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

Topics: Singapore, Malaysia, Southeast Asia Pages: 6 (1697 words) Published: November 25, 2005
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 ‘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 ‘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 event…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-à-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 ‘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 it…We had never sought independence ". In fact, he even went...

Bibliography:  Duara, Prasenjit. Decolonization Perspectives From Now and Then. London: Routledge, 2004.
 Frey, Marc, Pruessen, Ronald W. & Tan, Tai Yong. The Transformation of Southeast Asia. United States of America: M.E. Sharpe Inc, 2003.
 Lau Siu-Kai. Decolonization Without Independence and the Poverty of Political Leaders in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, 1990.
 Lee, Kuan Yew. The Singapore Story: memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, 2000.
 Sopiee, Mohamed Noordin. From Malayan Union to Singapore separation : political unification in the Malaysia region, 1945-65. Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Malaya, 1974.
 Tarling, Nicholas. Nations and states in Southeast Asia. USA: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
 Tarling, Nicholas. The Fall of Imperial Britain in Southeast Asia. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1993.
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