Forum: Singapore can flourish despite geopolitical uncertainty

 The Singapore skyline pictured on Jan 9, 2019.
The Singapore skyline pictured on Jan 9, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore's recent signing of defence agreements with both China and the United States is akin to a balancing act on a high wire.

Steadying itself between two major powers, Singapore is doing exactly what a tightrope walker does - tilt side to side while keeping both feet parallel.

Singapore has made known its desire for balanced security ties with both players, regardless of their snowballing acrimony.

The current geopolitical waters are no doubt tough to navigate; we all know that size matters and the common notion is that bigger is better.

Nonetheless, while big countries exert tremendous influence in shaping the global system, small countries like Singapore can position themselves to adapt and flourish.

In this day and age, it is no longer survival of the fittest, but survival of the most adaptable.

What Singapore needs to do is sustain a sharp cognisance of its competitive advantage and capitalise tactically on it while upholding its competitive discipline.

We may have no natural resources but our skilled workforce is much in demand.

We may have no natural resources but our skilled workforce is much in demand.

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, Singaporean leaders must work together to maintain a consensual political economy, without which there will be no coherence to speak of.

A small country like Singapore does not have the capability of large nations to absorb all sorts of shocks and volatility.

We must also not undersell ourselves. We may possess neither size nor natural resources, and big powers do not need us for things they already have. Much like how things were in the 19th century, it is our strategic location that remains one of our greatest assets to them.

For the same reason, Nato has kept its doors open to North Macedonia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo.

The world may be facing highly disruptive times, but this pressure can serve Singapore well by honing it to seek new opportunities and adjust to new risks in a deft manner.

Calm times are just that - it is the tough times that will build Singapore's character and train it to be purposeful and strategically agile.

Lily Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore can flourish despite geopolitical uncertainty'. Print Edition | Subscribe