On Tuesday, President Trump will arrive in Singapore and begin his historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. While many American business titans (and the occasional tourist) may be well acquainted with Singapore, the modern city-state remains largely a mystery to the average U.S. citizen.
Here’s what you need to know about Singapore, which, since becoming an independent nation in 1965, has rapidly transformed into a rich and powerful hub for global trade and travel.
Economic freedom = Prosperity
Singapore is tiny, but it punches well above its weight. Thanks to capitalist policies, what was once a small fishing village has exploded into an economic superpower in less than a century.
Year after year, the city-state ranks in the top five in GDP per capita rankings. Additionally, for a population of only 5.6 million people, Singapore ranks an impressive 39th in overall gross domestic product.
The embrace of free market policies, in addition to being an ideal geographic location for a major trade and transport hub, makes the southeast Asian nation one of the world’s economic success stories. According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Index of Economic Freedom, Singapore has the second freest economy in the world.
“Singapore’s highly developed free-market economy owes its success in large measure to its remarkably open and corruption-free business environment, prudent monetary and fiscal policies, and a transparent legal framework,” the Heritage report explains.
While Singapore is economically free, political repression remains an issue. On the one hand, individuals are free to open up a business, participate in the civil society, and practice their religions. Additionally, women and minority religious and ethnic groups are afforded equal rights. However, participation in the political system is tightly controlled. Challenging the government could result in oppression and unfair prosecution. Singapore’s political system has been controlled by one party and one family since 1959.
English is the most commonly spoken language in Singapore and one of the four official languages there (in addition to Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil).
The Singapore Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, though the government has at times cracked down on aggressive proselytizing. While Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion in Singapore, there is also a significant number of Christian and Muslim nationals.
United States-Singapore ties go back to 1836, with the opening of the first U.S. consulate in Singapore, when it was part of the British Empire. Singapore and the U.S. signed a bilateral free trade agreement in 2003. Additionally, Singapore is a visa waiver program country, which allows Singaporean nationals to travel to the U.S. for less than 90 days without obtaining a visa.
There is currently no U.S. ambassador to Singapore. Former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland was nominated to the post, but she later withdrew her nomination due to Senate hurdles that blocked the confirmation process.
Extensive military ties with the U.S. — in addition to partnerships with Israel, the U.K., Australia, and others — have allowed Singapore to possess arguably the most advanced military in Southeast Asia.
Sentosa Island, home of the Trump-Kim summit
If all goes according to schedule, President Trump and Kim Jong Un will meet Tuesday on the resort island of Sentosa, which translates to “peace and tranquility.” It was once used by Japanese forces in World War II as a POW camp. Today, the 1.82-square-mile island is best known as a getaway enclave. Sentosa is home to several resorts, including Universal Studios Singapore. Trump and Kim will meet at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa. The Singapore government has cordoned off the island from June 10 to June 14.