Singapore remains in 21st place this year, narrowly missing out on the top 20 again. The Lion City’s position as a global business hub is the defining strength of Singapore’s soft power, having topped the Enterprise sub-index four years in a row. Over the last year, Singapore enjoyed more global attention than it is normally accustomed, giving it an opportunity to expand its reputation beyond a business-friendly city-state. The international success of the film “Crazy Rich Asians” invited many Western audiences to take another look at Singapore, albeit through a glamorous lens. The historical Trump-Kim summit also brought much of the world’s news media to Singapore, putting Singapore at the centre of the diplomatic universe. This year, Singapore’s polling performance improved by one place in the rankings, but it cannot rely on standalone occurrences; Singapore will need a steady drumbeat of soft power activity if it wants to effectively move the needle. Singapore watchers know that the government is keen to push the country beyond its business-friendly branding and bolster digital, cultural, and creative bona fides. While “The Little Red Dot” is packed with soft power potential, breaking through the stereotypes of safe, efficient, and functional will require Singapore to double down on efforts to showcase its diverse culture and heritage, and highlight creative and innovative outputs to global audiences.
Singapore’s standout soft power strength is in the Enterprise sub-index. Topping the sub-index for four years running is no easy feat and speaks to Singapore’s attractive business model. Singapore’s effective policies, skilled talent, and strategic location make it a critical global hub of finance, business, logistics, and innovation. The soft power generated by Singapore’s economic approach is especially valuable in today’s interconnected world. Despite falling by one place, Singapore does well in the Digital sub-index, with strong connectivity and extensive government online services. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also built a sizeable overseas social media following, which has become an important platform for the island nation to engage with global audiences.
Singapore’s biggest weaknesses sit in the Engagement and the Culture sub-indices. For a small state with a limited diplomatic network, the odds are always stacked against Singapore in the Engagement sub-index. Improving on the Culture sub-index is also challenge for the city-state, which has only one UNESCO World Heritage Site. Singapore’s lack of global sporting success and international popular culture cut-through further compound its underperformance in the Culture sub-index.
Singapore has done well to maintain its top position in the Enterprise sub-index, but its weakness in the Engagement and Culture sub-indices continue to be its biggest challenge in climbing up the soft power rankings. While the city-state’s efficiency has made it a natural choice for hosting key international events and conferences, it must leverage on such opportunities to strengthen its image as a regional leader and build on a narrative that highlights its positive contributions to global challenges. At the same time, Singapore needs to find ways to showcase its cultural diversity on the world stage. Singapore is a young nation with a lot of potential for growth in the soft power rankings. But it cannot rely on a Trump-Kim summit every couple of years to grab the world’s attention.