Abstract: Global city and cluster formation: Singapore and the Southeast Asian plantation cluster

Valeria Giacomin


This paper examines the relevance of Singapore as a global city ante-litteram, by tracing its long-term development as a trading-hub for the Southeast Asian rubber and palm oil cluster since early 20th century. The analysis focuses on the interaction between the service sector in Singapore and the companies operating plantations in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. The paper argues that (i) Singapore emerged as a global city during the colonial period in connection with the development of the rubber cluster; (ii) the city enabled the region’s integration into the global economy, by working as a major service pole for the cluster; (iii) it traditionally provided Indonesian rubber/palm oil producers with a service infrastructure (legal, financial and maritime) to level the playing field with their Malaysian counterparts, as a result it strengthened the cluster’s regional cohesiveness. Through the case of Singapore, I aim to historicize the concept of global cities, which so far has been discussed primarily in relation to modern developed economies. Further, by investigating the interaction between Western and Chinese interest and the strategies of the major multinationals in Singapore, the paper sheds light on the entrepreneurial elements behind the rise of global cities. The analysis draws on empirical material from different UK and Singapore archives and statistics on shipment from main regional ports such as Singapore, Belawan, and the Straits Settlements.