Six Asian cities in the globe’s top 30 cities worldwide

27 November 2020 4 min. read

Beijing has joined Tokyo on the list of top five cities in the world, while Hong Kong and Singapore also made an appearance in the top 10. This is according to Kearney’s latest Global Cities Index, which features six Asian cities in the top 30.

The Global Cities Index has been ranking cities around the world every year since 2010, based on five factors that make a city global: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience and political engagement. Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, and Seoul are all top global cities according to the analysis by Kearney.

Tokyo is the highest ranked Asian city in 4th, followed immediately by Beijing in 5th and Hong Kong in 6th. No doubt, Tokyo and Beijing have vibrant business environments and a strong entrepreneurial segment. Both have also emerged as technology hubs in recent years, of a calibre that can rival Silicon Valley according to some analysts.

Top 30 cities on the Global Cities Index

That being said, in around ten years of the GCI, Hong Kong has never failed to occupy 5th place on the index, consistently behind Tokyo in 4th. This year, a number of factors have combined to cause this unprecedented drop out of the top five. One is the internal political situation in the city.

Prolonged protests against the government – and the subsequent backlash – have not only dented Hong Kong’s international reputation, but have also caused significant economic disruption. At the same time, Beijing has been climbing the index at a rate of knots in recent years, as China cements its place as a global trade and business hub. In fact, Kearney had predicted back in 2012 that Beijing and Shanghai would burst into the top five over the next ten years – a scenario that is now unfolding.

Also in play is the fact that Kearney has made two changes to its assessment criteria this year, in a nod to all that has been new and unprecedented. First, when screened for business activity, cities will now also be evaluated based on the number of unicorn companies – startups valued at more than $1 billion – that operate within the urban centre.

Second, the human capital dimension also has a new measurement – the number of medical universities in a city. The addition is a direct response to Covid-19, which showed that medical expertise, personnel and technology “can make or break a city,” according to Mike Hales, partner at Kearney’s Strategy & Top-Line practice. These changes might well have favoured conditions in Beijing over Hong Kong.

The new metrics might also explain Singapore’s slip of three places. The city still made the top 10 – in 9th – but slipped from its previous position in 6th last year. At the same time, Kearney’s GCI this year predicts that urban value creation and mobility planning is expected to take centre stage in the near future. Given that Singapore is the best in the world in this regard, the city’s downward slide is unlikely to persist.

With Singapore’s presence, Asian cities make up four of the top ten. Missing out by just two spots is Shanghai in 12th, although the city’s remarkable jump of seven spots in just one year signals that it might be in the top ranks soon, as predicted by Kearney. Rounding off Asia’s presence in the top 30 is Seoul in 17th – the only city from the region in the latter half of the list.

Global outlook

Topping the list globally was New York, followed by London and then Paris. The three cities have helmed the list consistently for a decade now, signaling their strong fundamentals. Going forth, Kearney suggests that a whole range of new factors will define cities – value creation, mobility, sustainability, etc – which might well challenge the status quo when it comes to global cities. Covid-19 has only served to accelerate the rate of change.

“For global cities, the current crisis and emerging future demand significant adaptive change. Some of the fundamental factors that have historically enabled them to create value have been painfully disrupted, many of the connections between them are teetering on a knife’s edge, and the ways in which they use and allocate space require an urgent rethink," explained Hales. 

"But if we can be certain of anything, it’s that cities will adapt and evolve, and that they have the potential to come back stronger.”