SINGAPORE (Jan 28): Jan 29 marks the date, two centuries ago, that British East India Company agent Thomas Stamford Raffles set foot in Singapore. But Raffles would probably not recognise the place at which he was said to have disembarked, surrounded as it is today by skyscrapers of glass and steel.
Those buildings are, in some ways, measures of just how far Singapore has come in the two centuries since it was established as a trading post for the British Empire. Much of this success has been predicated on the fact that the island was turned into a free port, being favourably located in the lucrative trade route between the East and the West. The spice trade flourished and Singapore later focused on petrochemicals and oil bunkering, manufacturing exports, and cross-border financial services.
Yet, even as billions of dollars have been poured into developing the latest iterations of the port — both air and sea — there is a growing realisation that the advantages that Singapore has leveraged for growth for much of its history are no longer viable in the new economy. We are even being outpaced by our neighbours in the competencies that policymakers painstakingly nurtured over the last decade or so. One of Singapore’s leading businessmen, Ho Kwon Ping, founder and executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, points out that Bangkok’s capital market is larger than ours, while Indonesia has a thriving entrepreneur and innovator scene.