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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Watters and Tonami
Singapore is characterized as a developmental state
(Low, 2001)
, whereby the legitimacy of the state
derives from economic growth and the state involves itself in the education of the labour force and
adaptation of the national economy to changes in the global economy (Airriess, 2001: 240). This
developmental statism can be observed in (1) the significant degree of involvement of state
institutions and government officials of the ruling PAP in the management of the Singaporean
economy and its major commercial entities
(Liow, 2011)
; (2) the creation of large-scale initiatives
such as competence clusters and hubs across government, academia and industry and the adoption
of a long-term strategic approach to foreign economic policy; and (3) the identification of challenges
to Singapore’s economic wellbeing as representing national security threats (Dent, 2001).
The Singapore government’s direct intervention in the management and direction of the economy
and strategic enterprises and sectors means that wider economic initiatives and concerns do, in part,
drive Arctic engagement. Of particular note are concerns about (a) the long-term challenge to
Singapore’s hub port status that future trans-Arctic shipping may represent, and (b) the commercial
potential of the strategically important offshore and marine sector.
A. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) as a Challenge to Singapore’s Shipping Hub
Some analysts assert that more northerly Asian ports could benefit from a reliable Arctic passage, at
the expense of Singapore
(Ho, 2011;
Ramberg, 2010). As a large proportion of ships transiting the
Malacca Straits currently are either Chinese or carrying cargo to China, this would impact Singapore.
It is also argued that projected energy resources in the Arctic and the transit potential may shift
energy import patterns in the energy hungry economies of Northeast Asia, namely China, Japan and
Korea. The Malacca Straits are an acknowledged strategic chokepoint (US Energy Information
Administration, 2011), and with the problem of piracy and political instability in the Middle East
potentially impacting the Strait of Hormuz, the case for alternative energy supply routes through the
Arctic would seem compelling.
In opposition, other analysts challenge the extent of the threat to Singapore’s hub port status.
Questions remain about the near-term potential of large-scale, highly regularized Arctic shipping,
related to navigational safety, transit time, capacity restrictions, limited seasonal access, as well as an
uncertain Russian bureaucracy and lack of existing infrastructure (Lasserre & Pelletier, 2011). On the
displacement of Singapore as an international hub, there are “few grounds for concern” and the
NSR is likely to have a “marginal effect on global shipping movements”
(Graham, 2012)
Furthermore, the role of Chinese ports and Singapore are complementary (Tongzon, 2011), and the