Millionaire Country Singapore. China?

My reader Soon sent me an email about this topic:

Singapore is a country rises from rags to riches and become the 3rd richest country in the world. A fervent autocratic and capitalist country. Can China repeats the same feat? Can you put this in your blog and let your readers debate? (more)

What is your thought? Here is mine.

Don’t Compare China and Singapore

With all the due respect to Singapore, I just don’t want to compare China and Singapore. You can compare Singapore and Shanghai, or Hong Kong, or we can compare a system, but on the macro level, Singapore and China may not be the good subject to compare.

Why?

Simply because of the scale of the two countries.

Singapore is a country (or a city) with 4 million population. Hong Kong is much bigger, 7 million, and Shanghai has 16 million local residents, and 19 million population in total. Besides there, there are many difference.

Free Trade Zone

Hong Kong and Singapore are very like each other, since they are free trade zones. Correct me if I am wrong since I know little about macro economy here. A free trade cannot be too large since it must has a relative small domestic economy. I have never seen a free trade zone as big as China. There are some free trade zones in China, like the one in Dalian, and Shanghai, but to include any city in China except Hong Kong, and Macau may not be feasible. Not only China, all other trade partners may not want it. A WTO is an attempt to archive some type of free trade, but it is still very far from free trade zones.

Politics

To rule a city of several million is of cause very different than ruling a bigger country. Having said that, I never want to use the population as an excuse to debate against democracy, or other political system. On the contrary, a big country actually needs more wisdom in political system, like the democracy system can be a good option (please note: I am not 100% sure, because it has never been tested in China in the last few thousands years). If we are still OK to have a centralized government to rule a city (which is fine, and maybe the only cost-effective way to do it), it is too hard for a bigger country, if you want to run it well. For example, I don’t want someone in Beijing to make decisions for me about what my children should believe. So, there is huge difference here between Singapore and China.

Millionaire?

I don’t think China can be a millionaire country. I just want China to be a country without poverty or injustice. If money represents ownership of resources, it is not a big deal to the earth when everyone in Singapore is millionaire, but in China, that is impossible. I don’t know what it means for 1/4 of the worlds population to be millionaires. At that time, USD, or RM, or RMB, or EURO must have been hugely deflated. What I am saying is, I don’t envision everyone to be super rich in near future. To have everyone have a reasonable life (no starving), and receive education, and have clean water to drink are the most important mission for the people on this land.

Singapore’s Inspiration

Although I don’t think we can compare these two countries, Singapore’s success did give people inspiration. It is one of the few Asian countries to reach a very high level of economy success and social improvement. I visited Singapore in 2000, and many things I saw became real in Shanghai. For example, I took the subway to take the ring ride in Singapore, and reached the far north (near the Malaysia entrance), and impressed by people living far away from downtown but can still conveniently go to work. Now the same place appeared in Shanghai. It is called Xinzhuang.

26 thoughts on “Millionaire Country Singapore. China?

  1. DC

    To me it is not comparable. Why…

    – Singapore is also well known as a “incorporated” island. Basically, the nation just operates like a conglomerate

    – China is a country. There are lots more factors to be taken care of. The wide geographical area of a country makes thing more complicated.

    Policy making is not even when you compare Shanghai to Singapore. For example, can Shanghai determine the rate for the personal income tax? Answer is NO but Singapore can. This clearly reflect the differences between two.

    If really want to compare, it make more sense to compare the business GDP between these 2 cities. What is the growth % between the 2 cities? Annual trade figures.

  2. Jian Shuo Wang

    @DC, you gave a very interesting topic: Shanghai cannot set their own personal income tax rate. That is true, but why we should do it that way? Shanghai has different personal income tax structure than many other provinces/cities, and why to follow the standard? The better way is to set different personal income tax rate for different regions (the starting point is a very important parameter), but it is not realistic to have someone in Beijing set that. The only way I can think of is to let the Shanghai Local People’s Congress set it, just as it is best to let each household to be able to decide which TV set they want / afford to buy. Unification is not the key symbol of a unified country.

  3. Michael

    It’s really not possible to compare China with Singapore. Shanghai with Singapore perhaps – as they were both colonial cities created by the British. Singapore has thrived because it it retained the British-style legal and trading system and remained a secular island in a sea of Islam. Singapore also became a one -party family dynasty, with most of the city state’s power and finances still controlled by the Lee family.

    The company I worked for chose Singapore as its base in Asia because of its pro-business. pro-efficiency and anti corruption environment. China was seen to be lacking in rule of law and with too much uncertainty about business rules at both local and national level.

