Case Study : Brunei economic progress in past 60 years
Brunei vs Singapore
In economic case studies, Southeast Asian economists inevitably, have a penchant to compare Brunei and Singapore, the 2 smallest but wealthiest Southeast Asian states whom both shared a currency interchangeable agreement. A tale of 2 nations, Brunei and Singapore set out to diversify their economies 60 years ago, and diverged their path from there; one adopted an open, meritocratic system with emphasis to absorb the best and brightest foreign talents; another embraced a closed, ethnocentric structure which placed heavy restrictions on foreigners. The result is a real-life model lesson for other Southeast Asian states.
One couldn’t imagine this was Singapore in 1960s, plagued with housing crisis and filled with slums and squatters
———————————- 1950s ———————————–
By 1950s, Brunei had recovered from the ashes of World War 2. The destruction in war however, especially to its oil facilities, made Brunei aware of the needs to diversify its economy. At that time there was only one known reservoir in Seria, and the fear of it running out led the country to set forward and introduced the first National Development Plan (NDP) with an allocation of $100 million in 1953. The plan seek to lay the foundation for economic development by building infrastructure (communication systems, roads, water, electricity), and providing healthcare and education to all districts so to create a healthy, educated workforce.
Singapore suffered heavily in World War 2. The British boasted the island as the ‘Gilbratar of the East’, a fortress that would withstand any attack, so the Japanese blockaded it and gave it air bombings everyday to inflict maximum damages, until the surrender of the island in 1942. By 1950s though, Singapore had been stabilized enough to again focus on economic development.
Brunei: Seria 1950s, nation was undergoing mass infrastructure development
Emerged from the war in physical ruins, Singapore found itself with a large number of homeless residents whose homes were destroyed, and insufficient commercial activities to support them, leading to housing crisis, squatters and high unemployment which plagued the island throughout the 1950s. In 1947, the British Housing Committee Report noted Singapore had “one of the world’s worst slums – a disgrace to a civilized community”, with the average person per building density was 18.2 by 1947 and high-rise buildings were rare. In 1959, the problem of shortage was still unsolved, and the people of Singapore was already not happy with the British as their leaders.
The British authorities granted Singapore and Brunei the power of self-government in 1959, but the colonial administration still controlled external foreign relations and shared responsibilities in matters such as police and defense.
———————————- 1960s ———————————–
Going into 1960s, Brunei had became a livable place with booming economic activities, and a GDP per capita 3 times higher than Singapore. A second reservoir in South West Ampa field was discovered, further boosting oil revenues. Oil exports account for 92% of the economy while rubber exports 1.5%
A simple statistics available in 1960, Brunei, with a population of slightly under 0.1 million, exported $326 million worth of goods, an export per capita of $3,800 – impressively compared to Singaporean (1.64 million population) exports of $543 million, an export per capita of $331. The Sultanate was clearly way ahead of the Lion City at this time.
Singapore 1960s: Chinatown, a chaotic slums, common occurrence throughout the country.
Suffocated by high unemployment and housing crisis, Singapore in mid-1950s identified industrialization as the way to diversify and also keeping the economy afloat. The entrepot trade accounted for 70% of the economy at that time, but was deemed shaky as Malaysia and Indonesia could commit themselves to build a rival port across the strategic Strait of Malacca anytime. This came true when Malaysia later built the Port Klang, eventually growing into the closest competition against the Port of Singapore in Southeast Asia.
The 1950-1960s was a completely different era for Singapore. There was little or no foreign investments, and if Singapore wished to industrialize, it must carry them out on its own, under limited budget. So serious was the economic problems that in 1963 Singapore decided to join the Federation of Malaysia in hope to solve its stagnated economy and other social issues.
To tackle its high unemployment, Singapore began a series of ‘forced industrialization’, building cheap factories in mass quantities and sent the unemployed to work there, establishing the Jurong industrial estate, its first industrial town, in the 1950s. Singapore’s industrialization programme began with factories producing garments, textiles, toys, wood products and hair wigs.
