British legacy still strong as Queen visits Singapore
Queen Elizabeth II, seen here leaving Sydney, will encounter lasting reminders of Britain's imperial glory when she visits Singapore, but much has changed in bilateral relations since this former colony gained independence
Queen Elizabeth II will encounter lasting reminders of Britain's imperial glory when she visits Singapore, but much has changed in bilateral relations since this former colony gained independence.
From the stately Raffles Hotel where gin and tonics, ceiling fans and waiters in crisp white uniforms preserve a bygone age, to thousands of British university alumni, the former world power's legacy is deep and strong.
The Queen, due to arrive late Thursday from Australia, last visited Singapore in 1989 and this will be her third state visit here.
A veteran Singaporean diplomat told AFP the Queen enjoys "universal" respect and admiration in the city-state, which became a republic in 1965.
"Britain, as a colonial master, is remembered for having left behind a civil service and a judicial service that were second to none in the region," he said. "These were critical for a then fledgling Singapore."
During her two-day stay, the Queen will meet President S.R. Nathan at the Istana palace -- Government House in colonial days -- and have lunch with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
She will stop at a war memorial, check out the national library and tour a public housing estate before winding up her visit on Saturday by awarding the winner's cup at the QEII horse race at the Singapore Turf Club.
The United States and China have long eclipsed Britain in importance to Singapore, and Singapore's political and judicial systems have evolved away from the British standard. But the two countries still enjoy strong diplomatic, economic, military and cultural ties.
"We have absolutely no bilateral problems," said the Singaporean diplomat.
Singapore, now Southeast Asia's most developed country, has painstakingly restored the colonial quarter, which boasts the Singapore Cricket Club, the Victoria Concert Hall and Saint Andrew's Cathedral.
Nearby, the old British-built parliament has been turned into a chic arts house after being replaced by a more imposing modern structure, while the former general post office has been reborn as the ultra-luxury Fullerton Hotel.
The name of Sir Stamford Raffles, who established Singapore as a British trading post in 1819, is immortalized everywhere, from the elite school Raffles Institution and Singapore Airlines' Raffles business class to the more mundane Raffles Refrigeration Services and Raffles Tailor and Menswear.
A British university education still retains a special cachet -- after all, Prime Minister Lee did mathematics and computer science in the 1970s at Cambridge, where his father, Singapore's founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, read law in the 1940s.
Singaporean parents anxious to rid their kids of "Singlish" -- the singsong, vernacular-laced local version of English -- send them to the British Council for language lessons.
The fact that many members of the elite have studied in Britain "makes it quite a permanent fixture" in Singapore, said Reuben Wong, a European affairs expert at the political science department of the National University of Singapore who did his doctorate at the London School of Economics.
The British High Commission (embassy) in Singapore said just under 4,000 Singaporean students go to Britain every year -- roughly the same as those going to the United States.
Total bilateral trade in goods exceeded 10 billion US dollars in 2005, the high commission said.
The last British troops left Singapore in 1971, but military cooperation continues through the Five Power Defence Arrangement which also includes Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
Singapore has long occupied a special place in British history since its days as a tropical trading outpost.
Its fall to Japanese forces on February 15, 1942 dealt a severe blow to imperial Britain, whose wartime leader Winston Churchill described it as the "worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history".
Post-colonial Asian leaders said it helped accelerate independence movements in the region by demolishing the myth of European superiority.
But Britons will also remember Singapore for a recent triumph: London beat arch rival Paris for the right to host the 2012 Olympics when the International Olympic Committee met here in July 2005.