Foreign policy and defense
Singapore has long had a complicated
relationship with Malaysia in the north, but relations
have improved since Lee Hsien Loong became Singaporean
Prime Minister in 2004. Previously strained relations
with Indonesia in the south have also become warmer.
Singapore has a close relationship with the United
States, while contacts with China are good on the
economic level but tense on the political.
Relationship with Malaysia has been complicated since
Singapore left the neighboring country and became an
independent nation in 1965. The proximity means that
mutual dependence is great and cooperation exists in
many areas. The security services of both countries have
cooperated in the arrest of suspected terrorists.
However, conflicts over, for example, water supply,
passport control, territorial water boundary, airspace
and bridges across the Johor Strait have caused
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Singapore for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
A meeting between Lee and Malaysia's then Prime
Minister Najib Tun Razak in 2010 led, among other
things, to a solution to the water problem and exchanged
land areas were exchanged, which in turn laid the
foundation for a common zone for passport control.
However, the warmer relations became a thorn in 2013
when it emerged in leaked US intelligence documents that
Singapore was intercepting the Malaysian telephone
Improved relations with Indonesia
After bad relations in the 1960s, when Indonesia
strongly opposed the Federation with Malaysia, Singapore
invested in developing good relations with the then
Indonesian President Suharto. After Suharto's fall in
1998, relations became worse again. One source of
conflict was the lack of a foreign exchange agreement,
which resulted in Singapore not disclosing
corruption-accused Indonesian businessmen who fled to
Singapore during the Asian crisis of 1997-1998.
Indonesia, in turn, has not disclosed persons accused of
Relations deteriorated in 2013 when it emerged in
leaked US intelligence documents that Singapore was
spying on Indonesia. In February 2014, Indonesia renamed
two warships after Indonesian militias carried out a
bomb attack in Singapore in 1965, which led to protests
Indonesia's inability to put a stop to the forest
fires that sometimes ravage within the country, and to
the health-hazardous smoke that develops from these, has
caused irritation in neighboring countries such as
Singapore as the smoke spreads throughout the region.
Since Joko Widodo became president of Indonesia in
2014, relations have improved significantly. A border
conflict has been resolved and collaborations have been
deepened in trade, higher education, counter-terrorism
and disaster preparedness. The countries are now also
cooperating in the fight against smoke development from
the Indonesian fires.
Singapore attaches great importance to cooperation
with the other Southeast Asian countries within ASEAN.
This cooperation is considered to create such cohesion
between the countries that the existing political
contradictions between them can be kept under control.
During the 2010 century, the Asean countries created a
common free trade area. The membership of Apec is also
of great importance. In 1993, Apec established a
permanent secretariat in Singapore.
China and the United States
Singapore established diplomatic relations with China
in 1990. Singapore primarily sees China as a market for
trade and investment, but it also sees concerns about
China's growing economic and military influence in
Southeast Asia. Singapore has extensive bilateral
relations with China, as well as cooperation through
ASEAN. In 2008, the two countries signed a free trade
agreement and they cooperate in infrastructure
development. China is today Singapore's largest trading
partner. China, however, disapproves of Singapore's good
relations with Taiwan as well as Singapore's military
and security cooperation with the United States in
Singapore is investing in good relations with Europe
and the United States, partly as a counterbalance to
China and Japan's influence in the region. Cooperation
with the US is particularly important. But especially
during the 1990s, the United States criticized the
Singaporean government's lack of respect for human
rights. At the same time, the US military has access to
facilities in Singapore for maintenance, and after the
terrorist attacks against the US in 2001, security
cooperation has been strengthened as part of the fight
During the Obama administration in the United States,
relations were very good. Among other things, a decision
was made to base four American warships in Singapore.
The decision was seen as part of the US's increased
interest in Asia and was taken at a time when regional
tensions in the South China Sea were strong. In 2004,
the two countries signed a free trade agreement.
In 2017, Singapore suspended its trade relations with
North Korea as part of the UN sanctions against the
Pyongyang regime and its efforts to develop its nuclear
arsenal. The initiative for the new sanctions was taken
by the United States.
As a small, mainly Chinese, state surrounded by
Malays and Muslims, Singapore feels security policy
vulnerable. The country is investing heavily in a strong
and modern defense. Military duty is mandatory for 24
months and annual training camps are conducted for
reservists. Military exercises are done together with
the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.
Cooperation between Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia
since 2004, and with Thailand since 2005 and India since
2006, has led to virtually all piracy operations in the
Strait of Malacca. It was previously a major regional
In 2015, Singapore signed an agreement with the
United States on enhanced defense cooperation. The
agreement was a result of rising tensions in the region
over China's territorial demands in the South China Sea.
For the first time, the United States sent a spy plan to
Singapore for a week.
FACTS - DEFENSE
50,000 men (2017)
The air Force
13,500 men (2017)
9,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
3.3 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
17.2 percent (2017)