Singapore is the future of China in urban order

Updated: 2014-08-30 08:05

By Harvey Dzodin(China Daily)

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Invited to deliver the graduation speech at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, I was floored by the number of Chinese students in the graduating class. But nothing surprised me more than my stopover in Singapore. I can say that I've seen China's future, and it's called Singapore.

No, I am not comparing the systems of government in China with its 1.35 billion souls and Singapore that is home to a mere 5.3 million people. I am not saying the Singapore model might one day be applicable to China either.

It's shocking to go to Singapore and compare it to almost any other place on the planet. It's so clean and traffic there generally moves smoothly, even at rush hour. And the crime rate is even lower than in China. These are not incidental facts but the result of strictly enforced, some say draconian, laws and punishments.

If you can imagine Beijing free of spitting, litter and doggy poop, it is Singapore. If you can conjure up an image of the Second Ring Road with cars flowing freely, rather than being a parking lot for hours day and night, it too is Singapore. Can't such a dream be part of the Chinese Dream too? I think it can.

Singapore is proof that carrots and sticks work. People are rewarded for obeying the law by having the pleasure of living in a clean and harmonious society but punished for breaking it. Travelers are warned before entering Singapore that possession, or buying or selling of narcotics carry a mandatory death sentence. It shouldn't come as any surprise then that the number of people dealing in drugs in the city-state is minute.

And yes, chewing gum and littering are banned. Penalties for violating the ban were raised last month to a $1,600 fine for first-timers, a $3,200 fine for repeat offenders and a whopping $8,000 fine for those who dare to try their luck a third time.

Moreover, in a society with a large Chinese population wary of losing face, repeat offenders must perform community service wearing a vividly colored vest that identifies them as litterbugs. Is it any wonder that Singapore is almost spotlessly clean?

Contrast this with China. Even though the government is making Herculean efforts to keep pavements and roads clean and to fine people for littering, they are still littered with rubbish, from cigarette butts to doggy poop.

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