The Straits Times says

Staying plugged in to the world

Thinking globally has long held the key to surviving locally in Singapore. When Singapore leaders reiterated this point in the lead-up to the General Election, some might have thought they were highlighting inherent long-term dangers to the nation in order to shore up short-term electoral support for themselves. However, the reality of Singapore's vulnerability has been an enduring national motif for good reasons. Consider the city-state's minuscule size, a lingering sense of insecurity amid global threats and challenges, and its location in a part of the world marked by a range of dangers from live ethnic faultlines to simmering great-power rivalry.

The collective pressure of those realities has obliged generations of Singaporeans to understand instinctively that their country must succeed on the global stage if it is to survive at all. Today, Singaporeans need to guard against taking a parochial view of their future even as they benefit from the country's economic staying power and the deterrent capacity of its armed forces.

Circumspection is the order of the day. The pairing of political sovereignty and economic autonomy, the defining rationale of the nation-state, is being questioned increasingly by the power of supranational bodies. A case in point is the role of the European Central Bank in determining the destiny of a country like Greece. The International Monetary Fund attracts accusations of being a tool of neo-colonialism. Although far-fetched, that charge underlines the irrefutable truth that the economic and political choices of countries are constrained by the integrative logic of globalisation even as the freer movement of capital and talent opens up economic opportunities.

Closer home, international investors view Singapore as a part of the South-east Asian economy, no matter how clearly the country is differentiated from the rest of the region by its institutional and cultural norms. The fraying of ethnic relations in Malaysia in particular, Singapore's closest neighbour, cannot but have a direct impact on investors' views of Singapore's prospects.

At the same time, the rise of China, India and political Islam are facts of international life. In responding to them, Singapore has to go the extra national mile in preventing foreign countries and forces from influencing domestic political and social outcomes. Unlike the earlier ideological contest between the United States and the Soviet Union - which, too, had to be managed within Singapore - the external pulls this time are ethnic and thus visceral.

The State must remain strictly and visibly impartial in its dealings with any extra-territorial affinities within its borders. On their part, citizens must acknowledge the crucial role Singapore's external sphere plays in the unfolding of their everyday lives. To be local is to be global.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'Staying plugged in to the world'. Print Edition | Subscribe