Vital Information

  • Capital - Singapore
  • Population - 4,492,150 (July 2006 est.)
  • Government – Parliamentary Republic
  • President: Tony Tan Keng Yam
  • Prime Minister: Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore Public Diplomacy Overview

In 1965, Singapore gained its independence from Britain and thereafter, the tiny nation was left to prosper on its own. However the country has proven that size does not matter. Today, the city-state continues to top the rankings among the world’s business hubs, remains one of the busiest international ports, and a melting pot of assorted cultures, ethnicities and religions. Taking full advantage of its strategic location and unique cultural diversity, Singapore has successfully launched its image to the rest of the world and broadened its global networks. From the state actors to the mass public, it has neatly integrated itself into the international system on all levels and as a result, its efforts at public diplomacy have superseded the expectations of many, sometimes souring relations and at other times sweetening them.


Academia takes a central stage in Singapore’s effort to engage in positive public diplomacy. For instance, the Sino-Singapore undergraduate student exchange program spearheaded by both China’s and Singapore's Ministries of Education, was created with the intention of expanding bilateral relations between the two nations through the interaction of committed undergraduate students from each country. The aim of the program is to endow students from both sides with a global understanding and appreciation of each other's capabilities and lifestyles. Similar exchanges take places between Peking University in China and undergraduates from the National University of Singapore. This year-long program also seeks to provide students from both sides with the opportunity to explore and appreciate the history, culture, society and economy of one another. And beyond most of Asia, scholar exchange programs extend throughout Europe, Africa, The Americas, and Australasia.

Public Holidays

The major public holidays in Singapore are an exciting exercise in cultural diplomacy and a further testament to Singapore's ability to engage in positive public diplomacy. The various holidays reflect and respect the rich cultural and religious diversity of the country, and include Chinese New Year, Buddhist Vesak Day, Muslim Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha (locally known by its Malay name of Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji respectively) and Hindu Diwali (locally known by its Tamil name of Deepavali). Christians also comprise a large portion of the population and thus Christmas Day and Good Friday are also respected as public holidays. The careful and culturally sensitive approach to these holidays enables diverse communities in Singapore to have a better understanding and appreciation of each other’s belief systems, and fosters positive relations with foreign cultures that hold a similar set of beliefs and traditions.

Singapore's annual arts festival is another example of its constructive public diplomacy practices. As one of the leading international arts festivals of its kind, it brings together home-grown artists with artists from as far as Romania, Japan, Iraq and the United States. Moreover, the event receives sponsorship from various foreign consulates based in Singapore, and the Association of Asian Performing Arts. The latter organization of which Singapore is a founding member aims to create an "understanding, exchange and collaboration among Asian Festivals in areas of artistic programming, marketing, touring, sharing of specialist knowledge and experience." [1] This allows it to play a major role in shaping and developing artistic endeavors in both Asia and beyond.

ASEAN Integration

Singapore is extremely active in supporting the progress of underdeveloped nations throughout the world, and particularly those of Southeast Asia. The Singapore Cooperation Programme, created in 1992 by the Foreign Ministry, is an umbrella organization for all of the country’s technical assistance programs. As their official website notes, the program is based on the developmental idea that if you "give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life." This understanding has influenced Singapore to offer substantial technical training opportunities to developing countries as well as educational funding for students in SE Asia. Programs include such topics as trade management fundamentals, sustainable economic development theory, IT industry and international trade, and an economic integration initiative that is meant to bridge the gap between developed and developing ASEAN nations.

Fully aware and making no illusion of its size, Singapore recognizes that it's credibility and security depends largely on its relations with neighboring states, mainly members of ASEAN. Since conceiving the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI), Singapore has created five programs that seek to promote regional integration by bringing together the publics of the member states such as the Singapore Scholarships, the ASEAN Students Exchange Program, the Education "Train-the-Trainers" Program, and the establishment of training centers in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Viet Nam. More recently in March 2007, Singapore celebrated ASEAN's 40th anniversary in what can be referred to as a grand display of public diplomacy. Music bands from the various ASEAN member-states came and played at Singapore's Hard Rock Cafe, an event that strategically brought together its own public and the publics of member-states in an atmosphere of comradery.

