John Harding’s book, Escape from Paradise – Paperback and Kindle Versions


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It took me two and a half evenings to complete your un-put-downable book...it is a unique contribution to the appreciation of a life in Singapore. Thank you for having written it. C. V. Devan Nair, former President of Singapore.

Bought the book from Select this weekend and can't put it down! It's a great read! And so nostalgic for me—the good old days! Glen Goei, writer and director of the Miramax film That's the Way I Like It and who played the title role opposite Anthony Hopkins in the London production of M. Butterfly. Mr. Goei's latest film is The Blue Mansion - Click for the trailer!

It is a remarkable story and so full of intrigue that it reads at times like fiction.Jonathan Burnham, Editor in Chief & President, Talk Miramax Books.

“It's quite a story The legendary Alice Mayhew, Vice-President & Editorial Director, Simon & Schuster.

This book out-Dallas, Dallas. No one has written so well of the other side of paradise,Francis T. Seow, former Solicitor General of Singapore

Escape from Paradise – the Promotional Trailer

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BURLESQUE AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS LATER, SINGAPORE STILL SEEKING SPONTANEITY

WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks

From Wikileaks – Secret message from the U.S. Embassy in Singapore to the U.S. Secretary of State.

“Burlesque and Billions Of Dollars Later, Singapore,” the title of this document (and post) is taken from the U.S. Embassy’s secret message to the U.S. State Department.

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DE RUEHGP #0394/01 0580953
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 270953Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2528
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5580
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SINGAPORE 000394 

SIPDIS 

SIPDIS 

SUBJECT: BURLESQUE AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS LATER, SINGAPORE 
STILL SEEKING SPONTANEITY 

REF: A. 05 SINGAPORE 2058 
     ¶B. 05 SINGAPORE 2609 

¶1. (SBU) Summary: The Government of Singapore (GOS) is 
attempting to steer the economy to become more 
knowledge-based and entrepreneurial to counter the 
competitive challenges China, India and other lower-cost 
exporters pose.  Characteristically, the GOS is taking the 
lead, putting schemes in place to encourage creativity and 
entrepreneurship, particularly in "strategic" sectors.  It 
has even tinkered around the edges of its tight political 
controls, mandating a relaxation in social mores in order to 
give Singapore "buzz."  But the dominance of 
government-linked corporations in Singapore's economy, an 
educational system that stifles independent thinking, and the 
continued presence of the government in many aspects of 
Singaporean life perpetuate "habits of constraint" that may 
hinder the development of entrepreneurship in Singapore.  The 
recent failure of a French topless revue franchise, part of a 
GOS-led effort to pump up Singapore's nightlife, has laid 
bare the limits of such top-down efforts.  End Summary. 

------------------ 
Creativity by Fiat 
------------------ 

¶2. (U) A strong record of economic success notwithstanding, 
Singapore's leadership recognizes that further growth will 
depend on finding economic advantages over the rapidly 
growing and low-cost economies of China, India, and ASEAN 
neighbors.  As a developed nation, Singapore must also 
compete with other developed economies.  To continue 
thriving, the GOS believes that Singapore must transform 
itself from an efficient platform for manufacturing and 
logistics into a global, knowledge-based and more 
entrepreneurial economy.  With a small population, no natural 
resources, and a trade-heavy economy, the GOS is acutely 
aware of the need for Singapore to develop a strong 
entrepreneurial class that can adapt. 

¶3. (SBU) Pursuing the objective with its usual vigor, the 
government is pouring in resources.  Prime Minister Lee Hsien 
Loong chairs a Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council 
(RIEC), established in 2005 to promote R&D and innovation in 
"strategic" sectors of the economy.  In 2006, the RIEC 
announced it would provide $916 million (SGD1.4 billion) over 
the next five years to fund entrepreneurs.  Also in 2006, the 
Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) unveiled its Science and 
Technology 2010 Plan (STP2010) which commits $4.9 billion 
(SGD7.5 billion) over the next five years to encourage 
raising R&D spending to 3 percent of Singapore's GDP by 2010. 