The Housing and Development Board (HDB) was formed in 1960 to solve Singapore’s housing crisis, and to clear up the squatters and slums. It began to construct what is known as HDB flats to resettle the population. Only after nearly 20 years, and the building of tens of thousands of flats, Singapore’s housing problems was finally solved at late 1970s.
Brunei 1960s: Clearly a better place than Singapore
The merger with Malaysia did not go well, Singapore was rocked by racial riot in 1964 (Brunei was similarly hit by a revolt in 1962) and the increasing tension with Kuala Lumpur led to its expulsion from the Malaysian federation in 1965. By the time Singapore was ejected from Malaysia, its economy was in a very bad shape and Western analysts were predicting that the new country, with no resource at all, could not survive. No one at that time could had known that, in 2012 Singapore would be one of the most developed nation on Earth.
———————————- 1970s ———————————–
The 1970s was a good time for Brunei. Angered by Western support for Israel, Arab nations launched the oil boycott, leading to the 1970s energy crisis and oil price shock. This gave Brunei a windfall and awashed it with petrodollar, obviously followed by a sharp rise in living standard; for instance, just before the energy crisis in 1972, Brunei’s per capita GDP was $2,926, but in 1973 it blossomed to $6,971 – even more than Japan’s $4,157. By 1980, per capita in Brunei hit $25,538; the richest in Asia, compared to Japan’s $9,034 and Singapore’s $4,857. It was from here onwards the tiny Sultanate is to be forever associated with the word ‘rich’ and ‘wealthy’. It was also at here Brunei reached its greatest extent, never again in future would it had so great a lead vis-a-vis Singapore and Japan.
Today, the 1970s golden age and the fact that Brunei was once Asia’s richest in GDP per capita at that time, is rarely mentioned in the country, perhaps due to the embarrassment it might brought with the country’s currently struggling economy.
Brunei 1970s: Good infrastructure, thriving commerce
Sudden boom in oil revenues allowed Brunei to enter a period of rapid economic growth, with oil income greatly expended to modernize the state. In 1974 it built the Brunei International Airport (1 year before Singapore Changi Airport was built in 1975). The country was able to connect itself with properly paved roads linking the port, oil town and capital city, making commerce flourished and new wealth created (many companies founded at this period went on to become the leading retailers in the country today), telecommunication was greatly improved, infrastructure was better than Singapore, and education level rose sharply. The future of the Sultanate looked bright.
Despite that though, oil has given Brunei a sense of complacency. Other industries who once made up a considerable share of exports, like coal, rubber and cutch, were increasingly being neglected. Singapore was facing existential and survival threats, that forced it to act, while Brunei was able to sit comfortably on its oil revenues. Even though the 1970s was modern Brunei’s best times, it also solidified its reliance on oil & gas.
After building factories en masses for 15 years, in 1970, Singapore finally got its high unemployment solved. There were some issues though, unlike Brunei who were rich enough to fund all developmental projects, the city-state was poor and could only afford to build flats and factories all these while.
Sorting housing crisis and high unemployment were the first priorities at that time, and infrastructure and education were left aside. In 1970, Singapore began to realize that no matter how much low-cost factories it built, it is only a tiny nation with tiny population, and neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia can eventually field a much larger labor force and industrial base. There is no way it can compete if that happened, but if Singapore has highly-educated workforce and high tech industries, it would be able to stay ahead.
Singapore early 1970s: Road much better and streets cleaner with slums cleared
In early 1970s, the island’s infrastructure and level of education remain poor due to the limited funding, Singapore then stopped the mass-construction of factories, and instead allocated the funds to education, infrastructure development and factories upgrade. But the country wasn’t rich and the budget couldn’t support all the projects. Moreover, it would take at least one decade before a new batch of highly-skilled workforce could be produced, something the city-state couldn’t afford to wait. Singapore decided it wasn’t plausible to do it by its own, and appealed to foreigners, opening up the country to foreign investments and skilled foreign immigrants.
