19 Mar 2007

Singapore and neighbors just can't get along

Or how not to win friends and influence people the Singapore way...

By Wayne Arnold and Thomas Fuller

Thursday, March 15, 2007

SINGAPORE: Some countries have strategic oil reserves; others stockpile rice or wheat. The island nation of Singapore has emergency reserves of imported sand.

The sand is there to secure Singapore's insatiable demand for concrete, a reminder of Singapore's vulnerability as a nation without a hinterland to supply it with vital resources.

Singapore's government is now being forced to tap its sand hoard after its usual supplier, Indonesia, abruptly banned exports in February, citing the impact of a recent Singapore construction boom on its beaches and island environments.

The ban touched off the latest in a string of disputes between Singapore and its neighbors over water, land reclamation, satellite concessions, corporate takeovers and the flight patterns of the Singaporean Air Force — just to name a few.

A Malaysian politician has blamed Singapore for worsening floods in his constituency. A top Indonesian politician has appealed for the recall of Singapore's ambassador. The general in Thailand who led the coup there last September has accused Singapore of tapping his phones.

Tiffs between Singapore and its neighbors are nothing new, and analysts say the latest dust-ups are unlikely to seriously harm relations.

But the analysts say that the recent quarrels highlight the fissures that continue to thwart the region's ability to compete collectively against the economies of India and China.

If Singapore and its neighbors cannot agree to share such basic resources as sand and water, they say, the dream of a single market by 2015 — the stated goal of the 10-member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — may be illusory.

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