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Seeing the EU in Singapore: Media, Public and Elite Representation

Chapter contribution by Assoc Prof Barnard E Turner, Senior Fellow, EU Centre & Academic Convenor, European Studies Programme, FASS, NUS, and, Ma Shaohua, PhD candidate, Department of Political Science, NUS, to “The EU Through the Eyes of Asia”, edit

pubperceptions-holland 

Assoc Prof Barnard Turner and PhD candidate Ma Shaohua contributed the Singapore chapter of “The EU through the Eyes of Asia: Media, Public and Elite Interviews in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand” compilation. Based on research led by the National Centre for Research on Europe (NCRE), the book presents 2006 perceptions of the EU in several Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) countries. “Seeing the EU in Singapore: Media, Public and Elite Representation” puts together the results of the Singapore study. The survey found quite a high level of EU coverage in local media, compared with the other countries polled, particularly in the papers throughout the year, with the exception of prime time Chinese news bulletins, where the EU in international news was “virtually invisible”. The selection of news was largely determined by its impact on Asia and relevance to Singapore. News coverage spiked in tandem with events such as the Danish paper ‘cartoon’ controversy, EU efforts to negotiate with Iran to halt uranium enrichment, and the WTO and ASEM summits. The Chapter offers varied insights as to why these events influenced media coverage, and further categorises the representation of the EU in its political, social and economic roles. Overall, reporting on the EU was neutral to modestly positive. EU action in the Middle East was well regarded compared to the 2006 the European Central Bank interest rate hikes. The Singaporean general public however, accorded the EU less emphasis and importance than an objective assessment of its status would have expected it to command. Despite being a top trading partner of Singapore, the EU’s dealings with China and ASEAN were considered among the most important of the EU’s external relations. 9 in 10 viewed EU-Singapore relations favourably. When asked about their top three thoughts of the EU, answers could be grouped into “EU integration”, the “euro” and “economic power”. The elites recognised the EU as an economic and cultural power, but not a political player. The political elites however, considered the EU as strong in international relations, but saw its role as more “broker” than “change leader”. Some elites regarded the EU as a model, especially for ASEAN and regional integration. Most felt that the EU business environment was protectionist but acknowledged that the EU was a “very good” leader in championing environmental issues. They also saw the euro as a real alternative to the US dollar.  The authors concluded that there was a gap between the growing importance of the Union and public perception of it. With Singaporeans fluent in English, having more continental European news reported in English rather than the vernacular might be helpful, as would be shifting foci from “institutions, economics and finance” to “culture, lifestyle and human interest”.