Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore

Taiwan (ROC)

Taiwan map

Taiwan is separated from the Chinese mainland by the Taiwan Strait. The island is mountainous and has rugged national parks in its interior, while most of the people in Taiwan live in bustling cities along the coast.

Taiwan’s push for good education and technical skills for its citizens has paid off in the form of high incomes and an industrialized economy. After World War II, when China raised its Bamboo Curtain, the United States cut its trade relations with the Communist mainland. However, the United States did trade a great deal with the Nationalists in Taiwan. The deep tensions that exist between China and Taiwan are easy to understand given the history that led to Taiwan’s current existence. One of the flashpoints in China-Taiwan relations has been the “One China” policy. Originally asserted by Beijing, the principle contends that there is only one indivisible China, which encompasses all of China, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet.

During the Cold War, the sizeable population of mainland China was attractive to US corporations that sought trade with China. In 1972, for the benefit of the United States and to counter the influence of the Soviet Union, US president Richard Nixon organized a visit to Beijing that opened the door to US-China diplomatic relations. There were conditions placed on the open door agreement that followed. One condition that mainland China imposed was for the US government to recognize the Communist government in Beijing as the official China. To do this, the United States had to move their US embassy from Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, to Beijing and recognize only the Beijing government as the official China. The United States agreed to this policy. As a result, no government official in the US State Department, cabinet level or higher, can officially visit Taiwan; at the same time, no equal-level diplomat from Taiwan can officially visit the United States. This policy placed Taiwan in an ambiguous position: Is Taiwan an independent country or is it a part of mainland China?

WonderWhy: Is Taiwan a country… or part of China?

Mainland China has always demanded that in order for countries to have good relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), they must not recognize Taiwan (Republic of China, or ROC). This has caused intermittent problems for the United States and other countries. The termination of diplomatic relations between the United States and the ROC was a huge blow for Taiwan, even though the United States continued to conduct trade with the island. The United States has always supported Taiwan’s economic independence. In 2007, the United States sold military arms to Taiwan. As a result, China began to deny routine access to its ports for US ships. Taiwan’s status on the world stage has fluctuated. For about twenty years after the Nationalists set up a government in Taiwan, the ROC held a seat in the United Nations (UN), and the UN recognized Taiwan’s claim as the legitimate government of China. In 1971, the UN changed its position and gave the seat to Beijing. The UN indicated it could not give a seat to Taiwan because Taiwan is not recognized as a legal nation.

In 2000, Taiwan renewed its efforts to be internationally recognized as a sovereign nation and announced tentative plans to formally secede from China. China responded with many threats and conducted military exercises across the strait from Taiwan. The military exercises were seen as another threat, essentially a show of military might, meant to intimidate Taiwan into retreating from its secessionist position. The United States supported Taiwan by parking a naval fleet nearby, which incensed the mainland government. In 2005, China passed a law authorizing the use of military force to stop any secessionist actions by Taiwan.

Taiwan’s economy continues to use its skilled labor base. In years past, Taiwan’s factories produced textiles and light clothing. As incomes and skills advanced, production shifted to electronics and high-end goods, which it has since been exporting around the world. Taiwan has achieved a high standard of living for its people. 

The cultures of Taiwan are a hybrid blend of various sources, incorporating elements of traditional Chinese culture, attributable to the historical and ancestral origin of the majority of its current residents, Japanese culture, traditional Confucianist beliefs, and increasingly Western values.

Miao-Li, Taiwan: Quanhua Temple, located in the Lion's Head Mountain Scenic Area
Miao-Li, Taiwan: Quanhua Temple, located in the Lion’s Head Mountain Scenic Area

The people of Taiwan are mainly Han Chinese – many of which arrived on the island in the 18th century, but there are also 16 indigenous ethnic groups. The Hoklo people are the largest ethnic group. The Bunan, an indigenous people who are widely dispersed across the island’s central mountain ranges were known to be fierce warriors and headhunters until the coming of Christian missionaries in the beginning of the 20th century. The Bunan are known for their polyphonic vocal music.

The Song of Bunun Tribe | Taiwan

The question of Taiwan’s political status is as yet unresolved and is clearly still volatile, but trade and investment between China and Taiwan are robust and growing. Taiwan has been able to independently compete in world-class sporting events, including the Olympics, under the name Chinese Taipei.

