Even though Asia, as a region, is on the rise in its hard power, particularly economically, it is already successful in its projection of soft power, Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-At- Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a dialogue with young Singaporeans.

Citing well-known soft power indices and rankings, Professor Koh, who is also Special Adviser at the Institute of Policy Studies, and Chairman of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore, said that he was surprised that Asian countries did not feature more prominently in these indices and rankings, and he did not agree with these conclusions. Japan and South Korea, argued Professor Koh, were examples of Asian countries where the ascendance of their soft power had matched their economic rise.

In his address at the Eighth Khwaish Lecture on “Does Asia Have Soft Power?”, organised by Young Sikh Association (Singapore) [YSA] on 30 April 2016, Professor Koh also pointed out Singapore’s success in building its soft power, which allowed her to maintain its influence and power within the region and globally. He specified three important sources of Singapore’s soft power – having one of the world’s most diverse populations, both religiously and racially; having good governance and being one of the least corrupt countries in the world; and having a well-planned out city and infrastructure.

Due to these strengths, Singapore has impressed many politicians to send their own people to study the Singapore model and how they could implement the same system that we have, which Professor Koh explains is an example of the city -state’s soft power. Elaborating this point, he stated that Singapore has trained more than 50,000 cadres from China, and through the Singapore Cooperation Programme, increased capacity in several countries in the region.

When it comes to exerting influence on the global scale, despite not being a permanent member of one of the three large international groupings – the United Nation’s Security Council, the G7 and the G20, Singapore still wields large amounts of clout due to its representation and chairing of the Forum of Small States and the Global Governance Group.

Professor Koh was not alone in indicating Singapore’s strong soft power stance. During facilitated dialogue sessions conducted prior to the dialogue segment of the lecture, 91 percent of the 100 participants indicated through a poll that Singapore has soft power, while 87 per cent believed that Singapore is effective in its management of international relations. About 95 percent of the participants also felt that soft power is important for Singapore.

Emphasising the importance of soft power subsequently during the dialogue session, Professor Koh revealed that Singapore has also started to use history and culture as elements of its soft power projection. For example, Singapore embassies and high commissions around the world make an effort to showcase the Singapore culture. He also explained that, when he was Chairman of the National Heritage Board, he used history and culture as a symbol of diplomacy. This included the launch of the ‘Friends to Our Shores’ series of markers in 2004, which saw markers of five international historical personalities unveiled, providing an added dimension of soft power to Singapore.

The lecture was organised in partnership with SINDA Youth Club and Sikh Sewaks Singapore. It was supported by the Lee Foundation, Tote Board, Singapore Pools and the National Integration Council.

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