Taking Over the World Singapore as a Powerful Global City
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Taking Over the World: Singapore as a Powerful Global City 

In my opinion, one of the best ways to describe Singapore is “small but mighty.” Compared to other cities, Singapore may seem really tiny, but that has never stopped it from being one of the most powerful cities in the world. 

In fact, Singapore is now considered a global city, and that’s why many people come here—to become permanent residents, citizens, and/or local entrepreneurs.

But what does being a global city mean? And why is Singapore considered a global city? This article answers these questions and more. 

What is a global city?

What is a global city

Simply put, a global city is one that serves as a primary hub in the global economic network. It’s an urban center that holds some degree of influence over finance, trade, and culture all over the world. 

It’s tricky to determine the origins of this term. Some say that it began in the 1980s when researchers were examining the common qualities of important cities worldwide, but others believe that its origins can be traced all the way back to the 1880s. 

That said, the term only came to popularity when sociologist Saskia Sassen published a book in 1991 called The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Since then, “global city” has been used to describe cities with financial power and high-technology infrastructure.

What are the characteristics of a global city?

What are the characteristics of a global city

There are actually no set criteria for determining what makes a city a global city. Different groups have their own lists of qualities, and these lists change every now and then.

That said, the various criteria do share some similar characteristics. The following are the most common characteristics of a global city:

  • Houses the headquarters of numerous multinational corporations
  • Dominates the trade and economy of a large surrounding area
  • Features major manufacturing centers with ports and container facilities
  • Provides various international financial services, especially in the fields of finance, insurance, banking, accountancy, and marketing
  • Holds considerable decision-making power, especially at a global level
  • High-percentage of citizens are working in the services sector and information sector
  • High-quality and world-class educational institutions (this includes renowned universities and research facilities)
  • Centers of innovation in culture, economics, and business
  • Offers the best legal, medical, and entertainment facilities in the country
  • Features a highly diverse society in terms of culture, religion, and language

How does Singapore stack up as a global city?

How does Singapore stack up as a global city

Not only is Singapore considered a global city, but it’s also been regarded as one of the best—out of the roughly 300 identified global cities we have in the 21st century. 

In fact, Singapore has made the list of various global city rankings throughout the years. Here’s a table with a few rankings from different groups:

Global Economic Power Index 2015 (Martin Prosperity Institute) Global City Competitiveness Index 2015 (The Economist) Global Cities Index 2021 (AT Kearney)Global Financial Centers Index 2022Global Power City Index 2021 (The Mori Memorial Foundation)
1 New York City1 New York City1 New York City1 New York City1 London
2 London2 London2 London2 London2 New York City
3 Tokyo3 Singapore3 Paris3 Hong Kong3 Tokyo
4 Hong Kong4 Paris (tie)4 Tokyo4 Shanghai4 Paris
5 Paris4 Hong Kong (tie)5 Los Angeles5 Los Angeles5 Singapore
6 Singapore5 Tokyo6 Beijing6 Singapore6 Amsterdam
7 Los Angeles6 Zurich7 Hong Kong7 San Francisco7 Berlin
8 Seoul7 Washington, DC8 Chicago8 Beijing8 Seoul
9 Vienna8 Chicago9 Singapore9 Tokyo9 Madrid
10 Stockholm and Toronto9 Boston10 Shanghai10 Shenzhen10 Shanghai
How does Singapore stack up as a global city 2

As you can see from the table above, Singapore has been featured in several rankings, which is impressive since the groups conducting these rankings use different methods. 

For example, the Global Economic Power Index uses the three key dimensions of economic power (economic output, innovation, and financial) as its main criteria. 

Meanwhile, the Global Cities Index considers business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagement as the primary indicators of a global city. 

Why is Singapore considered a global city?

Sustained Economic Growth

Sustained Economic Growth

The first factor that makes Singapore a global city is its strong economy. Even though the city-state was only established in 1965, its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is currently on par with the United States.

Additionally, Singapore boasts the third highest income per person, the largest concentration of millionaires, and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. As if that’s not impressive enough, the city’s economy is still growing at a healthy rate.

All this positive economic growth that Singapore is experiencing is the result of decades’ worth of effort in implementing economic policy, several investment-friendly policies, and being open to international capital and technology.

Strategic Geographical Location

Strategic Geographical Location

Another characteristic that Singapore has used to its advantage is its enviable location. It’s right at the tip of Southeast Asia, making it an ideal gateway to the broader Asia-Pacific region.

Because of this, foreign businesses and investors consider coming to Singapore in hopes of tapping into the region’s potential. 

Moreover, Singapore has used its location to build a global transportation hub. It has both seaports and airports, making it easy to establish an extensive network of trade agreements in Asia. 

As of now, the container ports in southwest Singapore are some of the busiest in the world. They have about 200 shipping lanes and links to 600 ports in other countries.

