Within the ASEAN cooperative framework, member countries deliberate and agree on a number of initiatives critical to the region, oﬀer ﬁnancial and other resources which allow such initiatives to take root and blossom, and take turns to host meetings that support the socio-economic and political development eﬀorts. This collaborative and collective orientation, long recognized as the hallmark of ASEAN’s success, makes it important to understand the uniqueness of a member country’s contribution. The focus of this chapter is thus on an examination which allows us to see the unique or the comparative advantage of Singapore’s contributions. To understand Singapore’s role in ASEAN, we should look at the relationship between a country’s attributes and the distinct ways in which it relates to ASEAN. This relationship can be undertaken in two broad ways. The ﬁrst is to look at how Singapore’s historically derived attributes of being a small state as well as a port city shape its orientation towards the region and beyond. This ﬁrst point allows the reader to understand how historical and structural features of the country shape its relationship with the rest of the world. The second look involves an understanding of the developmental features of Singapore as a city state from which we can deduce a comparative advantage in terms of the nature of contributions. The size of a country matters. In the book Small States in the World
Market, Katzenstein (1985) shows that participation in regional groupings has allowed small European states to pool their interests, exert a larger voice on a range of collective interests and gain a stronger bargaining position against a stronger state. Nuemann and Gstöhl (2004, 17) argue that because material resources are limited, this structural factor ‘may predispose small states to favour discourses that institutionalize rules and norms, such as international law, international regimes, and international institutions’. We can extend the small country and its inherent lack of resources argu-
ment to the nature of economic development. Saul (1982) argues that the lack of natural resources also predispose small countries to move into niches which may be less attractive or paid less attention by larger countries. Moreover,
becomes an important niche as opportunities are capitalized and skills developed within the small country. These historical and structural dynamics certainly apply to Singapore. Sin-
gapore’s development as a port city by the British created an entrepȏt niche which included not just the infrastructure in terms of the harbour and a set of services oriented to trade, but also an outlook which is focussed on the immediate sub-region and to markets in Europe, India and China (Wong 1960, 160). And when Malaysia’s export economy around tin and rubber expanded, the trading economy centred in Singapore grew proportionately (Buchanan 1972, 22) One of the colonial economic legacies has been the creation of an excellent entrepȏt infrastructure (habour, warehouses, transport and communication facilities) along with a well-developed layer of business and trading services (banks, trading houses, wholesalers, and transport and communication services). Since decolonization, the port city function continues to be signiﬁcant in Singapore’s economy as it is a major port of Southeast Asia. With stronger government intervention, other economic activities, an industrial base which is dependent on overseas foreign direct investment (beginning with electronics and more recently pharmaceuticals and chemicals) has built on this early economic layer. In turn, Singapore continues to look outwards in its economic outlook and is sensitive to the interplay between international relations and economic relations. Aside from this broad historical and structural perspective, we should also
look more in-depth into the nature of Singapore’s development to examine the agencies of development and to see how these shape the nature of Singapore’s development. All countries move at a diﬀerent pace for diﬀerent sectors and understanding which sectors Singapore is ahead in will allow us to establish Singapore’s unique contribution.