Singapore slipped one place from 20th to 21st this year. Despite the fall, there are plenty of positives for the Lion City to take from its 2018 performance. Singapore tops the Enterprise sub-index for the third year in a row, maintaining its lead on close competitor, Switzerland, which ranks second. This is an impressive feat for the city-state, and often attributed to its economic competitiveness and favourable business environment. With one of the lowest rates of corruption, and a highly skilled workforce, it is no surprise that both global giants and start-ups choose to set up headquarters and R&D facilities in Singapore. This year, Singapore holds the chair of ASEAN, highlighting its international role in bringing prosperity and stability to the region. As ASEAN chair, Singapore leveraged its digital expertise and launched the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. While still a fairly new initiative, the collaborative platform has the potential to be a key soft power resource, and Singapore should ensure that its diplomatic efforts in ASEAN are matched by efforts in digital diplomacy. Singapore’s greatest, and somewhat unexpected display of diplomacy over the past twelve months, however, came in the form of a historic, high-profile summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. The summit, opportunely referred to as the Singapore Summit, placed Singapore in unprecedented spotlight among top-tier international media, establishing Singapore as a ground of neutrality and elevating its role in international diplomacy and global affairs. As the world pays closer attention to the rise of Asia, Singapore should build on the momentum from the summit to communicate its global contributions, and leverage its reputation as a trusted and effective government to establish its role as a neutral and fair arbiter.
Singapore’s greatest soft power strength continues to lie in Enterprise. It is widely considered the Asian financial and commercial hub of choice due to its favourable business conditions, rule of law, and innovation-fostering environment. Singapore is also one of the most wired societies in the world; helped by its excellent digital infrastructure, efficient government online services, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s savvy use of social media, it climbs up a spot in the Digital sub-index this year.
Singapore’s small size limits its ability to perform in the Engagement and Culture sub-indices, making its use of digital diplomacy all the more important. Its low scores in the Engagement sub-index is largely due to its relatively small diplomatic footprint and low participation in international organisations and treaties. Meanwhile, the young nation continues to struggle with building a vibrant contemporary arts scene that reflects the rich diversity of its population and that one would expect of a global city.
Last year, Portland suggested for the government to combine the vibrancy of its digital and business sectors with the many cultural offerings it possesses. Indeed, Singapore’s launch of its international branding, Passion Made Possible, is a step in the right direction. That being said, it takes years to move the needle on a nation’s global image, and Singapore should ensure it continues to concentrate efforts in showcasing its diverse culture. The bicentenary of Sir Stamford Raffles landing in Singapore will be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate Singapore’s global, multicultural, open society. In addition, Singapore should continue to build a stronger diplomatic presence, leveraging tools of digital diplomacy to shape its international role.