements. The Romans, British, Irish, Chinese, Germans, French, Americans – they all used it at various moments in history, to varying levels of success. Julius Caesar was a hostage himself, and (less well-known) in more recent times and closer proximity, the Laju incident in Singapore.

Of course, the English language wouldn’t be a whole lot as fun if things were as literal as they seemed. It appears the Singapore government has taken a cue out of the dictionary on the word hostage, spun it on its head and installed it as the nation state’s long-term survival strategy.

In 1819, Singapore had approximately 880 Malays and aboriginal tribes, and about 20 to 30 Chinese. In 1821, it was estimated that there were about 3,000 Malays and more than 1,000 Chinese. Fast forward to 2006 and Singapore is home to 4.48 million people, of which 75.2% are Chinese, 13.6% Malays, 8.8% Indians and 2.4% Eurasians and others. Non-residents (on short-term permits) occupied a mere 2.9% of total population in 1970, shortly after independence, but have since grown to represent 19.5% of total population in 2006. (Source: Singapore Department of Statistics).

It’s well known that Singapore is home to over 7,000 MNCs from around the world, a large part of which comes from USA, Japan and Europe. Singapore is also home to 19 of the top 20 IT exporters of India (Source: NASSCOM), and a rising number of large corporations from China. Multi-cultural, multi-religious Singapore’s pro-talent, pro-business policies, coupled with its high standards of living, personal safety and socio-political stability makes one almost a fool for not entertaining the notion of living there – of course , unless you belong to the guild of LKY-haters and opposition of everything that is Singapore.

It is here that the ingenious Singapore Government turned the concept of hostage around and killed two proverbial birds with one stone.

Problem: Singaporeans aren’t reproducing enough. Solution? Import talented foreigners and grant them residency, and naturalize their children through the constantly-tinkered-with Singapore education system. You can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but you can most certainly make a puppy think it’s a kitten by letting a cat suckle it from young.

Problem: Historically, city states have never been able to stand the test of time. The most famous of all city states, Sparta had been too homogeneous. Solution? Make Singapore an exceedingly attractive location for global talent, so that the rich, wise and powerful will engage in business and locate their families and have their children educated there, all at once. The combination of these once-foreign ‘guests’, business interests and naturalized descendants should ensure that no one group would ever be able to wipe this ‘Little Red Dot‘ off the face of this Earth.

No one, except perhaps belligerent aliens.

Perhaps our off-worldly brothers might already be among us, and in contact with the Singapore Government…or perhaps not :-D.

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.