“The Four Asian Dragons is a term used in reference to the highly developed economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. These nations and areas were notable for maintaining exceptionally high growth rates (in excess of 7 percent a year) and rapid industrialisation between the early 1960s and 1990s. By the 21st century, all four have developed into advanced and high-income economies, specializing in areas of competitive advantage. For example, Hong Kong and Singapore have become world-leading international financial centres, whereas South Korea and Taiwan are world leaders in manufacturing information technology.”
If we study the so-called four dragons carefully, Singapore is the most vulnerable among them. PM said in his NDR 2012 speech that we are in a much better position to face the world in next twenty years’ time than most countries – presumably also referring to the other three dragons. I’m not that optimistic as him.
Let’s look at the hard facts – facts which we can’t change at all. Singapore is the smallest among them. Only 710 sq km. Hong Kong is more than a thousand sq km. We are the smallest city-state. All of them, including Hong Kong have huge hinterlands. Our population density is also the highest among them – in fact the highest in the world.
For any country to survive into the next 20 to 50 years before we can talk about other visions, it must have the pre-requisite basics such as security (defence), energy, food and water. Let’s examine them in detail.
We and Korea need to allocate annually tens of billions on defence expenditure, whereas Taiwan and Hong Kong need not. So long as Taiwan doesn’t declare independence, China will not bother to take it back by force. The Chinese have got more than enough internal problems to handle. No Chinese leader will want that honor of attacking it’s own race. With the billions saved, their citizens will have more social welfare benefits. We do not have that kind of luxury.
As far as energy is concerned, we are hopelessly dependent on others for oil and gas. We are forever at their mercy. Since the other three dragons are huge countries having mountains and valleys, they do have alternatives like hydro power dams. They could even go nuclear in future. We can’t. Where to put a nuclear plant? We don’t even have the buffer zone security for a nuclear plant. Other than solar power, we are completely energy resource poor.
Next is water. The other three dragons have plenty of fresh water unlike us got to convert water from shit. It’s not going to be cheap. It’s going to cost much more in future cuz we are using precious oil to burn shit to NeWater. Oil will get more expensive and scarcer.
What about food? Those three countries have lots of land. Hong Kong has got a huge hinterland since it’s part of China. As climate changes drastically, more and more farmland will be destroyed and crop yields may fall. Do you still remember Thailand banning sale of rice to us at one time? The Thais had to keep their rice for their own citizens. Here money may not necessary buy the rice from famine struck countries. Have we forgotten about that panic situation?
I’m surprised that the Prime Minister did not in his recent NDR touch on the bigger picture twenty years or more from now. However, he did mention much about technology revolution and how it affects us unknowingly. He asked the audience if any one didn’t carry a mobile phone? Twenty years ago, hardly anyone had a mobile phone. Today, it’s so common that it’s assumed that you carry one.
By comparing ourselves with the other three Asia dragons, we are the most precarious. We are so small in size that every sq km is gold. It inevitably pushes up costs in everything arising from our limited land space – higher COEs, higher costs of housing, office, factory or warehouse rentals which ultimately lead to higher costs and more artificial inflation (not imported) passing on to end users. It’s a never ending vicious cycle especially our spiraling property prices. Will it burst or keep moving northwards? Is there an end to this madness?
The biggest glaring feature of Singapore which the three dragons do not have is that our economy is virtually dominated by GLCs and NTUC enterprises from foodcourt, supermarket, shopping malls, EC, pawnshop, insurance, travel, child care to funeral services. Almost every facet of our lives comes under their influence which is actually an extension arm of the current government.
Wonder no more why world class icons like HTC, LG, Asus, Samsung, Hyundai could thrive in Taiwan and Korea whereas we only have GLCs and NTUC to contend with. The latter instead of concentrating on it’s original noble mission has deviated into a huge business conglomerate! They are good only in our domestic economy reaping immense profits from within our shores.
Another thorny issue that is testing our social fabric is the composition of our population. As it stands, we are already having nearly 40% foreigners among us. Do the other three dragons have such massive foreigners in their midst? Their population is much more stable than us esp Korea where it remains original and retains its core identity. That is also the case for Taiwan and Hong Kong where they are basically of the same stock.
In the next twenty years – a generation later, what will be our population composition? Will it STILL be 60% locals vs 40% foreigners OR the other way round? Will we ‘fold up’ and be replaced by them? Will our future PM be a new citizen? It is not impossible if we see a few more CSMs get elected to parliament.
Hong Kong is already part of China. In twenty years’ time, there is a slim possibility of Taiwan going back to her motherland and Korean re-unification. The available option is there for them if they fail. What about us? What’s our option? If there is a remote option for us, then the next question is on whose terms – ours or theirs?
PM says in NDR 2012 that we should not be ‘one-eye dragon’ (独眼龙) – meaning looking at things with only one eye or one sided perspective. But let me tell you don’t forget that the one-eye dragon is still the king in the kingdom of the blind! Often, it’s the onerous duty of the one-eye dragon to enlighten those around whom are blind to so much happenings around them. Have you heard of the nine blind men giving nine different descriptions of an elephant in the room?
Have you ever tried shooting a rifle or revolver with both eyes open? The one-eye dragon would have shot better than you shooting with your both eyes open.
Due to the above imponderables, we may not do as well as the other three dragons in twenty years’ time or more especially with our ever more demanding electorate in a fast changing social political landscape.
PS: Will the prophecy made 22 years ago that we may have to crawl back to where we came from, ever happen in another twenty-two years’ time?