------------- 
The Challenge 
------------- 

¶4. (SBU) GOS efforts to promote entrepreneurship continue to 
encounter a risk-averse Singaporean mindset, government 
domination of the economy, and discouragement of critical 
thinking and inflexibility in the educational system.  The 
2007 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report (GEM) showed 
that, among the surveyed OECD and developed economies, 
Singapore was consistently below the mean for all indicators 
of social and cultural attitudes toward entrepreneurship. 
For example, only 57.8 percent of Singaporeans believed that 
new business success was accorded high status in their 
country, compared to an average of 66.2 percent among all the 
countries in the survey, ranking Singapore 21st of 24. 

------------------------- 
Government Itself a Cause 
------------------------- 

¶5. (C) Entrepreneurs continue to face obstacles in a number 
of sectors in the form of Government-Linked Corporations 
(GLCs), which account for nearly 60 percent of the national 
GDP.  Temasek Holdings, the government's investment arm, is 
by far the largest investor in Singapore, with an estimated 
50-percent stake in Singapore's GLCs.  GLCs often compete 
against each other in key markets, making entry by an 
independently-held company difficult.  For example, SingTel 
and Starhub, both Temasek Holdings companies, compete 
directly in the wireless service market and will soon do the 
same in the cable television market.  The strong GOS role in 
directing the economy likely has the unintended result of 
"crowding out" natural economic development, according Dr. 
Sha Reilly, Chief Knowledge Officer at the National Library 
Board (NLB), which has a mandate to encourage creativity and 
entrepreneurship among young Singaporeans.  She believes 

SINGAPORE 00000394  002 OF 003 

Singaporeans look first to the government, rather than the 
private sector, to be the innovation leader. 

¶6. (C) Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) -- a 
potential source of innovation and commercial nimbleness -- 
find it difficult to secure financing for their businesses 
since financial institutions, accustomed to an abundance of 
large corporate customers, are reluctant to lend to riskier 
SMEs.  The 2007 GEM report ranked Singapore 17 out of 21 
countries for venture capital availability.  The Singapore 
Stock Exchange (SGX) is similarly inhospitable to SMEs, with 
many Singaporean entrepreneurs opting to list in other 
countries.  SGX Executive Vice President Lawrence Wong told 
us that the SGX targets SMEs with a capitalization of SG$500 
million to SG$5 billion ($327 million - $3.27 billion).  Wong 
characterized the amount as "not a lot," but it does put SGX 
listing out of the range of many SMEs.  He says a GOS 
proposal to develop an exchange catering to smaller firms was 
"still under discussion." 

7.(C) While the government has allocated various funds to 
encourage SMEs, a number of business leaders told us that 
funding is still inadequate.  They suggested that even if 
sufficient funding were available, it would still take at 
least a generation before an entrepreneurial culture would 
truly take root.  Of the $4.9 billion STP2010 budget, less 
then two percent has been allocated for SME financing. 
Inderjit Singh, a Member of Parliament and an entrepreneur, 
told us that the proliferation of entrepreneurial schemes for 
SMEs was "government lip-service that fails to address the 
critical need to divest GLCs and open markets." 

---------------------------------------- 
Political System Discourages Risk-Taking 
---------------------------------------- 

¶8. (SBU) The GOS's tight political control and the "habits of 
constraint" it fosters have inhibited the development of an 
entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking culture, according to 
Nominated Member of Parliament Kum Hong Siew and others.  G. 
Jahyakrishan, Assistant Director of International Enterprise 
Singapore (IE), a government entity responsible for helping 
Singaporean companies grow globally, believes that a 
prevailing atmosphere of restraint "subtly" leads to less 
risk-taking behavior by firms and individuals.  Siew believes 
the government's attempt to encourage economic risk-taking 
while limiting political and social freedoms is unsustainable 
because it discourages the kind of critical thinking required 
for entrepreneurship. 

---------------------------- 
Education System Not Helping 
---------------------------- 

(C) Singapore boasts a highly competitive and 
well-regarded primary and secondary education system, but the 
number of Singaporeans completing a tertiary education is 
relatively low.  Only 23 percent of Singaporean students 
entering primary school complete a degree at a local 
four-year university.  In other knowledge-economies such as 
Japan's, around 50 percent of students complete a university 
degree.  However, according to Cheryl Chan, Assistant 
Director of the Planning Division at the Ministry of 
Education (MOE), the government does not plan to encourage 
more students to get a higher education.  The university 
enrollment rate will continue to be maintained at 20-25 
percent because the Singaporean labor market does not need 
everyone to get a four-year degree, she asserted. 