The Singaporean leadership promised foreign companies what they loved to hear; the government would be incorruptible, the government would respect capitalism and all foreign investments, with no nationalization or seizure of assets would ever take place, and that Singapore would have regular and predictable law – many third World governments encourage investments but then change the rules at will, this would not be applicable to Singapore. The Lion City kept its promises and enforced them religiously. This differentiated Singapore with other third world nations, and successfully caught the attention of international businesses. Foreign investments began to flush into Singapore.
Sensing that it had won foreign interests, Singapore moved on to offer “goodies” like tax concessions, simplified immigration procedures, tariff protection & exemption from import duties, and finally the lifting of foreign exchange controls. This pleased multinational corporations even more and they flocked in like swarm of birds, whose capital helped sped up Singapore’s development by at least 10 years ahead. The rapid industrialization of Singapore that followed, greatly aided its next goal: skilled foreigners attraction. The foreign skill inflow was so massive that, by 2011, 40% of Singapore’s population are immigrants (27% non-citizens and another 13% foreign naturalized citizens)
Singapore in late 1970s: modern high-rise replacing old buildings with mass influx of foreign investments
The Singaporean government adopted a business-friendly approach and actively adjusted to their needs, for example, in 1970s, when high-tech industries abroad informed Singapore that they wanted labors with adequate technical skills, something it was still inadequate, the city-state immediately launched free government training institutes which would train working adults twice a week for 3-hour sessions over a period of two year to meet that demands. IT companies like Apple Computers was satisfied and located its facilities to Singapore.
The good governance, responsive and proactive economic policies of the island attracted even Shell and Esso, who constructed the world’s third largest oil-refinery center on Singapore. The foundation to make Singapore a future first world industrialized nation, was planted in this period.
———————————- 1980s ———————————–
Stepping into 1980s, the energy crisis had calmed and oil prices subsided. This hit Brunei hard and GDP fell sharply, a price to pay for failing to identify and develop alternate industries in the golden 70s. After the Sultanate attained independence in 1984, economic diversification was again being raised. There were 2 economic paths Brunei could take; the nation’s environment was ripe for rapid industrialization at the time, but would require the huge absorption of foreign workers. This was the developmental model later taken up by wealthy Gulf states like Kuwait, Dubai and Qatar in their industrialization progress.
Qatar absorbed so much foreign workers that in 2011 the Qatari only account for 20% of the population. Similar case can be applied to Kuwait where only 33% of its population at the moment is Kuwaiti. For Dubai, only 17% of its population are Emirati. Dubai however, has successfully diversified its economy with oil and natural gas currently accounted for less than 6% of the government’s revenues.
Brunei 1980s: Seria, excellent infrastructure, living standard high, but very slow progress
Foreign workers absorption to such extent though, is rather impossible in Brunei due to the country’s MIB (Melayu Islam Beraja: Malay Islamic Monarchy) philosophy that stressed the ethnic Malay, who make up the majority of Brunei’s population, must always remain the dominant race in the country. The conservative social and political nature of Brunei also played its role in the hesitation towards opening up the country; the fears that an influx of foreign elements may disrupt the nation’s social customs, tradition and religion, together with the concerns that local Brunei Malay entrepreneurs may not be ready for intense international competition, means the Sultanate would not be seeing the same kind of massive foreign participation like in Singapore.
Plan for industrialization was dropped (which it came to regret later) in favor of investing Brunei’s huge foreign reserves overseas. Among Brunei’s investments include luxurious hotels in North America and Europe frequented by top ranking Bruneian officials (which later merged to form the Dorchester Collection), the Willeroo Cattle Farm in Australia, which itself is larger than the entire Brunei, and various property assets across the world. The dependence on oil hence continued, though the fisheries and retail industries saw significant expansion at this time.
