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Will Singapore Join BRICS? Assessing Prospects for Singapore in the Economic Bloc

Goh Jun Cheng

BRICS is an acronym for the emerging market economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Since 2009, these countries have engaged in regular summit meetings and aspire to boost cooperation and their global influence.

Given its advanced economy and strategic location, could Singapore potentially join this bloc as the ‘S’ in an expanded BRICSS?

This article evaluates if Singapore meets the criteria for BRICS entry and its motivations for seeking membership, while analysing benefits and disadvantages. It concludes that though unlikely in the near future, Singapore could gain leverage in Southeast Asia and the world by strategically aligning with the BRICS powers.

BRICS Criteria – Does Singapore Qualify?

BRICS membership is loosely based on several criteria. Firstly, countries should be regional economic powerhouses with political influence. Secondly, they should have large populations and geographical scale. Most BRICS countries span over 3 million square kilometres. Thirdly, they possess rapidly growing emerging markets. Singapore boasts Asia’s second highest per capita income and a developed free market economy.

However, its small size of just 720 square kilometres and population of 5.7 million inhabitants likely disqualifies it based on demographic criteria. Its market is already developed rather than emerging. Hence, Singapore does not cleanly fit BRICS criteria.

Singapore’s Motivations for Joining BRICS

Despite its mismatches, Singapore has tangible motivations that could propel it to seek BRICS entry. Joining this elite global club could elevate Singapore’s international stature and influence. It offers opportunities for high-level strategic cooperation with major powers on security, finance, technology and sustainable development.

As a trade-dependent country, Singapore could benefit from preferential access to BRICS markets, financial mechanisms and funding avenues. As BRICS looks eastwards, Singapore also provides a conduit for China to enhance engagement with ASEAN. Its membership may be improbable currently but incentives exist for future consideration.

Potential Benefits for Singapore

Joining BRICS as a developed small state surrounded by emerging giants could carry significant advantages.

Firstly, it diversifies Singapore’s strategic alliances beyond its traditional focus on Western partners. Secondly, it expands business opportunities in fast-growing BRICS economies. Thirdly, Singapore gains a platform to shape BRICS initiatives like the New Development Bank that impact regional development. Fourthly, Singapore can inject developed world perspectives into BRICS as it transitions towards an equitable and rules-based global order.

Aligning with tomorrow’s superpowers boosts Singapore’s relevance.

Disadvantages and Risks

However, BRICS entry also carries drawbacks and risks Singapore would have to weigh. BRICS’ loose structure provides little benefit beyond symbolic standing. Unwieldy expansion could dilute its efficacy. Costs may exceed returns, as occurred when South Africa joined.

As the smallest and most developed member, Singapore would struggle to exert influence. Tensions also occasionally flare within the diverse BRICS bloc despite its emphasis on unity. Signing up may force Singapore to take sides in disagreements. Close BRICS alignment might also undermine Singapore’s traditional non-partisan foreign policy.

Complementarities with China and India

Among BRICS members, Singapore shares the greatest strategic synergies with China and India. Both have substantial diaspora communities and deep cultural ties in Singapore. China and India are also Singapore’s largest trading partners.

Singapore has already linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative through projects like Chongqing Connectivity Initiative and the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor. The China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park pioneered their industrial park collaboration model. Enhanced India-Singapore cooperation could similarly boost investment and technology exchange.

A BRICS seat lets Singapore bolster ties with these giant neighbours.

Challenges Bridging Very Different Economies

Conversely, Brazil, Russia and South Africa offer more limited economic complementarity. While Singapore maintains cordial ties with all three countries, trade and investment flows are minor compared to those with China and India.

Their very different economic structures pose cooperation challenges. For example, Singapore’s role in oilsands technology is too politically controversial in Brazil. Russia’s defence sector holds little relevance for Singapore. South Africa is a competitor in sectors like finance and transportation. Singapore needs compelling reasons to join a bloc with such asymmetry.

Would BRICS Accept Singapore’s Application?

BRICS itself may not readily embrace Singapore’s inclusion. The bloc intentionally integrated diverse emerging powers with roughly comparable attributes. Singapore diverges as a minor advanced economy and may be perceived as free riding the BRICS brand.

Accepting Singapore risks demands from other outside aspirants or currently unqualified ASEAN states if criteria expand. Smaller members could also dilute BRICS’ identity and bargaining power. Unless it serves a strategic purpose like connecting China and Southeast Asia, BRICS may not see incentives to grant Singapore entry.

The existing states must first reach consensus to expand.

How Singapore Could Build its Case for “BRICSS”

If Singapore decisively pursues BRICS entry, it must convince the group of its value-adding attributes. Singapore could market itself as a neutral, non-threatening convenor. Its port infrastructure and connectivity strengths support BRICS’ economic priorities.

Singapore offers developed world insights and technical expertise to support BRICS’ growth. Its standing as ASEAN’s business hub helps BRICS expand into Southeast Asia. Singapore could also strategically highlight business opportunities or knowledge exchange possibilities to persuade specific BRICS countries like China.

But justifying its worth remains an uphill task.

Conclusion: BRICS Access Not Impossible but Premature

In conclusion, Singapore does not presently meet traditional demographic and economic criteria to join the BRICS bloc. However, it shares strong complementarities with fellow Asian giants China and India that could motivate future BRICS ambitions.

Aligning with this ascendant group extends Singapore’s global reach. But disadvantages like powerical asymmetries and limited gains from other members persist. Unless BRICS radically transforms to an expanded global club, Singapore’s prospects appear restricted.

Nonetheless, Singapore should actively engage BRICS and keep open the possibility of “BRICSS” membership as circumstances evolve. If admitted based on its merits, Singapore can strengthen both its partnerships and international clout.

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