Singapore's Foreign Economic Policy: The Pursuit of Economic Security

By Dent, Christopher M. | Contemporary Southeast Asia, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Singapore's Foreign Economic Policy: The Pursuit of Economic Security


Dent, Christopher M., Contemporary Southeast Asia


Singapore has maintained one of the most effective foreign economic policies (FEP) of any small state, with the city-state's proactivity in the domain of economic diplomacy demonstrated at multiple levels. This article contends that Singapore's fundamental FEP objectives are oriented by its pursuit of economic security. Various key determinants of Singapore's foreign economic policy are presented in setting the general context to the main discursive analysis. In addition to various geoeconomic and state-centred factors, Singapore's deep security complex forms a crucial determinant in this respect. A framework for economic security analysis within the FEP context is developed and then applied to Singapore's case.

Introduction

For such a small state, Singapore maintains a relatively high profile foreign economic policy (FEP). Its government is a proactive player within the international economic system, utilizing its limited but high quality technocratic resources to effect in cultivating Singapore's foreign economic interests. This proactivity is evident at various levels of economic diplomacy -- bilateral, sub-regional, regional, and multilateral -- where Singapore has, in various instances, sought to catalyse change to its geoeconomic advantage. Moreover, it is contended here that Singapore's fundamental FEP objectives are oriented by its pursuit of economic security that is embedded within a deep security complex that has primarily determined the city-state's foreign policy interests and objectives. The analysis below starts by examining key determinants of Singapore's foreign economic policy, setting the context for discussions that follow. A framework of economic security analysis is then developed within an FEP context, outl ining eight different typologies of economic security as a lens through which foreign economic policy objectives, and hence behaviour, may be understood. This is then applied to Singapore as a case of FEP power.

Key Determinants of Singapore's Foreign Economic Policy

Singapore is often described as a global city-state in the commercial tradition of ancient Greek or medieval Italian city-states, such as Venice. It has developed into a modem trading centre and regional hub that maintains relatively high degrees of commercial innovation and economic freedom. Furthermore, Singapore is a "trading state" [1] in that its economy's export-orientation and entrepot function [2] form the underlying basis of its foreign economic policy and explain its strong free trade advocacy. In acknowledging Singapore's aspirations of global city-statehood, then Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam commented in February 1972, that: "We draw sustenance not only from the region but also from the international economic system to which we as a Global City belong and which will be the final arbiter of whether we prosper or decline." [3] This resonates of both the overt regional and global dimensions of Singapore's FEP, in that whilst Singapore seeks to exploit economic synergies with its Southeast Asian nei ghbours -- as discussed later regarding the Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore "Growth Triangle" (IMSGT) -- the city-state has simultaneously positioned itself as a key node in the global economy. Indeed, the predominance of transnational capital in the Singapore economy is a prime factor in the FEP calculus. Although the Singapore state's regionalization and globalization strategies are intended to be mutually reinforcing, they often set off counteracting forces within its FEP framework, as will be revealed later.

It is also evident that Singapore's FEP protagonists (that is, actors responsible for FEP political direction, or bureaucratic management) [4] frequently adopt a "distant horizon", strategic approach to foreign economic policy. This relates to both the long-term and strong geoeconomic perspectives that inform the city-state's FEP formation, which, in turn, are largely attributable to its developmental statism. …

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