On the other hand, due to mass foreign investments and rapid industrialization, Singapore had emerged as an Asian economic tiger by 1980s. Its industries at this time had been upgraded and equipped with sophisticated technologies way ahead of all other ASEAN states. The country’s capital-intensive industrial base had been setup and was ready to transform itself into an advanced, high tech economy. As part of its high-tech drive, the island also successfully attracted Southeast Asia’s first wafer fabrication plant, which by 2011 would help Singapore produced 10% of the world’s silicon wafer. The dependence on foreign firms was also noted, in 1980, foreign-owned firms accounted for 73.7% of Singapore’s gross output, and 84.7% of its direct exports.
Singapore 1980s: City central already well-developed with towers
Throughout the 1980s, Singapore’s industries had expanded to electronics, computer, shipbuilding and repairing, oil rig construction, chemicals, petroleum refining, and raw materials refining like rubber processing. Then came the nightmare; as a result of unsustainable growth and skyrocketing wages, the first ever economic recession since independence, took the country by surprise in 1985, devastated the Singaporean economy and sent its rapid GDP growth to negative (Dubai similarly experienced the same recession in 2008)
The government quickly identified the problems and responded by freezing wages, lowering taxes, and reducing Central Provident Fund contributions. Singapore was able to nurse itself back to health by 1988, but learnt the painful way that while trying to diversify its economy, it emphasis too much on high-tech manufacturing. Such lesson would forever changed Singapore, and the country decided to further diverse into service industries, concentrating on the likes of IT, telecommunications, engineering, banking & finance, and medical, while adding more varieties into manufacturing. In 1987, the country built its first MRT line.
———————————- 1990s ———————————–
With little industrial development, the Bruneian economy began to slow down in 1990s. Increasing emphasis on MIB as a state ideology has also resulted in the banning of alcohol, nightclubs, public celebration of Christmas, and commercial pig farming in 1991. The period also marked a critical time for Brunei; Singapore per capita GDP had grown dangerously near Brunei, still the richest in Southeast Asia at that time, while other ASEAN states like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand were waking up from their economic slumber.
Brunei 1990s: modern high-rise over capital
Realizing the mistake of not taking part in industrialization earlier on, and being conscious that the country might fall behind if industrialization still doesn’t take place, the 1991-1995 Brunei’s NDP called for industrial promotion and expansion. A number of industrial estates were identified, this include those in capital Bandar Seri Begawan and the Beribi industrial estates, together with the construction of factories focusing on furniture, pottery, tiles, cement, chemicals, plywood, glass, textiles, food and electrical.
Brunei’s push for industrialization however, came 40 years late – it was something Singapore had done in the 1950s. By that time the wages in Brunei were already considered too high, the industrial base too limited, and technological edge too low to compete with larger neighboring states in terms of scale and cost (this was the exact concerns in Singapore during the 1960s which led it to shift into high-tech industrial platform)
Moreover, bureaucratic difficulties, poor coordination between government departments, and lengthy approval process deterred foreign investments, which mean the country couldn’t count on foreign multinationals unlike Singapore to develop its underdeveloped industrial sector. The country must proceed on its own instead.
Brunei then began a period of ‘state-led construction growth’ (similar to Singapore’s 1960s ‘state-led industrial growth’), initiated a plethora of construction phases and plans across the entire country, leading to the 1990s construction boom to diversify from an oil-reliant economy to one that is service- and tourism-oriented (it was also what Dubai did beginning the year 2000) The restriction on foreign workers were temporarily relaxed to allow large-scale projects and landmarks to be constructed, among them were a theme park, a magnificent hotel, and a giant power station.
