Stewart Watters is Research Fellow, and Aki Tonami is Researcher, at the Nordic Institute of Asian
Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Singapore: An Emerging Arctic Actor
Stewart Watters and Aki Tonami
This paper analyses the extent to which Singapore has an Arctic policy and what factors may be driving that policy.
Although a small, Southeast Asian territory located near the equator, Singapore is an influential maritime actor that
has articulated its interest in Arctic governance through government statements, diplomatic initiatives and an
application for observer status to the Arctic Council. We find that Singapore has considerable economic and political
interest in the development of international maritime policy, including the Arctic, and is concerned by the potential local
impacts of the climate change already visible in the Arctic. Singapore also has specific interests in the development of its
domestic maritime industries. As a developmental state, there are close links between Singapore’s state institutions and
major commercial enterprises. Singapore’s competence in the management of complex port infrastructure and the
fostering of global leaders in the offshore marine and engineering industry are of particular note in analyzing factors
driving the Singapore government’s interest in the Arctic’s potential. We conclude that Singapore’s Arctic policy is in
its early stages of definition. It is not yet clear whether Singapore’s efforts to contribute to Arctic governance represent a
foreign policy objective in its own right, or if Singapore’s Arctic diplomacy is driven primarily by an ambition to exploit
an emerging market niche in which it sees itself as a technological and expertise leader.
As a Southeast Asian city-state of 5 million people, lying just over 100km north of the Equator,
Singapore may not immediately strike one as having any significant interest in the Arctic region.
Singapore has little history of engagement in the polar regions to infer a general policy direction.
However, there are ongoing discussions in academic and policy circles in Singapore as to how the
impacts of climate change in the Arctic will affect Singapore in the future. Singapore has articulated
an intention to play a role in Arctic governance, through government statements
submission for Observer status at the Arctic Council and the creation of an Arctic Envoy role,
raising the question of what is motivating these various activities.
We find that Singapore is actively seeking an Arctic role, and that this engagement stems from
Singapore’s significant interest in global maritime affairs and the strong role of the state in managing
the Singaporean economy and its strategic industries of port management and vessel construction.