    Singapore is an easy place for larger western companies to do business in because English is the first language for many if not most people. Despite the intensive study of English in China, the English skills (especially spoken English) of the workforce are still poor.

    My colleagues say Singapore is friendly to big business but Hong Kong is the best place if you want to become a millionaire quickly as it is more friendly to small business.

  4. Jian Shuo Wang

    @Michael, that is right. In a bigger scope, the money (what they call it hot money) really have the option to go either Singapore, Hong Kong or mainland China (the most troublesome place for money to get in and out). But the bottom line is, people ARE comparing the different places to settle their investment.

  5. Shelly Wolfsdorf

    I worked in Singapore for 6 months. The economic achievements are impressive, but most singaporeans are not independent thinkers. Life there has much less freedom than in China.

  6. Soon

    Hi Shelly,

    you are quite right but not quite right. I think Singaporeans think in unison they have no choice in the sea of hostility and survival. Imagine if they were to go difrerent paths, they won’t be in what they are today. The same goes with China.

    They chose the most pragmatic path and forgo ‘freedom’. As you have said, freedom starts at one end, ends at antoher end. Whether it is good or bad it is up to the people there. At least they can boost to have the most efficient government in the world, cleanliness, low crime rates, economic wealth, social harmony and all that other countries watch in jealousy.

    They may be millionaires but poor millionaires living in concrete blocks.

    I personally would not want to live there as it is too boring and too small, too little happenings. But of course some people may find all the excitement in the night life there and across the cause way.

    Singapore society is both socialist (common goods) and capitalist (individual goods) not very different from China, of course with a splash of pseudo democracy. Which I think could be a good thing for China to follow. I certainly don’t think the chaotic style of democracy in Taiwan is any good for China.

  7. Jian Shuo Wang

    @Soon, Taiwan style? I actually love the Taiwan style. I need to be very cautious to say that since I admit that I have never set foot to Taiwan, and I am not good at politics. However, after the two presidents were selected and alternated, and with one of them put into jail for life time, it is pretty solid proof that ever several decades of chaos, and test, and set back, the republic system finally set up in Taiwan. The Republic finally gets the right higher than a party, or a president. That is a dream for the Chinese people in the last few centuries. I saw great hope from Taiwan’s experiment. I have to say, Singapore is far behind Taiwan in terms of political processes, since Singapore is still like a one man / one party show. That actually works very well for Singapore – so far so good, but for a bigger country like China, that does not work. Well. You can use China as an example to prove whether it works – look at the GDP!! or prove that it does not work (look at the lives of the people!)

  8. wonton

    @JS:

    Be very careful of what you wish for. I don’t want to go into details but in Taiwan, politics has degenerated into a bad soap opera. While it is true there is democracy, the system has open it’s doors to many fools and crooks. The voters have no idea who to trust. And the media is forever ready to pounce on gossip leaving the leaders no time to do what they were supposed to do. I don’t know what kind of “great hope” you saw in Taiwan’s “experiment”. Was it the wrestling kung fu brawl in their parliament ? There is no such thing as being “ahead” or “behind” in political processes. The only thing that matters is weather it works or not. Yes, while you rejoice in knowing that the crook president is behind bars, what about the 8 wasted years of screwing up the country ?

    Politics is not entertainment. If we wait for the system to mature, the people would have starved to death.

    Singapore has a one party show, Japan had a one party show for 54 years. As for the often repeated “one man” of Singapore, do note that the prime minister had changed twice. It just happened that the son happened to be in charge today. Please do not equate this situation with your North Korean neighbours. George Bush Sr and Jr. were seperated by Clinton, and nobody made a stink. The independant history of Singapore is only 44 years. While it is true that it should not, and cannot be compared with China, What the “infamous” man and party acheived is truely impressive and astounding.

    When you have the lives of one billion people at stake, the last thing you want to do is “experiment”.

  9. Jian Shuo Wang

    Regarding Taiwan, as my disclaimer goes, I don’t know too much details, but I want to share my thoughts based on the limited information I got from news (NOT CCTV news).

    Re: fight in parliament. Fight is not a problem. If people don’t fight in parliament, they either fight on the street (violence!) or the rights of certain people are suppressed. I don’t believe it will be physical fighting for too long – it is just starting point.