Singapore 1990s: rich, robust and modern
All these construction frenzies however, was abruptly disrupted in the Asian financial crisis 1997-98, which saw the collapse of Amedeo Corp., the biggest construction company in Brunei at that time. It is not clear if Brunei could have achieved a similar kind of development like that in Dubai shall the construction plannings were to continue. Soon after the construction spree took off, Dubai enacted a law in 2002 that allows non-nationals of the UAE to own properties, leading to an inflow of foreign professionals and real estate boom. This was not seen in Brunei, who remains staunchly opposed to foreign ownership.
The Asian crisis shattered Brunei’s economy, wiped out half its foreign reserves it never recovered from, and basically put its economy to sleep. After that, the country seemingly lost its ambition and economic direction, which would later saw it descended into the slowest-growing economy in ASEAN by next decade.
Singapore, on the other hand, had became an exciting place in the 1990s, the country advanced into NICs (Newly Industrialized Country), and was regarded regionally as the land of opportunities. By this time Singapore had also matured to become the third most important financial center in Asia after Tokyo and Hong Kong. The development and industrialization of Singapore was so rapid that it warranted the needs of land reclamation to accommodate new industries. In 1960, the size of Singapore was 581.5 sq km, this had been expanded to 710 sq km in 2011. The country is currently in progress of adding another 20 sq km of lands from sea.
1990: Singapore overtook the UK in GDP per capita, all done without natural resources
Explosive industrial growth also mean that the country, in a sudden, found itself in shortage of skilled labors. To solve that, Singapore sweetened its immigration policies; highly-educated foreign talents from anywhere around the world choosing to work in Singapore, would be granted fast-paced PR (Permanent Resident). This would later led to huge inflow of top talents and gave Singapore a highly competent labor force. In 1996, Singapore was ranked by the World Economic Forum as the most competitive economy in the world. Business Environment Risk Intelligence has rated Singapore’s workforce as the best every year since 1980.
An inflow of extremely skilled foreign workforce did wonder to Singapore; it strengthened its high-tech manufacturing and domestic competitiveness. The country bred up a new generation of highly-motivated local entrepreneurs who successfully competed with and took back the Singaporean economy from foreign hands, not through affirmative acts but meritocracy. In 1980, foreign firms contribution to the economy was 73%, but in 1998, Singaporean-owned companies contributed 55% to the economy.
The Asian financial crisis similarly put Singapore into recession, but the government immediately worked out a quick solution to allow a gradual 20% depreciation of the Singapore dollar, bring forward in advance government programs such as the Interim Upgrading Program and other construction related projects, pre-emptively agreed to CPF cuts to lower labor costs, and made no attempt to directly intervene in the capital markets, allowing the Straits Times Index to drop 60%. It was a smart move, in less than a year after crisis, the Singaporean economy fully recovered and continued on its growth trajectory. This compared to Brunei who fell into 15-year stagnation, still ongoing, after the crisis.
By the end of 1990s, local Singaporean firms were ready to go global. In preparation for that, the country signed 13 Free Trade Agreements in order to expand its external trade ties, and advised local companies to start going regional. These companies would later be among the largest investors in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Myanmar and Indonesia.
———————————- 2000s ———————————–
Even though the Sultanate did not witness social unrest as seen in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia at the height of financial crisis, by 2000s, Brunei began to focus on social consolidation and Islamization to preserve ‘stability and harmony’. It was also the same time the country’s economic stagnation was confirmed, which would led it to become the ASEAN economic laggard later on.
The 1990s drive for industrialization did not create a thriving manufacturing industries like that of Singapore. Manufacturing in Brunei had never accounted for more than 3% of GDP (it occupied approximately 27% of the Singaporean GDP, 13% of Dubai GDP and 1% Bruneian GDP as of 2011)
The government refused to accept the failures of its industrialization attempts, believing that if other tiny nations could do it, so can Brunei (Malta, Luxembourg and Iceland, 3 countries having the closest population to Brunei, for instance, their manufacturing industries accounted for 18-27% while Brunei a mere 1%) The country continues to make the push for manufacturing, such as partnering with Heidelberg on cement production, Alcoa on aluminum smeltering, and finally the high profile Sg Liang SPARK project with Mitsubishi/Itochu to produce Methanol.
