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Singapore: Country and Foreign Investment

History, Population, Language and Culture

This page was last updated on 27 April 2021.

The population was estimated to be 5.35 million in July 2012. The main ethnic groups are Chinese (76%), Malay (14%) and Indian (8%). According to the 2000 census, languages include Mandarin (35%), English (23%), Malay (14.1%), Hokkien (11.4%), Cantonese (5.7%), Teochew (4.9%) and Tamil (3.2%). English is the language most used for business purposes.

Religions include Buddhist (42.5%), Muslim (14.9%), Taoist (8.5%), Hindu (4%), Catholic (4.8%) and other Christian (9.8%) (2000 census). Religious freedoms are fully respected.

Despite its multi-ethnic and diverse religious cultures, Singapore models itself on a western cosmopolitan metropolis with distinct leanings towards money and business. However, etiquette and protocol very much follow Asian traditions; westerners looking to do business in Singapore would do well to study these carefully.

From the 7th to 14th centuries, the island of Temasek (from the Javanese words for 'Sea Town') was an outpost of the Sri Vijaya Empire that was centred around Sumatra, and suffered from occasional raids from neighbouring powers. The modern international name for the country probably comes from one of these raiding parties, the 11th century Chola kings of India. Though Tamil speakers, they coined the name Singapura using the Sanskrit words simha (meaning ‘lion’) and pura (‘town’).

From the end of the 14th century, Singapore was superseded by nearby Malacca and declined in importance. The modern city was founded in 1819 as a trading post for the East India Company. Singapore fell under formal British sovereignty from 1824 and slowly grew in importance. The Japanese occupied the island during the Second World War until the British recaptured it on 12 September 1945.

In 1963, Singapore became independent as a member state of the newly-created Federation of Malaysia. However, severe ethnic tensions and riots led to Singapore’s expulsion from the Federation in 1965. Singapore had little choice but to go it alone as an independent city-state. It has not looked back since, thanks to exceptionally high growth rates and rapid industrialisation. Singapore is the ultimate example of an entrepôt, and one of the world’s leading commercial centres. In fact, the tiny island state has a total GDP only slightly less than Malaysia, its much larger northern neighbour.



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