China and the “Singapore Model”

Issue Date January 2016
Volume 27
Issue 1
Page Numbers 39-48
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Following the death of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew in March 2015, China remains obsessed with Singapore, the only country in the region to achieve advanced economic industrialization without undergoing substantial political liberalization. The key “lesson” that China is trying to learn is how to combine authoritarian rule with “good governance” (“meritocratic” one-party rule). The impact of the “Singapore model” on China shows that learning by nondemocratic states is not necessarily a short-term “modular” phenomenon that is largely reactive in character, but can be long-term and highly institutionalized. It has become increasingly clear, however, that China sees what it wants to see in Singapore, making the “lessons” learned more caricature than reality. And China’s recent crackdown on dissenters, squeezing the already limited political space allowed during the post–Tiananmen Square Massacre period, is actually moving the country further away from rather than toward the Singapore model.

About the Authors

Stephan Ortmann

Stephan Ortmann is assistant professor of political economy at the City University of Hong Kong. His most recent book is Politics and Change in Singapore and Hong Kong: Containing Contention (2010).

View all work by Stephan Ortmann

Mark R. Thompson

Mark R. Thompson is professor of politics at City University of Hong Kong.

View all work by Mark R. Thompson