If you have a spare 25 minutes, this video will give you a good overview of Taiwan:

Ian O’Reilly: BBC – The Travel Show – Taiwan Special

Hong Kong

Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the Qing Empire ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War, and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. The whole territory was returned to China in 1997. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from that of mainland China under a principle of “one country, two systems”.

Originally a sparsely populated area of farming and fishing villages, the territory has become one of the world’s most significant financial centers and commercial ports. Although the city has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, there is severe income inequality among its residents.

Vox: China is erasing its border with Hong Kong

More than 95 percent of the seven million people living in Hong Kong are ethnically Chinese. The people have strong ties to mainland China but highly value their separate and independent economic and political status. The culture was influenced by British-style education, a separate political system, and the territory’s rapid development during the late 20th century.

Hong Kong is a major financial and banking center for Asia and has been working with the Chinese government to provide private banking services for Chinese citizens. The small land size of Hong Kong makes it a high-priced real estate destination. The cost of living is high, and space is at a premium and expensive. Hong Kong has the world’s largest number of skyscrapers.

Vox: Inside Hong Kong’s Cage Homes

The lack of available space restricted development to high-density residential tenements and commercial complexes packed closely together on buildable land. Single-family detached homes are extremely rare, and generally only found in outlying areas.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong attracts millions of visitors per year and has established itself as a tourism hub for people desiring to visit southern China. Tens of millions of tourists each year use Hong Kong as a base or stopover point to enter China’s southern provinces. Hong Kong offers visitors immense shopping possibilities in a safe and modern environment that is attractive to people from all over the world. Cantonese is the official language, but English is widely spoken in Hong Kong because of Britain’s influence and because of world trade relationships.

A bagua mirror

Traditional Chinese family values, including family honor, filial piety, and a preference for sons, are prevalent in Hong Kong. The spiritual concept of feng shui is also often observed, and bagua mirrors are regularly used to deflect evil spirits. Buildings often lack floor numbers that use a 4, as the number has a similar sound to the word for “die” in Cantonese.

Vox: How feng shui shaped Hong Kong’s skyline

Food in Hong Kong is based on Cantonese cuisine, with rice as a staple. here are five daily meals: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and siu yeh, which comes after dinner anytime from about 9 p.m. You can read an article about siu yeh by clicking here.

Typical dim sum breakfast in Hong Kong. Dim sum is prepared as small portions of food served in small steamer baskets or plates. This dim sum spread features shrimp dumplings, jasmine tea, chicken and vegetable ‘congee’ (two bowls with spoons), hot sauce dip , steamed dumplings, rice noodle rolls with soy sauce, and steamed buns with pork filling.
In June 2014, the Hong Kong Government listed the pineapple bun as a part of Hong Kong's cultural heritage.
In June 2014, the Hong Kong Government listed the pineapple bun as a part of Hong Kong’s cultural heritage.
Sugarcane juice is a beverage enjoyed in Hong Kong.

In 2019-2020, there were protests in Hong Kong triggered by an amendment proposed by the Hong Kong government. Some had concerns that the bill would subject Hong Kong residents and visitors to the jurisdiction and legal system of Mainland China, thereby undermining the region’s autonomy and people’s civil liberties and infringe on privacy and freedom of speech laws. The protests were halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.


From 1819, Singapore served as a trading port for British ships on their way to India. Under British colonial rule, the island was included in the Malaysian federation. It broke away and became independent in 1965. It is a small island measuring about thirty miles long at its widest point. Singapore is about two hundred forty square miles in area. Singapore’s most valuable resource is its relative location. Singapore is similar to Hong Kong in its development. With a good port, Singapore is a hub for ships sailing between Europe and China. It serves Southeast Asia as an entrepôt, or break-of-bulk point, where goods are offloaded from large ships and transported to smaller vessels for distribution to the Southeast Asian community.

Skylines of the Central Business District, Singapore
Skylines of the Central Business District, Singapore

You may be surprised to find that English is the main language used in business, government, law, and education. Malay was designated as a national language by the Singaporean government after independence from Britain in the 1960s to avoid friction with Singapore’s Malay-speaking neighbors of Malaysia and Indonesia. It has a symbolic, rather than functional purpose. Racial and religious harmony is regarded by Singaporeans as a crucial part of Singapore’s success and played a part in building a Singaporean identity.

Singapore has made good strategic utilization of its geographic location by serving as a distribution center for goods and materials processed in the region. Crude oil from Indonesia is unloaded and refined here. Raw materials are shipped in, manufactured into finished products, and then shipped out to global markets. Since Singapore is small, it has had to concentrate on manufacturing goods that provide for optimal profits. As an economic tiger, Singapore has transitioned through the same stages as Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong to become an economic power in Southeast Asia.

