After months on end of SG50-ing, the fireworks on the evening of the 9th of August exploded into a glorious climax. All the pent up emotions and energies burst forth. It was even reported Singaporeans actually sang together unabashed, unrestrained!
What a party it was.
It was a celebration of fifty years of independence. And we didn’t even want the independence in the first place.
Today, we simmer in a morning-after mood. Pensive. Reflecting. Like a lover stirred from his sleep whilst his partner still slumbers.
“We weren’t really independent”, I thought to myself.
Yes, we made our own rules, ran our own show, built our own city – but we did so under the guillotine. We had to play by the rules of others, or we risk being extinguished as a country.
In the early years of independence, very few people believed that Singapore would continue operating on its own for very long. Shortly after separation, Malaysia had wanted to keep a battalion of soldiers in Singapore to control us should the PAP leadership ever fail. That’s how little faith they had in us. That’s probably also the reason why the Malaysians signed a ridiculous water agreement with us for such a long period of time – they actually believed we would perish as an independent nation.
And no wonder! Everything about this island goes against the grain of nation building.
We depend on others for food
We didn’t have enough food. We continue not having enough food. 90% of what we eat are all imported. We are price takers when it comes to groceries and must accept whatever the market wants to sell us. We are ever in the danger that our food supply runs short because of disrupted supply due to either natural causes, or political causes. That is the reason why we maintain very good relationships with Thailand, China and Malaysia – if they go on an export strike, we’re done for.
We depend on others for water
Singapore’s squabble with Malaysia over drinking water had been the source of much tension. It is probably the one resource that once threatened, we might enter into armed conflict to re-acquire. At the height of the tensions in 2001, Singapore generated a profit of RM662.5 million from Malaysian raw water in that year alone and paid Johor only RM2.39 million
The contracts with Malaysia will end in 2061. With all the technology today, we still depend on water imports to supply us with about 40% of our water consumption.
We depend on others for security
The US has strong military presence in Singapore. They have access to Singapore facilities at Paya Lebar Airport and in Sembawang port, they have naval combat ships here. These are the product of diplomatic agreements, but it also has strong symbolism: that we have friends and we do not fight alone.
Mathematically, it is impossible for Singapore to enter armed combat as one nation and expect to win. We are highly dependant on the support of allies should the need ever come.
We depend on business community for money
Without money, we can’t run a nation. In the 60s, Singapore had some wealth…but this wealth was the property of the tycoons. When the PAP leadership inherited the country, the Ministry of Finance held some several million dollars and that was it. We had to convince businesses to setup shop here so that Singaporeans may find work. We have to continue to give reasons for businesses to continue their operations here for the very same reasons.
Because of cheap manpower and infrastructure, Singapore prospered. Today, we are no longer cheap. Our people are skilled, our salaries high and there is some premium to be paid by companies if they want to operate here. Where will the jobs come from when they leave for greener pastures one by one?
We depend on neighbours to be at peace in our region
If Kuala Lumpur riots, the rest of the country can still operate normally. If a bomb goes off in Bangkok, tourists would go to Ko Samui. But if one bomb goes off in Singapore, our economy grinds to a halt. It is hardly even a choice to maintain good diplomatic relationships not just with the leaders of our neighbouring nations, but also the people. Whilst we may end up looking meek when it comes to issues such as refugees, genocide, tyranny and exploitation, perhaps we are not at liberty to open our mouths lest we jeopardise Singapore’s rice bowl.
So is Singapore’s independence but an illusion? It is amusing when we scoff at our civil servants when they warn us of our “vulnerability”. Fear mongering, we say.
Next year, on the evening of the 9th of August, there would most certainly be fireworks. And it will be dazzling.
And perhaps this is our Achilles heal: that the past 50 fireworks had dazzled us so much, we haven’t thought about what life would be like when it fizzles out.