    Re: selection of CHEN Shui-Bian as president. The fake bulletin worked, and many fake promise worked to get him the way to power, but can we have a better way to educate the mass people about how vote works? People need education to excise the power in their hands. The education is not a easy to do – it takes centuries, and many generations. When history story like “President Chen” appear in the text book, people will learn how to vote. I don’t believe that people including myself will know how to do it without excises it many times, and make some mistakes.

    Re: sentence of CHEN. The court only proved guilty for one former president, and people point fingers to them (especially CCTV and all media agencies in China by the order of central propaganda department): Hey! Look at what type of president democracy brought to Taiwan. The recent MA got very embarrassed because of the late response to earth quake. Shall we complain that Taiwan don’t have a “God” like Chairman Mao, or Chiang Kai-shek or Chiang Ching-kuo. Well. That is because they have put everyone who think they are bad into jail, and then they naturally became God. To have a graceful president means the president is above the Republic, and to have an embarrassed president like CHEN and MA, or Nixon, Clinton in US is no embarrassing, it is the hard fact that the Republic is above the individual, which is the goal of the founding fathers of the Republic of China.

    Re: politics has degenerated into a bad soap opera, yes. It appears so in the last 8 years. But it is just like seeing a new born baby – you see it is on the track to be better – I am sure a second guy shoot is counter-productive for the next president candidate. There will always be new ways to fool the public beside what CHEN did, but people will be educated. I cannot imagine a way for people to progress without real practices like this. Between a dead-end road system that appears to be strong, and a promising system just like a new-born baby, I would like to generally classified Taiwan to the later. Did I see progress from LI, to CHEN, to MA? I think so.

    Re: When you have the lives of one billion people at stake, the last thing you want to do is “experiment”. Yes and No. The hope of China lies in many people at least think about it and understand what the arrow of history is pointing to. Unfortunately, no one can possibly know the result of any change (or as you call it, experiment), including His Majority Chairman MAO, but I believe in natural evolve of human society.

    A little bit long, but I’d be happy if someone educate me about a real Taiwan if what I am having is just an illusion. I never been to Taiwan or lived there, anyway.

  10. wonton

    @JS:

    No offence, but I would agree with you that you really are not very good in politics.

    Reality is, many of the intellectual elite of Taiwan has already left or have no taste to engage in politics.

    The system is corrupted beyond belief and I am not just refering to Ah Bian.

    Perhaps only time will tell, but I won’t be surprised that without major reforms, Taiwan will one day become Madagascar. Given the quality of politicians, I doubt anything will change in the near future.

    Hey, I seemed to have driven this thread off topic again. Isn’t this supposed to be about China and Singapore ?? Sorry !

  11. Soon

    I once read an article in Asia Times that said China was as diverse as Europe. It compares China to the ancient Roman empire, the only difference was Roman empire collapsed and disintegrated but China is still standing as one despite its diversity as a country.

    There is no one political system or ideology that fits all across all geo-demographics or temporal horizon. China and chinese people have been practising feudalism for thousands of years as a society and within families. Culturally it is ingrained in Chinese beliefs. All former Taiwanese president (including those elected by the people) believe they have the divine right to rule with exception of Ma. The same was Lee of Singapore. He ruled like an emperor but a fair and just emperor.

    Taiwan, Japan and Korea parliaments are all infiltrated by crooks, cronies and triads, made possible by democratic process. In essence east asians family value and societal values are very much paternalistic and feudalist. China should tread carefully to choose the right path not merely monkeying the western political process without first studying its pitfalls.

    Cheers

  12. Jian Shuo Wang

    Very well said, Soon. There are deep culture roots in Chinese history. If you ask me what is the best political system for China? My honest answer is, I am not sure. I never believed in US way, the European way, or any other countries way, since their way is deep rooted into their culture. Look at what American were doing in 1700 before independence you see how nature they flow to the current system. China’s future must be (slightly or hugely) different.

    But what is it? Without many people thinking, discussing, and bounce ideas, and do some controlled experiment, or follow the co-incidents of history, there will be no idea. China need a way out, but where are the way?

    I also don’t really take it serious about “crooks are full of other parliaments”. They are called crooks just either A) They ARE crooks, or B) Calling them crooks won’t bring you trouble. That cannot imply that the system in China is full of elite. They seems elite because A) They ARE elite, or B) people don’t dare to say they are not, or (more likely) C) People don’t know what they do and how they make decisions at all.

  13. JC

    Why hasnt anyone mentioned the level of educations of the leaders? Why hasn’t the Chinese see that it is one of the biggest joke in human’s history that Mao and the most respected leaders of PRC were hardly educated?

