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How Economic Growth, Housing, and Defense Played a Role in Singapore' S Nation Building Process

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Nation-building is defined as the process of using the power of the state to form a common national identity.[1] The Singapore Government enacted several tangible structures including defence, housing and economy for the purpose of nation building. These aspects are invaluable and were of well intention at the initial stages, but over time it can be argued that though they remain significant, they may hamper nation-building efforts due to the implications that rose.

Public housing policies is significant in Singapore’s nation building efforts to instil a sense of belonging and racial cohesiveness through encouraging mixed communities of varying ethnics and easy attainability of housing for all income levels hence defending the nation since one owns a stake in the nation.[2] Quotas on the racial composition were imposed in a public housing (HDB) estate to prevent the formation of racial enclaves and promote multi-ethnic bonding. It was undeniable that housing policies are significant in nation building efforts as home ownership in Singapore is more than 90%, and the share of rental housing is very low. These state policies have very important for social stability and building the sense of nationhood.[3]

However over time, due to the lax immigration policies, it led to a spike in demand in public housing. Since public housing has supply trailing demand by nature due to Build to Order flats which are only built 3-4 years after demand has been estimated through purchases by prospective homeowners, the prices of public housing will increase as housing is operated on a free market basis with little intervention from the state itself, causing it to be unaffordable especially to new families. In fact, according to statistics from the HDB, in 2008, it built only 3,183 new flats when the government welcomed over 90,000 permanent residents (PRs) and 20,000 new citizens in the same year.[4] According to statistics from HDB, resale flat price index has rose 28 percent from 155.0 (Q1 2010) to 198.5 (Q1 2014)[5] signifying an increase in HDB prices.

National Service (NS) is significant in nation building as it forced conscripts from all walks of life to live with each other and share common experiences during their NS days and to foster among the people a continued commitment to the defence of their common home[6] and pledge to protect it ‘with our lives’.[7] The significance of NS has not lessened over time, as public support for NS remains and NSmen of all ages having a mainly positive view of NS according to an IPS study held in 2013.[8] NS is also viewed as an important trait of being Singaporean, example being nearly 70% of Singaporeans polled in an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey said that having a male child who had completed NS is an important characteristic of being ‘Singaporean’. [9] However despite the significance of NS, it has several shortcomings that if not addressed will hamper nation building efforts. The systemic discrimination of Malays, whom are kept from serving in areas of the military considered sensitive (eg. Signal units)[10] and slow promotion compared to their Chinese counterparts, with the first non-Chinese officer reached flag rank only at 2004.[11] This is contrary to the original intention of NS being a key pillar of nation building by bringing everybody of different ethnicities and background together, as it deliberately discriminates the minority race. This contributes to a continued perception of second-class status among the ethnic Malay population, which further worsen the divide between the Malays and the rest of the population, potentially raising racial tensions which hinders nation building and threaten to tear apart the racial harmony efforts made by the state. The segregation of recruits by their education level, which affects their military prospects as eligibility for leadership positions via training under command schools are determined by one’s education level over one’s military capabilities defeats the purpose of bringing everyone from all walks of life with an equal opportunity to succeed and take ownership of the nation. In return the less privileged and educated will perceive themselves to be inferior to the educated, and even lead to resentment of their would-be superiors, which will cause disunity between social classes, tearing the social fabric apart.

Economic growth was significant in nation building, as it ensured the survival for the newly-independent Republic and served as the infrastructural basis for the eventual construction of a nation[12], and forms the primary national identity before other tools. However, the relentless pursuit of economic growth was not without its negative implications, as the government adopted liberal immigration policies to attract ‘foreign talent’, encouraging foreign investment by actively wooing GLCs and foreign companies to set up here, which led to an influx of foreigners, crowding out the employment market as they could accept lower salaries which are attractive to employers. Due to this, some citizens feel that they are no longer lords of their own nation as the nation itself is being increasingly “taken over by foreigners, and the Government governs more for the benefit of foreign capital and talent than it does for the local equivalent.13 The loss of sense of ownership of the nation, and the widening of the income gap that follows, goes against the goal of nation building, as people are divided and not brought together by the prosperity which came from economic growth and national identity is diluted as a result. This is further exacerbated by the fact that traditional neighbourhoods, familiar buildings, cemeteries and other social landmarks, and even green space are eliminated in order to make room for rich foreigners, further contributing to a sense of dislocation and loss of identity.[13] By actively courting foreign investment into Singapore, Singapore has a risk of becoming a transient state, with foreigners coming into Singapore with the sole intention of making money and having no desire to be part of the nation itself which fosters the notion of Singapore being merely a stepping stone and not a home which one has a stake in. Since the national identity is formed primarily on economic progress, it is transient and it does not foster a sense of belonging, should one decide to leave Singapore for greener pastures.

In conclusion, defence, economic growth and housing are still significant in the nation building process, but if left unchecked, they will hinder nation building efforts due to the negative implications they bring despite of the well intentions the Government had initially. The Government has already acknowledged issue and tackled several of these issues. Examples being token appreciation of Malays in the armed forces, having the first Malay brigadier-general in 2009, marking a significant milestone in Malay integration in the military[14]; introducing various cooling measures in the housing market in a bid to lower housing prices and curbs in foreign quota[15] in order to lower dependence on foreign talent.

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How Economic Growth, Housing, And Defense Played A Role In Singapore’ S Nation Building Process. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2023, from
“How Economic Growth, Housing, And Defense Played A Role In Singapore’ S Nation Building Process.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
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