None of us can choose the moment of our own births, but we have to admit that the Republic of Singapore got lucky. It was born into a landscape dominated by the Cold War and, in support of the capitalist side of this war, America engaged in diplomatic, military and economic sponsorship of the “free world”. The economic element of this triumvirate was Bretton Woods, an international system for monetary and exchange rate management. It was also a time when changes in transport technology opened new doors for a port city with manufacturing potential. These developments offered great opportunities for Singapore.
Not that this was all that obvious at the time. The government’s first response to this new world was a misdirection in which it appeared to be overtly hostile to the United States. But it did not take long to perform a volte face and align itself firmly with America as one of its best friends (though never a formal ally) in Asia, quickly making the American connection an integral element of both its domestic and international politics.
This relationship developed initially in the Cold War/Bretton Woods context, and continued to flourish in the post-Cold War era of neoliberalism. Throughout this time, the American connection underpinned a domestic political economy based on state-directed capitalism, working in partnership with America’s world—the so-called “free world” of US allies, friends, and business partners from whence came foreign direct investment and professional expertise, and to which went Singapore’s exports. Tiny Singapore’s place in this international political economy was fragile and highly contingent, but its leadership managed to make it work, with much of the credit due to Lee Kuan Yew’s personal high standing with the American establishment. Alas, times have now changed, and between a rising China and an increasingly unreliable America, it seems that a revision of the Singapore’s foreign alignments might be in order.
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