S'pore was no trading hub before Raffles' arrival

A view of cargo ships berth at Tanjong Pagar and Pulau Brani container terminals on Aug 19, 2019.
A view of cargo ships berth at Tanjong Pagar and Pulau Brani container terminals on Aug 19, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Mr Osman Sidek seems to take exception to any regard for the progress that Singapore made as a British colony (Don't make light of anti-colonial sentiments, Forum Online, Sept 3).

Since the organisers of the bicentennial commemoration have expanded the event into a septcentennial reflection, we should extend our critical forensic study of colonialism to Temasek's - as Singapore was known then - evolution under South-east Asia's Indianised kingdoms between the 14th and 16th centuries, especially the Majapahit empire, which had disposed of its Srivijayan rival from the island.

What remains a fact is Singapore's relative anonymity as a trading centre compared with other regional locations when Sir Stamford Raffles signed an agreement with a member of the Johor sultanate to establish a British-administered free port in the city in 1819.

Within 50 years, British rule and institutions laid the foundation for Singapore's transformation from a sleepy fishing village with 1,000 inhabitants of mostly Malay extraction into a cosmopolitan global entrepot with a multicultural population of 100,000 residents.

Would the investments and immigrants have poured into Singapore had it not become a crown colony of Pax Britannica and its far-reaching Industrial Revolution?

Above all, there would be no sovereign and independent Singapore today had the British folded the island into the Malayan Union, along with its two other Straits Settlements, Penang and Malacca, shortly after World War II, instead of retaining the city as its sole crown colony in Malaya up till 1963, when Singapore joined the newly formed Federation of Malaysia as an equal partner.

Hopefully, the bicentennial events will inspire Singaporeans to cultivate an impartial analysis of our nation's past - regardless of race, language or religion.

Toh Cheng Seong