Singapore: Info-State of the Future |

Singapore: Info-State of the Future

20120906_Parag_Khanna_w170On 6th September 2012, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy hosted Parag Khanna, Director, Hybrid Reality Institute and Senior Fellow, Singapore Institute for International Affairs. Khanna’s focus was on the rise of “Info-States” such as Singapore, and what it means for the future of global policy making.

What is an info-state, one might ask? Khanna states these are a product of the geo-technological trend we are witnessing in the 21st century. Today’s global market is characterized by the phrase “anyone can deal with anyone”; compare this to when globalization was associated with “Americanization”.

Trade volume has, and is increasing, and has not been affected by the decline of the European and American markets. The world’s leading firms are more evenly distributed globally than ever before. These trends can be characterized as geo-technological, compared to geo-political in the 19th century, and geo-economic in the 20th century.

Today, the shift is towards multi-polarity, shifting of space, a convergence of economies, wide spread of innovation and new forms of collaboration. Info-states use the power of knowledge and technology, to leverage on their often small size or lack of military muscle. They are diplomatically neutral, provide safety and security from turbulences around them and are well-connected to global markets and technologies. 

For Khanna, Singapore is not only a city-state; it is one of the leading info-states of the world. A small city-state located in South East Asia, Singapore has expanded from its identity as only a maritime power. It is leveraging its land use; as an example, look at the Trans-Asian railway Project dubbed the “Singapore-Scotland” line. Singapore, Khanna describes, is a “living lab”, matching physical with virtual connectedness. Khanna elaborates, citing examples such as the E-Government/ SingPass project, A*star/ Ayer Rajah Industrial Estate Block 71/NUS, the ERP-2 Satellite Congestion Tracking Project, and the advent of Satellite Cities such as Punggol Eco-Town, Jurong Lake District and Clean Tech Park. These projects show the innovative technological advances in Singapore; highlighting its status as an info-state.

What does Singapore want to be? Khanna says Singapore is on its way to become the unofficial capital of Asia. It is diplomatically neutral, sufficiently cosmopolitan, and a true microcosm of the diversity of Asia. It is less involved in geo-political crises in the region, and therefore provides a sense of security and stability, being home to a world-class diplomatic service, as well as providing thought leadership to the rest It also convenes regional power as well as internationally. Singapore is home to major investment in Asia and will continue to do so in the future, because of all the above. Singapore, he says, is the link that connects Asia to the rest of the world; attracting capital, talent, ideas and technology and sending out investment and technical expertise.

However, Singapore has its “problems” as with any other “ordinary” country. Khanna states several challenges: increasingly vocal political opposition, rising income inequality, a rigid educational system, rising cost of living, ethnic suspicions, a focus on short term vision rather than long term plans, shock waves from regional instability and competition from other Asian countries. However, these challenges are manageable.

Singapore needs more ‘bottom up’ processes, and the cultivation of a degree of fearlessness. It also needs to cultivate social organization and controlled chaos, creativity, political rights, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as the learning of vocational excellence, and not simply academic excellence. Khanna also mentions the necessity of moving towards a more green society.

In a future of global governance, Khanna foresees a future where citizens owe their loyalty to the city above the nation creating a global “city-zen”. More links on functional lines between cities, sister city programs and expanding expertise and best practices on managing urbanization will become necessary. Perhaps a new global congress of mayors will be established too.

While the benefits of info-states of the 21st century are undisputable, questions remain; are info-states good? Is the rise of the info-state inevitable? Are they sustainable and peaceful?

Khanna is not a blind optimist, and does not underplay the importance of these questions. Whether this phenomenon produces systemic change remains to be seen. The global governance of mayors may not take the place of the global governance of nations just yet.


By Mariyam Midhfa Naeem, a second-year Master of Public Policy student at the LKY School of Public Policy.


Multimedia: Webcast |


In this seminar, Parag will discuss shifting global patterns driven by "geo-technology," the rise of "info-states" such as Singapore, and the future of global policy-making.

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Dr. Parag Khanna, Director, Hybrid Reality Institute; Senior Fellow, Singapore Institute for International Affairs

Thursday, 06 September 2012
5.15 p.m. - 6.30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-1
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

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