One of the challenges for Brunei though, is the failure to secure consecutive follow-up investments. In its pursue for a strong semiconductor industry, Singapore attracted its first silicon wafer plant in the 1980s, since then this is followed by investments from many other corporations and the island now has 14 silicon wafer plant, 20 semiconductor assembly and test operations center, and about 40 integrated circuit design centres, making it currently the world #2 silicon wafer producer after Taiwan. In Brunei, follow-up investments from other companies after the first, is rare.
Throughout the 2000s, Brunei had also tried to expand into service industries such as offshore financial banking and tourism, with little success. Efforts was also made in food & agriculture, but the food sufficiency target has not been reached as of 2011. Recognizing that its industries could not compete without a higher level of technologies, Brunei established the iCenter, a tech incubation facility with aim to nurture the country’s technical skills. This is however, again, 40 years late – it was what Singapore had done in the late 1960s.
SPARK – another project attempted to industrialize Brunei
All those delays mean Bruneian industries now have a very grim outlook. Malaysia and Thailand, whose industries are getting more sophisticated and capital-intensive (i.e. the 1980s Singapore) possess a far more advanced industrial technologies estimated 20 years ahead of Brunei, and while Indonesia and Vietnam, the 2 newly emerging economies, are considered low-tech, they have big population and huge production base which Brunei couldn’t possibly match.
The 2000s was a period of great economic leap for Singapore. Its diversification into service industries materialized. Singapore not only had became the medical hub for Southeast Asia, it is now also the technological and communication hub in ASEAN, holding 50% market share of the region’s datacenter capacity. The country’s engineering feat is now world’s renowned, being responsible for 70% of global offshore rig construction and 20% of the world’s ship repair market. The Port of Singapore surged to be the world’s busiest until it was overtaken in 2009 by Shanghai port.
One of the challenges Singapore faced though, is the increasing sophistication of industries in neighboring states such as Malaysia and Thailand, who are likewise getting more high-tech. By late 2000s, the computer peripheral industries had been largely lost to both these nations, who are able to produce it more cheaply, prompting Singapore to identify new industries to support its economy.
Port of Singapore at night
Tourism, biotechnology and gambling were decided. After 40 years ban on casino in Singapore, the prohibition was reversed, leading to the casino boom and resulted in Singapore replacing Malaysia (Genting) as a regional entertainment hub. With that, Singapore set a new tourism goal of 15 million visitors by 2015 (the figure had reached 13 million in 2011)
The country also aggressively promote and develop its biotechnology industry, investing hundred of millions of dollars into the sector to build up infrastructure, fund research and development, and to recruit top international scientists to Singapore. As of now, leading drug makers such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Pfizer and Merck & Co., have already set up plants in Singapore.
Singapore became a developed country in 2006. Like many, it was hit by the global financial crisis 2008-2009, but prudent policies again helped it rebound in just one year. This was in contrast with Brunei, whose overseas investments such as luxurious hotels, was badly slapped, leading to gradual fiscal cutbacks in fuel and electrical subsidies. By the end of the decade, more than 3,000 multinational corporations (MNCs) from the United States, Japan, and Europe are investing in Singapore, in almost all sectors of the economy.
———————————- 2010s ———————————–
By mid-2000s, Brunei has a new national vision, the ‘Wawasan 2035 Negara Zikir’, which called for a pure Islamic economy in 2035. Rapid Islamization proceed, which include a compulsory Islamic studies for non-Muslim students. The central focus is on the ‘Brunei Global Halal Brand’, however it is not known how this would generate further revenues for the country. The ‘Brunei Halal’ actually humored Malaysia and Indonesia, the two having a stronger Halal Brand and are among the biggest food manufacturer in the Muslim world, but did not seek a global Halal authority like Brunei did.
