My Email to Gordon Banks

Zhang came round again at 1030. He did not stay long. He just said” “Tell me why you think Singapore good country. Send email to Gordon Banks.”

Then he asked to borrow my I-phone. He said he wanted to look at the iTunes app store. That was OK by me because I use a little tiny Nokia for calls and roaming was not switched in on the I-phone.

It was an odd request but I trust him.

He was using a very advanced Chinese smart phone called an Oppo Finder which runs on the Android operating system. Android seems to be taking over in China. He offered to leave it with me but I declined.

Then I got down to my email. It took me most of the day.

To: Gordon Banks

From: Gordon Banks

Subject: History of Singapore

Singapore was a colony of Britain until 1963. Since its founding it has always been a trading centre.

The population of Singapore is predominantly Chinese, mainly of southern Chinese origin. The Chinese make up 75% of the population today.

On gaining independence from Britain, Singapore became part of Malaysia. However the relationship with the mainly Malay population was strained and, by agreement, Singapore became an independent republic in 1965.

Singapore is a city-state. It had hardly any agricultural land. It has to export goods and services to feed its people.

The original constitution of Singapore guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. But the constitution gives the Government the right to enact laws to prevent subversion even if they are inconsistent with these fundamental liberties.

Singapore at first adopted a British parliamentary model with a ceremonial head of state, a prime minister and a popularly elected assembly. In 1991 the constitution was amended to provide for a popularly elected president.

Ever since independence, Singapore has taken steps to avoid racial conflict, and protect the rights of minorities. It does this in various ways such as a presidential council which monitors all legislation, non-constituency members of parliament, and nominated members.

Singapore has very strict rules on social issues. Vandalism is punished by caning. Carrying a firearm with a stiff prison sentence. Drug smuggling by the death penalty.

Singapore has its critics, who oppose capital punishment for drug smuggling, oppose the strict defamation laws, and allege that some of minority rights provisions, which allow for non-elected assembly members, serve to entrench People’s Action Party in power.

Western politicians protest over the caning their nationals, like American Michael Fay and Swiss Oliver Fricker, for vandalism but the protests get little popular support.

Capital punishment for drug smuggling causes more controversy in Western countries, especially if their citizens are involved. Van Nguyen was a Vietnamese-born Australian who was hanged in 2005, despite pleas for clemency from the Australian Government.

British author Alan Shadrake, who wrote a book called Once a Jolly Hangman, was imprisoned for eight weeks and then deported in 2011 for “casting doubt on the independence of the judiciary.” His book catalogued a series of executions including that of Van Nguyen.

Shadrake was a journalist. I knew him, but not well, when I lived in California.

The majority of people of Singapore strongly support the Peoples Action Party, which got 60% of the vote at the last election on 2011. It projects the view that there is a tradeoff between freedom and prosperity.

Much of what I have read comes from Chinese blogs. I am not always able to interpret it. Here is an example:

Traditional Chinese culture tends to support an attitude of a conflict between idealism and good state leadership (e.g., 少不读水浒,老不读三国). This is reflected in the Chinese saying that the young should not read the Water Margin and the old should not read the Three Kingdoms.

Are you familiar with this saying?

Singapore puts restrictions on free speech. Outdoor gatherings of five or more persons require police permits. The government says this is because of the risks of tension between different communities which have “the potential to cause friction and divide Singaporeans”.

As I said, the PAP retains popular support. However in the latest elections in 2011, its main competitor, the Workers’ Party, increased its number of seats. The Workers’ Party wants to encourage more local entrepreneurs and small firms, strengthen the judicial review of death sentences, adhere to international standards on the treatment for the disabled and mentally ill, and improve health care.

The port of Singapore is one of the busiest in the world. A big part of that success is based on transhipping.

Transhipping is about moving containers from one ship to another to combine cargo bound for a particular destination. In the same way airports like Heathrow are hubs, where passengers on connecting flights transfer to their final destinations. Singapore receives about 7% of the world’s transhipment traffic. You can see this explained well on the PSA Singapore website.

Singapore is also a big exporter of electronics and has recently encouraged big biotechnology firms to invest here.

Singapore has a good education system. It comes among the top-rated countries for math and science scores and appears to spends 28% of the national budget on education. The equivalent figure for Britain is 14%. (In Britain Health and Welfare absorb 36% of Government expenditure while in Singapore it is only half that).

Having achieved success as an entrepôt, Singapore took steps to set itself up as a financial centre, turning itself into a centre for private banking and wealth management like Luxembourg. It is attracting business from Hong Kong now. It became a centre of foreign exchange for the region and aims to do well if the Chinese yuan becomes an international reserve currency.

Singapore is a very attractive to entrepreneurs setting up businesses aiming to reach the growing Asian markets. For instance they pay no tax on the first $100,000 of profits.

In summary, Singapore is run and managed like a firm — or, more appropriately perhaps, a state enterprise. Its people are its human capital. It takes steps to improve its human capital by educating them well and avoiding their deterioration through drug use, sloppy welfare policies that encourage laziness, and “liberal” social attitudes.

That particularly applies to family policy, which has been through a number of phases and is now “pro-natalist”, encouraging couple not to postpone marriage and raise three or more children, promoting “Asian” against “Western” values that lead to broken homes and ill-educated children.

What are the flaws or weaknesses? You could argue that the constitution allows scope for a dominant party, holding both the presidency and an Assembly majority, to entrench its power by further amendments, but this has not happened as yet.

Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore, is respected but there is no personality cult like China has for Mao Zedong. This is a strength.

As I said, Singapore is run like a corporation. Its health and welfare policies are like the costs of the inevitable depreciation of its human capital. It is pragmatic — it chose English as its leading language to be part of the global business community and now it strongly encourages Mandarin against other Chinese dialects.

Singapore knows it must keep its human capital, its citizens, content, not just prosperous but safe, confident that they can trust the laws of the country to protect them. This is clearly very important. I was struck by the fact that the charge against Alan Shadrake was “casting doubt on the independence of the judiciary”.

Singapore is very determined that its justice system is regarded as consistent and fair.

That was what I wrote.

Then I had an idea. I used the Find My Phone feature in iCloud to see where the iPhone was. It took me to the Shangri-La Apartments on Orange Grove Road.

Probably shouldn’t have done  that.

I checked then out after Zhang left. Very nice they are, too.

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