Facts & FiguresAC Observer: 2013 Active Polar
Unlike many other Asian states involved in the Arctic today, Singapore does not have a historic tradition of polar science. It has not conducted any specific scientific research or expeditions in the Arctic, and has no icebreakers. Rather, its involvement in the region only began in the early 2000s based on interests in shipping, energy resources, and climate change. Singapore does not have a political agenda in the Arctic. Rather, its interest stems from the Northern Sea Route’s potential challenge to Singapore’s role as a global shipping hub.
Whereas most non-Arctic states have an interest in importing natural resources extracted from the Arctic, Singapore is more interested in exporting its own expertise and technologies to the region. Singapore is one of the world’s leading maritime nations, with the second largest international port. As a regional shipping hub, Singapore sees the transit of most maritime cargo from Eastern to Western markets. Between 70 to 80 percent of all oil bound for China and Japan passes through the Strait of Malacca. With so much nautical activity, Singapore has significant expertise in port management, maritime trade, and shipping technology. This expertise goes beyond the technical to also include Singapore’s experience in global governance regimes and institutions for ocean management and transportation, such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Both the government and private companies have expressed interest in sharing this expertise with Arctic operators, port cities, and vested interests. This expertise export also includes support technologies for natural resource exploration and extraction, such as offshore support vessels, oil and gas drilling units, and jack-up rigs. Singapore’s government and companies are interested in contributing tools, infrastructure, as well as offshore and marine engineering knowledge to support development activities, as well as providing management expertise in port operations and maritime traffic.
Singapore’s Agency for Sciences, Technology, and Research is currently collaborating with local universities to research and develop ways to address the challenges of harsh polar operating environments to oil and gas exploration. This research project is in partnership with Keppel Corporation, one of Singapore’s most important engineering companies, to design offshore and marine equipment for a Beaufort Sea structure for Conoco Phillips. Keppel has built an expertise in building icebreakers and constructing offshore rigs with a focus on environmental stewardship, and has already manufactured ice-class vessels for the Russian oil company Lukoil.
Singapore has been vocal about its expansion of diplomatic efforts towards the Arctic since its submission for observer status to the Arctic Council in late 2011, but does not have a formal Arctic policy. In 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed a special envoy for Arctic affairs, who has since issued a number of statements on Singapore’s interest in the region and attended regional events such as Arctic Frontiers and Arctic Circle.
Through government statements, events, and actions Singapore has shown an interest in the relationship Arctic navigation of cargo ships will play for its port and maritime traffic. In 2013, Singapore gained observer status in the Arctic Council alongside China, Japan, South Korea, and India. Since its acceptance as an observer state, Singapore has matured into a well-respected Arctic actor, inviting Arctic Indigenous groups to the country, holding roundtable events, and playing an active role in shaping the Polar Code.
Singapore has established itself as a capacity-building partner for Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council, all of which are Indigenous people’s organizations. They have been invited to Singapore for courses on climate change adaptation through the Singapore Cooperation Programme, pursued cultural exchanges to discuss sustainable development and culture preservation, and have established a postgraduate scholarship program that allows Arctic Indigenous students to study public policy, public administration, and maritime studies in Singapore.
For now, it is yet to be seen if these actions represent a long-term foreign policy commitment by Singapore to the region or if it is driven primarily by a business ambition to export maritime expertise and technology to an emerging market.