¶10. (SBU) Singapore's education system has been criticized 
for being heavy on memorization and light on critical 
thinking and creativity.  Based on the British model, the 
system is highly test-focused and separates students (a 
process referred to as "streaming") at an early age between 
high, middle, and low achievers.  The GOS has slowly begun to 
introduce greater flexibility into the system by allowing 
"streaming" in subjects (rather than based on total average 
scores) and has created new magnet schools focused on 
mathematics, the arts, and sports.  But there are only three 
such schools, and the overall education system has changed 
little. 

------------------------------- 
Some "Strategic" Sectors Suffer 
------------------------------- 

¶11. (SBU) Growth in the "strategic" media sector may be 
hampered by limits the government sets on freedom of speech 
and expression.   Filmmakers such as Martyn See (reftels) or 
productions that touch on sensitive issues often find their 

SINGAPORE 00000394  003 OF 003 

distribution and broadcasting rights disapproved by the Media 
Development Board (MDA), a governmental agency responsible 
for regulating and promoting media industries.  Cheah Sin 
Liang, Deputy Director of International Relations at MDA, 
admitted to us that the GOS's tight control over 
controversial political, religious, or social topics does 
limit growth in the media sector, but argued that such 
controls are necessary to prevent negative social 
consequences. 

¶12. (SBU) Singapore's approach to promoting R&D development 
in the biomedical field, another government-identified 
"strategic" sector, has also been criticized by foreign 
education specialists as too focused on quick economic gains 
rather than fostering the "holistic approach" necessary for 
sustained innovation in science and technology.  Dr. William 
Broady, President of Johns Hopkins University, told the local 
press in January that in order to be a leading center for 
R&D, Singapore had to get away from "trying to measure 
short-term economic returns.  There has to be a mindset 
change... in tolerating and being comfortable with failure 
and ideas that don't seem to be going anywhere."  (Note: 
Johns Hopkins stopped development of a $53 million (SGD82 
million) Biomedical Sciences research unit after its 
Singapore Government partner, A*Star, accused Johns Hopkins 
of not meeting performance benchmarks. End Note.) 

---------------------------------- 
Casinos, Kumar and the Crazy Horse 
---------------------------------- 

¶13. (SBU) The GOS appears to recognize the need to give 
citizens freer rein in order to foster creativity and 
entrepreneurship.  Unwilling to loosen political controls, it 
has focused so far on easing social restrictions.  The 
government made a highly controversial decision to allow 
casinos, and has awarded contracts to open two integrated 
resorts in 2009.  Kumar, a popular transvestite nightclub 
comedian whose material focuses on taboo subjects including 
race, sex and the foibles of government personalities, has 
been allowed to perform on television and in public venues. 
Singaporeans returning from long stays overseas have told us 
of being shocked at the mushrooming of racy billboard 
advertising.  MDA's Cheah pointed to the opening of the Crazy 
Horse French Burlesque in December 2005 (which subsequently 
closed in January 2007 due to poor attendance), and to the 
"success" of the Singapore Biennale (an arts festival) as 
further signs of greater social openness. 

------- 
Comment 
------- 

14. (C) Ever thinking strategically, Singapore's leadership 
will keep pushing innovation in order to stay competitive in 
a rapidly changing Asia.  To its credit, the government 
appears to recognize that its own penchant for control -- 
however enlightened its policy choices or soft its 
authoritarian touch -- may be at odds with the kind of 
free-wheeling atmosphere it needs to achieve its economic 
objectives.  Time will tell whether it can promote 
creativity, critical-thinking, and innovation in society by 
loosening up on social issues and tinkering with the 
education system while keeping politics in quarantine.  One 
way or another, Singapore's flirtation with openness will 
provide another interesting chapter in its unique history as 
a social-engineering petri dish. 

HERBOLD

4 comments to BURLESQUE AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS LATER, SINGAPORE STILL SEEKING SPONTANEITY

  • JEFFGOH

    “openess” is a convenient platform used time and again. Nothing has changed despite LHL now infamous “I am sorry” in the 2011 elections.

  • Gerry Heng

    Glad to see the book, Escape from Paradise comes together with the Kindle version now. I’m a big fan.
    regards,
    Gerry Heng
    Boston, MA

  • sell your stuff

    Hey there, I hopped over to your website via Reddit. Not an item I generally read through, however I like your views none the less. Thank you very much for creating something worthy of reading!