Easy to Conduct Businesses

Easy to Conduct Businesses

In order for Singapore’s economy to constantly grow, there has to be a great number of businesses in the city. And the government has made sure to achieve that by implementing policies that make starting a business easier in Singapore. 

In fact, even foreigners can start a business here. It’s that easy! 

You only need a few things to start a business, which are as follows:

  • A local registered address
  • A corporate secretary 
  • A shareholder
  • A resident director (for foreigners, this one has to be a citizen or permanent resident)

Other things you might eventually need when starting a business in Singapore are a work pass or visa (if you’re planning to relocate to Singapore) and capital (which you can increase after you’ve registered your business). 

In addition to making the process easy and convenient, the government offers even more incentives to convince people to start a business here. In particular, businesses enjoy great tax benefits, including tax exemptions. 

As of now, there are more than 37,400 international companies that have their headquarters in Singapore. 700 of them are multinationals, and about half of them use Singapore as their regional headquarters in the Asia-Pacific Region.

First-Class Labor Force 

First-Class Labor Force

Businesses won’t thrive without a strong labor force, and that’s why Singapore has decided to invest in its people. After all, the city-state has no natural resources to rely on, so it needs to embrace people as its most significant asset. 

In order to help its people become skilled and knowledgeable, Singapore invests heavily in education, skills, and training. For this reason, there are many world-class schools here, the most popular and renowned being the National University of Singapore.

All this investment in education, skills, and training has led Singapore to have a first-class labor force that’s highly educated, skilled, and productive. 

It also helps that many highly educated and skilled people from all over the world come to Singapore looking for work—be it full-time or part-time

A Center of Innovation 

A Center of Innovation

Singapore knows that the only way for it to grow and succeed is to constantly innovate. That’s why the government has made efforts to invest in technology and research.

In 2016, they announced plans to invest S$19 billion into science and technology over the next five years. 

This investment amount was even bigger than the previous years; the government only allocated S$16 billion to research and development in 2011. 

Investing billions into technology and research has provided Singapore with positive results so far. Many sectors in the city feature high technology—from corporate infrastructures to healthcare facilities to schools and more.

What weaknesses does Singapore have?

Even though Singapore is thriving as a global city, it still has a few things that need improvement. There are three main weaknesses that impede Singapore’s growth, and these are as follows:

Aging Population

Aging Population

Singapore’s main problem that might threaten its global city status is its slow population growth. 

The fertility rate here has been steadily falling for many decades now. It was 5.76 in 1960, 1.82 in 1980, 1.60 in 2000, and 1.20 in 2017. 

Because of this, the population in Singapore is aging rapidly. In 2010, it was reported that about one out of 10 Singaporeans were 65 years old and above, and ten years later, it became one in six.

If this population trend continues, then it’s possible that about one in four Singaporeans will be senior citizens in the next decade.

Shortages in the Workforce

Shortages in the Workforce

One direct result of an aging population is Singapore having shortage issues in the workforce. While it’s true that the workforce in Singapore right now is educated and skilled, many of them are getting old, and at some point, they’ll have to stop working. 

Because of this, there’s a high demand for young people in the workforce, but that demand might not be met if the population is aging. 

If the time comes that there aren’t enough young, able-bodied workers, the Singapore economy will undoubtedly be affected. Another possible scenario is that senior citizens might be forced to work, which is just as bleak. 

Rising Levels of Inequality

Rising Levels of Inequality

Inequality is a major problem in Singapore. Whether it’s economic/class, social, or political, inequality is present here, to the point that it’s threatening to destabilize Singapore. 

This topic is really complicated to be discussed in just a few paragraphs, but to give you an idea of how unequal Singaporean society is, we have to take a look at its Gini coefficient.

Essentially, the Gini coefficient refers to the measure of statistical dispersion that shows income inequality, wealth inequality, or consumption inequality within a nation or a particular group.  

Rising Levels of Inequality 2

If the coefficient is 0, that means there’s perfect equality, but if it’s 1 (or 100%), it means there’s maximal inequality among values (e.g. a single person has all the income while the others don’t have).

Over the years, Singapore’s Gini coefficient has been middle in the road. It was 0.442 in 2000, then it peaked at 0.482 in 2007, and it went back down to 0.437 in 2022. 

The Gini coefficient isn’t as bad as in other places, but it’s still enough to capture the attention of Singapore’s political leaders. In April 2023, President Halimah Yacob stated that fixing structural inequality would be the government’s priority moving forward.

Is Singapore’s status as a global city at risk?

Is Singapore’s status as a global city at risk

As of now, Singapore’s status as a global city isn’t at risk. In fact, it’s currently in good shape. 

It’s still attracting global multinational companies to have their headquarters here, and it’s still investing in innovative technology. 

So, while Singapore has some issues that it needs to work on, its growth has been steady, and it won’t be leaving the global city rankings anytime soon.