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The World’s New Space-Hub: Singapore?

Singapore Is Ripe for Developments in Commercial Space Travel, Space Colonisation and Interplanetary Life

For the past few decades, the very name of “Singapore” invokes excellence, thanks to its ceaseless habit to lead the ranks in many positive global metrics – from being among the world’s least corrupt countries to having some of the healthiest citizens in the world.

On the economic front, the Republic is a leading global financial and trading centre, as well as being an important node for the manufacturing of high-end electronics and pharmaceuticals. Singapore is one of the world’s busiest transhipment hub and its vaunted Changi Airport has won accolades for being the best airport in the world.

In short, Singapore’s model of closely integrating government economic policies and capitalizing on global market conditions has produced one of the best state-led development success stories in the world, with its citizens having one of the world’s highest average income per capita.

Singapore has also diversified its economic prowess over the years and is aiming to ready to capitalize the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution by investing heavily into education and leveraging its influence and wealth to invite many of the world’s researchers and scientists to establish themselves in the Lion City.

From the geopolitical angle, the astute instincts of its leadership and it’s financial clout has enabled Singapore to punch above its weight.

Singapore’s strategic place enabled it to serve as an important node in the global forward positioning of the American military. Singapore has been annually hosting the Asia Security Summit (also known as the Shangri-la Dialogue) and the opinions of its leaders being highly regarded internationally.

Singapore’s highly skilful diplomatic corps has also shaped the Republic’s international profile as a strong advocate for the rule of law in the international arena.

Although Singapore’s commitment to excellence is highly commendable, shifts in the global economy and geopolitical environment presents systemic risks to the Republic’s security and prosperity. The rising tide of populism and the lacklustre economic performance that afflicts much of Europe and the United States has undermined the credibility and will of the West considerably. Brexit and the Trump administration to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are two prominent developments illustrating this trend.

Singapore has consistently aligned itself with the West on many issues pertaining to the global trade and security regimes. On the other hand, the emerging ambitions of great powers such as China – embodied with its high-profile $900b ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) infrastructure cum development projects stretching across Europe and Asia has the potential to undermine Singapore’s economic advantages.

Leaving aside the coming geopolitical challenges faced by Singapore for now, the real challenge ahead for Singapore is to move beyond serving as a hub of convenience (providing stopover maritime services, financial clearing and etc.) and truly focus on areas where it will be a hub of purpose (being the leading innovator in cutting edge industries).

Being a hub of convenience is not necessarily disadvantageous – but it is inadequate strategy that ill-prepares a city-state without a heartland to prosper in times of economic, technological and geopolitical disruption. This is because the “routes of convenience” can always change – as with the potential tectonic shifts in the re-alignment of global supply chains with the initiation of the OBOR projects by China, which could potentially have adverse long term effects on Singapore. An example would be the much-hyped possible construction of the Isthmus of Kra Canal (with Chinese financing) in Southern Thailand that will significantly reduce ship voyage lengths, undercutting Singapore’s dominance as a transhipment hub in the Asia Pacific.

Even if OBOR may turn out much less successful than the way the Chinese leadership presented it to be, China’s long term strategic goal of undermining the importance of the Straits of Malacca to itself by pursing alternative routes via Central Asia (Pakistan), South Asia (Myanmar) and the Arctic will still be challenging for Singapore to remain as the preeminent transit hub in the world. Furthermore, the rigorous efforts by China and other Asian countries to develop their own financial centres, airports and industrial projects all possess the potential to erode Singapore’s economic lead and relevance in the world.

Hence, in order to better hedge its position amidst a time of transition and disruption, Singapore should move beyond being a hub of convenience and strategise itself accordingly. A good way to do so will be for Singapore to establish itself as a hub for commercial space travel.

Beyond serving as a lucrative option for the wealthy to take excursions, space travel (be it via space elevators or space planes) could serve as an extra means for the transportation of goods and services in the world, adding yet another pillar to support Singapore’s existing status of a logistics and connectivity hub.

Pioneering efforts are already being conducted under visionary entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic).

Singapore is in a geographically advantageous position (being almost on the Equator, ideal for the construction of space elevators) and it has a well-developed aerospace sector (to base space planes and the associated facilities).

Singapore possesses political stability and a well educated population, and this would be a further plus point for potential investors to consider. The potential spill over effects of a successful space program would also be considerable particularly in areas such as big data, robotics, computers, advance manufacturing and avionics; further augmenting Singapore’s position as a leading centre for the development of advance technologies.

Singapore’s existing expertise in water management, sea-level management and urban planning are already world renowned and are being leveraged as a ‘knowledge export’ to generate revenue and global influence. A well-developed space program will also give another source of well-specialised know-how that could be banked upon by the Republic.

At present, the existing Singaporean space programme has thus far been focusing on the construction and launching of satellites. development. But Singapore does possesses some of the pre-conditions necessary for the development of a much more ambitious space programme.

Singapore has taken bold steps in the past to arrive to its current position. The Republic should now reach for the stars to propel itself to greater heights and relevance in the world.

Co-Author:

Chan Weng Hong (Consumer Relations Officer, Consumers Association of Singapore [CASE])

About the author

ONAT KİBAROĞLU

ONAT KİBAROĞLU

Onat Kibaroglu is a PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore and a weekly contributor at the Global Times in Shanghai, one of the largest newspaper establishments in the PRC. At the time of writing he is working part-time at a Public Affairs & Relations consulting agency “Hume Brophy” at their Asian HQ in Singapore.

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