An economic tiger is a country show economy has grown very quickly and successfully, usually with an increased standard of living. This term usually refers to Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea.

Economic tigers: Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea
Why is Singapore so rich? | CNBC Explains

Singapore consists of 63 islands and is a swampy place with no natural resources. Ongoing land reclamation projects have increased Singapore’s land area. Some projects involve merging smaller islands through land reclamation to form larger, more functional islands. In 2010 Singapore imported almost 15 million tons of sand for its projects, the demand being such that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam have all restricted or barred the export of sand to Singapore in recent years. As a result, in 2016 Singapore switched to using polders – a Netherlands solution – to reclamation, in which an area is enclosed and then pumped dry.

Singapore’s urbanization means that it has lost 95% of its historical forests. To combat this decline, the government introduced the vision of making Singapore a “garden city.” The Gardens by the Bay is a nature park that was created for this purpose. Its Flower Dome is the largest glass greenhouse in the world.

Singapore: Flower Dome and Cloud Forest in The Gardens by the Bay
Singapore: Flower Dome and Cloud Forest in The Gardens by the Bay
Getaway: Gardens by the Bay | Getaway 2019

All production components, food goods, construction materials, and energy must be imported. Importing everything has raised the cost of living. To compete with the other Asian economic tigers in the global marketplace, Singapore has implemented severe control measures on its operations. There are harsh penalties for criminal activities and for even misdemeanor offenses. Singapore is a safe place to live because of its strict state rules. It has an authoritarian government, which strives to create an attractive place for international corporations to operate. One of the objectives is to eliminate corruption and establish a business-friendly environment.

10 Craziest Laws You can Only Find in Singapore

The government of Singapore has entered into trade agreements with two of its neighbors to provide raw materials and cheap labor. A trade triangle has been established between Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Malaysia and Indonesia provide Singapore with raw materials and cheap labor; Singapore provides its neighbors with technical know-how and financial support. Everyone benefits. Singapore is an excellent example of the upper end of the economic spectrum in Southeast Asia. Countries like Laos or Vietnam would be at the opposite end, since they have a largely rural population based on agriculture that is just beginning to shift to the cities with industrialization. Singapore is already 100 percent urban with high incomes based on high-tech manufacturing and processing of raw materials. Singapore is an economic hub for Southeast Asia, complete with global airline connections and is located on a major shipping lane. Singapore’s world-class port is one of the busiest in Asia. 

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Additional information and image credits:

Taiwan map By User:(WT-shared) Burmesedays, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection – Taiwan Maps, OpenStreetMap – Public Domain imagery, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection – Taiwan Maps,OpenStreetMap, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22748057
Taiwan locator map By JOSH tw – Own work ,based on File:BlankMap-World6.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11146591
Taiwan mountains By Jcwalker1015 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Temple in Taiwan By Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas or alternatively © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46429854
Bunun https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunun_people
Culture of Taiwan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Taiwan
Hong Kong protests By Studio Incendo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/studiokanu/48073669892/in/album-72157709109973522/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79742972
Hong Kong protests https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%9320_Hong_Kong_protests
Hong Kong https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong
Hong Kong cuisine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_cuisine
Dim sum Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=752989
Pineapple bun By Dennis Wong from Hong Kong, Hong Kong – 菠蘿油 (Pineapple Bun), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43748923
Pineapple bun info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pineapple_bun
Sugarcane juice By Food Trails – https://www.flickr.com/photos/rikajenzhomekitchen/168926505/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17274618
Singapore https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore
Singapore skyline By Basile Morin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Economic tigers graphic By Flag of Hong Kong.svg: Nightstallion and several othersFlag of the Republic of China.svg: Nightstallion and several othersFlag of South Korea.svg: SKopp and several othersFlag_of_Singapore.svg: Zscout370 and othersBlankMap-World6.svg: Happenstance and several othersthis compiled work: Furfur – This file was derived from:✦ Flag of Hong Kong.svg✦ Flag of the Republic of China.svg✦ Flag of South Korea.svg✦ Flag of Singapore.svg✦ BlankMap-World6.svg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48801666
Singapore flower dome By Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas or alternatively © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39540301

1 thought on “Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore

  1. Very interesting. I learned a lot.

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