Singapore looks back on 50 years of success - and wonders

SINGAPORE - The 50th anniversary of Singapore's founding on Aug. 9 represents a major milestone in the city-state's history. The tiny country at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula has transformed itself into one of the world's wealthiest economies in just a half century, becoming an important global hub for finance and logistics.

As Singapore enters its second half-century, the question is whether the economic miracle will continue.

End of the rainbow

This year had one other milestone for Singapore: Its founder and longtime leader, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, died in March. A local TV station recently aired a speech by Lee to young Singaporeans in which he urged them to "follow that rainbow." In material terms, they seem to have caught it.

In 2014, Singapore's per capita gross domestic product reached $56,000 (S$77,511), the world's ninth-highest. In terms of purchasing power parity, the country is No. 3. Singaporeans think nothing of spending 20 Singapore dollars on a bowl of Chinese-style noodles. The streets are lined with upscale boutiques selling European brands. Luxury cars cruise a city, many of whose residents barely eked out a living 50 years ago.

The primary factor behind Singapore's miracle is its unique industrial structure. With a population of just 5.3 million, Singapore seems an unlikely hub for multinational corporations looking to tap a huge Asian market. But by leveraging its long history as an entrepot, it managed to position itself as a nerve centre for information and investment, offering a wide range of specialised services.

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