  14. Ann

    Despite JS claiming that he is bad at politics, I think Soon is far worse off than JS. The analysis isn’t even sound.

  15. Jian Shuo Wang

    @JC, education is not a factor in the war age. In Olympic field, education in science actually does not help as much as in professional world. In wars, who will win when a university student encountered a guy who have been fighting on the street since year of 5? Mao is talented in literature, and art, but I do agree that the several decade of running a big country is not his strength.

  16. GN

    @JC, To say that Mao didn’t have education IS a joke… unless you see education = degrees. That man could and did read, a lot. Like him or not, that man was very well educated. His writing… both political essays and poems… not many can compete in the whole Chinese world. Zhou and Liu were also well educated.

    Frankly, I don’t know where you got the idea… “it is one of the biggest joke in human’s history that Mao and the most respected leaders of PRC were hardly educated?”. Do you really believe that those PRC heads were workers and farmers?

  17. JC

    @GN and Jianshuo, it is no wonder China is a communist country if u think you can put someone “professional” in war as the head of a country. You must have great admiration for Hitler then. Most of the chinese leaders are pathetic creatures who cared more about long march, propagandas then leaders in USA or other developed nations who were trained in law, medicine and political science…now compare that!

  18. JC

    literature and poems? how does that help with politics and leading a nation?

    and please dun give me the crap about zhou or liu….

    China discarded the only respectable politician back then….Sun Yat Sen

  19. GN

    @JC, I was only responding to your comment that they were not “educated”. Nothing more, nothing less. And frankly, I don’t know who zhou or liu is/was.

    It is the most unfortunate that Sun died so earlier… history could be very different…

  20. Jian Shuo Wang

    @JC, exactly the same point – being educated has nothing to do with great leaders. Hitler is well educated too. You seems to provide to confusing conflicting point-of-view yourself.

    Many of the Chinese leaders are educated (in poem and literature, for example), but that does not help to run the country. Education is not the problem.

  21. Francis Chong

    Dear Jian Shuo,

    It was an interesting read concerning your article on `Millionaire Country Singapore. China? ‘

    I am born a Singaporean. My maternal grandfather was from China who came to this land to build a future. Most of our ancestors are from another country.

    Singapore is a melting pot of culture and out of this brew have evolved a unique way of governance and upbringing. We are still learning and can be considered a fairly young country.

    I would like to give you a different perspective in considering the merits of a country.

    As a layman, running a US fortune 500 company, part time counselor to broken marriages, allow me to give my 2 cents worth.

    As Singaporeans, we have also been trying to excel since birth. From baby competitions, to exams, to career and business, to cars, properties, we have always tried to go the extra mile. We have big driving force to succeed. So we always try to learn a little bit more, do more preparation than others, work longer, use more effort ……

    Our past 44 years of effort have resulted in an economic model that cannot be compared to others. We started with nothing and ended with being one of the more affluent country in Asia.

    However, this is certainly not a measure of success.

    Just look at the our families and you will understand why. Out of every 4 marriages, 1 ends up in divorced, 2 are in trouble and the remaining 1 is just okay.

    With each divorced, children are separated, hurt and confused. From statistics, we see that such children will also end up divorced themselves. For the divorce spouse who remarries, there is a 75% chance that they will divorce again.Adultery is on the rise and women are now becoming the culprit.

    In most of the homes, the head of the home is not longer the man …….

    Soon in Singapore, we will be just a bunch of rich, broken generation of hurtful people.

    Will this changed ? The government is certainly trying ……..

    Guess what ? if you take a look at all the other affluent countries ….. you will see the same trend. Unfortunately, countries like Philippines, Thailand are also affected.

    I wonder if this trend is taking place in China ?

    What really makes a good country is certainly not just wealth, but happiness that comes from a joy that is rested in contentment.

    I would like to suggest, if permitted, a next topic for deliberation.

    `It is through experiences that we are what we are today. If our past contains bad experiences, we will be affected by them today. If our past have many good experiences, then we would be likely to benefit from them today’. If this saying is true, then all of us would need to deal with the past inorder that we can get rid of the bad influences of the past.

    Pse let me have your thoughts.

    Francis Chong

    Singapore

  22. GN

    @Francis Chong… “… the head of the home is not longer the man… ” how should I read this line… is it very important as a change of the society?

  23. Francis Chong

    Would think its important.

    It is only in the last decade that we have a reversal of roles.

    I am not talking about equality of women to men. That should be so …….. long time ago.

    I am talking about roles of husband and wife, Father and mothers. Who should take lead ? How should one take lead ?

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