National Defense

Being small in size also means that Singapore must ensure its national defense forces are consistently up to par. But instead of putting up an offensive front, Singapore's military has engaged in public diplomacy efforts that partner its security forces with those of other countries, including the Naval Postgraduate School in the United States and the University of Western Australia. The lack of space within Singapore means that some training programs and facilities are located overseas, including in Thailand, Brunei, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Australia, New Zealand, France, the United States and India. In addition, Singapore regularly conducts joint military exercises with all ASEAN nations and with the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Republic of China (Taiwan), Thailand and Malaysia. Joint armed-forces training sessions between the cadets helps reinforce a strong sense of security and solidarity between the publics of both nations.

Corporate Social Responsibilty

In February 2004, the British High Commission in Singapore used the Public Diplomacy Challenge Fund to organize a seminar that attempted to further the case for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)[2] in Singapore and the region. Individuals that took part in the conference included three Singaporean Ministers, and approximately two hundred participants from sectors such as government, business, NGOs, trade unions and civil society. The conference was an effort to empower minority Muslim communities by stressing the need to take Islam into account in business practices, as Muslim nations becoming increasingly visible and influential in international relations. The event coincided with Singapore's signing of the Kyoto Protocol, following which, Singapore chose the U.K. as its partner of choice in CSD. The two countries have since worked together to create bodies that promote CSD, such as Singapore Compact. Moreover, the project successfully promoted interfaith dialogue in the entire South East Asia region and culminated in visits and exchanges between senior officials of both states

Law Enforcement

While Singapore has valued highly its people-to-people relations with foreign publics, some aspects of its legal practices have prevented it from projecting a truly positive image to the world. The country's strict laws and codes of enforcement have strained relations and Singapore’s national brand. Indeed, Singapore is notorious for brandishing laws that call for capital punishment of drug traffickers and murderers, laws that are employed “without sparing any community that gets involved.” [3]

The first Westerner to face capital punishment in Singapore was Johannes Van Damme; a citizen of the Netherlands who was caught with 4.5 grams of heroine at Singapore's Changi Airport in 1994. Singapore refused to give in to pressure from the Netherlands to stop the execution, and dismissed suggestions that the crime occurred due to a 'cultural gap' between the two countries, arguing instead that capital punishment had existed since British colonial times. The Singapore Foreign Ministry argued that it could not change its laws solely to accommodate the Netherlands, and pointed out that it does not ask the Netherlands to follow suit after its own laws, thus why should Singapore comply. Indeed, the case brought into the international spotlight the city's severe policy of hanging convicted drug dealers, thereby setting alight the diplomacy tinderbox. Since Van Daamne, A German student, Julie Bohl, was sentenced to twenty years in jail for carrying approximately 300 grams of cocaine and more recently, Nguyen Tuong Van, an Australian national was sentenced to death after trafficking 400 grams of heroin at Singapore airport while traveling from Cambodia to Australia. In the case of the latter, Howard Stern, Australia's Prime Minister, reported that the incident will certainly "harm relations between the people of Australia and Singapore…I have told the Prime Minister of Singapore that I believe it will have an effect on the relationship on a people-to-people, population-to-population basis." [4]

It appears then that Singapore faces its greatest public diplomacy threat in the arena of local law enforcement. In almost every other department, from international law enforcement to tourism and academia it has behaved as a country well aware of its limitations in size and has been active in fostering sound public-to-public relations with other nations. In a world growing increasingly interdependent and globalized, it is likely over time that Singapore's positive public diplomacy practices will not only extend to new realms and regions of the world but also strengthen where they already exist.

Government Agencies

Private & International Organizations

Publications, Articles & Commentary

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Public Opinion Polls & Statistics


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PbWinter 10:54, 26 Jul 2006 (PDT)

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