SINGAPORE: An annual ranking released on Thursday (Jul 12) has put Singapore in 21st position among 30 countries in terms of soft power, down one spot from last year.
The “Soft Power 30” index, first launched in 2015, measures a country’s soft power via objective data on six categories, such as government and culture, and international polling on seven other indicators. It was produced by communications consultancy Portland in partnership with the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy.
Among the categories, Singapore was the best performer for enterprise for the third consecutive year – an “impressive feat” due to its economic competitiveness, rule of law and favourable business and innovation-fostering environment, according to the report.
Singapore also rose to seventh position in the digital category, which assesses various metrics such as a country’s digital connectivity. For this, the report described Singapore as “one of the most wired societies; powered by its excellent digital infrastructure, efficient government online services and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s savvy use of social media”.
The country, however, was ranked lower in the other categories of government (23rd), education (23rd), engagement (30th) and culture (28th). Its small size is one limiting factor, according to the report.
“Extensive efforts to showcase the young nation’s diverse cultural offering have yet to be reflected in the polling, and its diplomatic footprint remains small. This makes the use of digital diplomacy all the more important.”
As it takes over the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN this year, Singapore has “leveraged its digital expertise to great effect, launching the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, and highlighting its role in bringing prosperity and stability to the region”.
The report added that Singapore made its mark on the global stage by hosting the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un last month.
“Building on the momentum of the Singapore Summit and the ASEAN chairmanship, Singapore should leverage its reputation as a trusted and effective government to establish its role as a neutral and fair arbiter,” it said.
Describing Singapore as an "inspiring example" of how small countries can “carry global influence through attraction and persuasion”, Mr Jonathan McClory, Portland’s general manager for Asia and author of the report, said: “Amidst a shifting geopolitical landscape, Singapore has real opportunities ahead to elevate its profile in international diplomacy and global affairs.”
ASIA’S SOFT POWER ON THE RISE
The report named United Kingdom (UK) as the country with the most soft power this year. It was followed by France, Germany, United States (US) and Japan.
Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands and Australia rounded out the top 10.
The UK’s first-place finish was a “surprise” given how the negotiations for Brexit has had “little tangible progress”, the report wrote. As such, there are “huge question marks” over the UK’s future relationship with the European Union (EU), its long-term global influence and its role in the world.
“Moreover, should the exit be a chaotic one, it is hard to see global public opinion on the UK remaining buoyant,” it added.
Meanwhile, the US slipped one spot to be ranked fourth, due to “detrimental effects” of the Trump administration’s protectionist and nationalist approach to foreign policy, the report said.
“Last year, a very sharp decline in global perceptions of the US was reported in the polling data whereas this year objective metrics have also registered the erosion of American soft power,” the media release wrote, citing an “obvious fall” in the government category from twelfth to the sixteenth position.
“’America First’ is clearly not winning hearts and minds abroad,” it added.
In an index dominated by Europe and the Americas, four Asian countries made it to the list. Apart from Singapore, they are Japan, South Korea (20th) and China (27th).
The fifth position is Japan’s highest ranking over the years. It is also the first time an Asian country has made it into the index’s top five.
For South Korea, a politically-charged Olympic Games and an easing in tensions on the Korean peninsula helped it to move up one spot this year.
The report said that all four Asian countries have seen improved aggregate rankings since the index started in 2015. “Asian countries are translating economic development into soft power gains over the medium term,” it wrote.
“Soft power is the critical foreign policy tool in this age of interdependence and global challenges,” said Mr McClory. “The change in the top five countries – the first time an Asian country has broken into the top five – is indicative of the unfolding shift in the global balance of power.”