Brunei 2010s – lagged behind Kuching and Kota Kinabalu
The Sultanate enacted a sudden credit card regulations in 2009, and in 2012 again suddenly closed foreign property ownership through PA (Power of Attorney), with all laws being retroactive. This spooked investors and confirmed the fears of third world regulatory irregularities, the exact character Singapore promised investors in 1960s it would not be, leading to mass industrialization later.
While Brunei affirmed its focus on the development towards building a knowledge-intensive economy, it seems to have a contradicting behavior of allowing and ignoring the continuation of brain-drain and skill outflow from the country. Upon its independence, one of the government’s most important priorities is to encourage the development of Brunei Malays as leaders of industry and commerce. Participation of local Malays is required on tendering for contracts with the government or Brunei Shell Petroleum. Needless to say, the ethnic implementation on economic policies adversely affected foreign talents inflow. In addition, a huge proportion of the country’s Iban and Chinese population are denied citizenship, making them stateless.
With their future unsecured and not wanting the same nationality woes for their descendants, the Chinese, an economically active group in Brunei especially in the private sector, flee the country, taking with them their capital and skills to other nations. The outflow is evident in that in 1960s, the ethnic Chinese accounted for 26% of Brunei’s population, this had fallen to 18% in 1990s, and yet another plunge to an estimated 11% in 2010.
By 2011, Brunei has 20,992 stateless population, amounted to 5% of its population. It is unclear if a knowledge-intensive economy could be fulfilled in a country that is not willing to even embrace such percentage of its domestic-born population, exacerbating the nation’s skilled labor shortages.
ASEAN business survey 2012
The rest of ASEAN seemingly have the same views and sentiment on Brunei’s economic environment, now stagnated and slowest-growing in the region. In April 2012, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY School), the National University of Singapore, and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), in association with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, conducted a survey among businessmen, investors and executives across various industries from all ten ASEAN member economies. The survey asked them which ASEAN countries they and their businesses would invest in.
In the survey, Indonesia was ranked the most favored investment destination among its ASEAN peers, while Brunei the least favored. Perhaps Bruneians may have different views, but the ASEAN business communities are perceiving it as a nation in decline.
Running into 2010s, Singapore has become a financial, economical and technological powerhouse in Southeast Asia, with R&D now a cornerstone of the country’s economic development. In hope to maintain its wide technological edge, by 2012 Singapore will be spending $8.8 billion in R&D, with the 9 other ASEAN states combined will spend $8.5 billion. Malaysia will spend $3.2 billion, Indonesia $2.4 billion, Thailand $1.5 billion, Vietnam $0.8 billion, Philippines $0.5 billion while Brunei $0.2 billion.
60 years of good governance and efficient economic planning is now bearing fruit for Singapore. In 2010, the economy of Singapore overtook Malaysia, a country 5 times more populated and whom expelled it from the Federation nearly 50 years ago. But the greatest prize is perhaps, the overtaking of rival Hong Kong economy, a dream Singapore harbored since independence and finally fulfilled it in 2010.
Industries in Singapore now include electronics, chemicals, financial services, oil drilling equipment, petroleum refining, rubber processing and rubber products, processed food and beverages, ship repair, offshore platform construction, life sciences & biotech, and entrepot trade. Its innovative yet steadfast form of economics that combines economic planning with free-market has given it the nickname the ‘Singapore Model’, admired by developing nations. Strong export-oriented economy now provide more than enough revenues to purchase natural resources and raw goods which it does not have, a far cry from when it was a poor and insecure state in the 1960s.
Again reviewing the export statistics, by 2011, the Singaporean (5.2 million population) exports was $409 billion, an export per capita of $78,700) compared to Brunei (0.42 million population) $10.7 billion, an export per capita of $25,500 – a sharp turn from 1960, which if you scrolled up, was Brunei $3,800 and Singapore $331. It is now more than clear which country is way ahead of another.