- Term Papers and Free Essays

Was Singapore's Decolonization Process Different From Its Neighbours In Southeast Asia? Explain Your Answer.

Essay by   •  November 4, 2010  •  1,654 Words (7 Pages)  •  2,611 Views

Essay Preview: Was Singapore's Decolonization Process Different From Its Neighbours In Southeast Asia? Explain Your Answer.

Report this essay
Page 1 of 7

According to Duara, "From a historian's perspective, decolonization was one of the most important developments of the twentieth century because it turned the world into the stage of history. " Therefore, it is of no surprise that much historical research has been devoted to this phenomenon; and the various nuances among the decolonization processes undergone by the various Southeast Asian countries have been of interest. For the purpose of this essay, I shall define Ð''decolonization' as "the process whereby colonial powers transferred institutional and legal control over their territories and dependencies to indigenously based, formally sovereign, nation-states ". Singapore's Ð''neighbours' in Southeast Asia are namely: Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand (which shall be excluded for comparison since it was not colonized by any European power territorially), Myanmar (formerly Burma), Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, East Timor, and the Philippines. Upon close examination of the question, two complications arise: firstly, to go ahead and compare Singapore's decolonization process from the rest of her Southeast Asian neighbours seems to lump the latter into a single unit which is extremely sweeping a move since the process of decolonization was "neither a coherent eventÐ'...nor a well-defined phenomenon" and the "timing and patterns of decolonization were extremely varied, and the goals of the movement in different countries were not always consistent with each other "; secondly, Singapore's decolonization process is largely intertwined with that of Malaya's, as seen from most historical books, and to extricate its process is a relatively difficult task. Nevertheless, there are still a few salient points about Singapore's decolonization process vis-Ð" -vis her Southeast Asian neighbours, which attests to its process as exclusively different in certain aspects, such as: Singapore's independence could be said to be a result not out of her own accord; also, nationalism, which is Ð''supposed' to be a force pushing for decolonization is arguably a negligible force for the case of Singapore.

The distinctiveness of Singapore's decolonization process can be gleaned here,

"Although many states have followed many different paths to nationhood, that taken by Singapore in attaining independence in August 1965 was perhaps one of the most surprising and unique. In 1963 Singapore was merged into the Federation of Malaysia after strenuous efforts by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) government to seek a conventional solution to the political and economic future of the island. Yet, after all the hard bargaining to bring merger to fruition, Singapore remained in the Federation for exactly one year and eleven months. Merger exploded the myth that Singapore and Malaysia were naturally complementary and compatible. A tangle of political, racial, and economic issues in the ensuing period drove a sharp wedge between the Central Government of Malaysia and that of Singapore, leading ultimately to the secret signing of the Independence Agreement in Kuala Lumpur, between the two governments, which severed the union. "

When we talk about the decolonization of Singapore, it is inextricably woven into the decolonization of Malaya in many history books. Singapore "seceded", or rather, was forced to leave Malaysia to become an independent country not of its choice. According to Nicholas Tarling, "Singapore it was never thought could be independent " in the sense that it could be a stand-alone sovereign nation, and this is evident on various levels. The colonial master, Britain, had not envisaged an independent Singapore but left open the possibility of the island attaining independence through merger with the Federation . Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's most prominent Prime Minister, mentioned in his memoirs, "Some countries are born independent. Some achieve independence. Singapore had independence thrust upon itÐ'...We had never sought independence ". In fact, he even went as far as to postulate that "those who believed that a small country like Singapore could gain full independence by itself must be mad ". Therefore, independence was not something the people of Singapore sought after, but instead, was compelled to have. This is in juxtaposition from the decolonization processes of most of its neighbours, who sought independence either through peaceful or violent means. India and the Philippines exemplify the latter process, while French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) and Indonesia exemplify the former process. Thus, this feature of Singapore's decolonization process Ð'- which is that it did not even seek to be independent in the first place, is in contrast with the efforts of its neighbours.

Furthermore, while its neighbours seek to be sovereign, independent states on their own during their decolonization processes, Singapore's only notion of independence lay in a merger with Malaya . This is reinforced by both the People's Action Party (PAP) and the Singapore Progressive Party (SPP) at that time period too. According to Chew, "an independent Singapore was not foreseen even in the original manifesto of the PAP, as it was never believed to be either politically or economically viable. " The SPP's "central political objective was a self-governing Singapore through gradual stages of reforms and ultimately national independence Singapore through a Singapore-Malaya merger ". Such an overriding and exclusive concept of a decolonization process to achieve independence is indeed unique, for none of its neighbours had envisaged their own independence in such a manner.

Yet, one cannot overlook two paramount concerns. Firstly, the independence of Singapore in which it became an individual, sovereign nation was actually through a fairly step-by-step process in which the British colonial master handed over certain reigning powers over to the political leaders of Singapore; even though this process was geared towards independence through merger with the Federation. This is somewhat akin to most of its neighbours' processes, albeit subjected to several nuances. Secondly, the controversial debate of whether Lee Kuan Yew entered heated debates with Tunku Abdul Rahman, therefore engineering the whole separation from Malaysia has also raised the question of whether Lee did seek to have the independence of Singapore as an individual nation-state.

The second salient point of dissimilarity when comparing Singapore's decolonization process with that of her neighbours is the matter of whether a mass-based indigenous nationalist movement had emerged on the Singapore political



Download as:   txt (11 Kb)   pdf (127 Kb)   docx (12.9 Kb)  
Continue for 6 more pages »
Only available on