Singapore & India – Civilizational Bonding to Strategic Partnership

(Text of the remarks made by Shri Ram Madhav at a Round Table on Singapore – India Relations)

Namaskar. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to speak on the India – Singapore relations. I would like to humbly submit that there is really nothing much to talk about this relationship anymore. It is one of the strongest and most stable bilateral relationships that we have had. Except for a couple of decades in 70s and 80s when our two countries became victims of Cold War politics our relationship has largely remained strong. Prime Minister Vajpayee during his visit to Singapore in 2002 described it thus: “I believe that this coming together would reinforce development, peace, security and stability in this region.” Sky is the limit for our bonds to grow. Inspired by Simha Pura we have upgraded our economic symbolism from that of a mighty-yet-slow-moving elephant to a strong-roaring lion.

As I said our bilateral relations date back to more than a millennia. The Chola kings of South India were the first to establish trade relations with Indo-China. We are one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore. Singapore stood by us during the 1965 war and supports India on many multilateral forums including India’s claim to a permanent seat in the UNSC.

We have established strong economic relationship ever-since the early visits of the departed great leader Lee Kuan Yew to India in 1966, 69 and 71. We have more than 45,000 Indian companies registered in Singapore and Singapore has strong presence in Indian stock markets. We are bound by a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement and under this agreement both the countries can expand relationships in many areas like education, skill development, services and S&T. Today our bilateral trade stands at $ 20 billion. We have great scope to expand this trade.

Singapore was one of the first countries to take advantage of our economic liberalisation programs in 90s under PM Rao. India is embarking on a major gear-shift in its economy under PM Modi. I hope that Singapore would again take advantage in a big way of the new strides that the Indian economy is making today. New initiatives like Skill India, Smart Cities etc present great opportunities for Singapore.

India recognises Singapore’s role as Asian Pivot and hence has established strong security relationship also with the country. As part of the Look East policy when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao visited Singapore in 1995 our security relations got a fresh impetus. We today have army-to-army relations, several joint exercises and cooperation in counter terrorism and intelligence sharing etc. Singapore Air Force has stationed its air assets in Bengal and we train Singapore Air Force officials.

That is why I said sky is the limit. Our enormous goodwill for Singapore and the value that we attach to this bilateral relationship is evident when our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi personally attended the funeral of the great leader Lee Kuan Yew two months ago. PM Modi has the unique ability to forge strong personal equations with important world leaders, a trait that he has demonstrated right from when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. It has helped in creating conducive atmosphere for better bilateral relations. PM Modi enjoys good personal chemistry with several leaders of Singapore including the present and past Prime Ministers. He has already had interactions with them four times in last one year. This also will be a major helping factor in strengthening the ties between our two countries.

In our scheme of things our relations are not merely bilateral. India has an ambition to grow as a responsible and influential global power. Today the global power axis has shifted from Pacific-Atlantic region to Indo-Pacific region. India is the third-largest and fastest growing economy in this region. We are an important counter-balancing power in this region too. We look at the great oceans as filled with great opportunities.
Addressing the National Assembly in Mauritius in February our Prime Minister outlined his vision for our maritime neighbourhood in the following words: “Bharat is also highly dependent on the seas. We are seeking to develop our marine economy and discover new possibilities. We are doing this in a sustainable manner that preserves the delicate ecosystem of our oceans. Indeed, the oceans hold vast potential to advance our prosperity and meet the challenges of the world. That is why I consider the blue chakra in our national flag as a symbol Blue Revolution; just as saffron represents energy revolution, white the milk revolution and, green the Agriculture revolution.”
This new policy thrust in our maritime neighbourhood is critical to our economy and security; and, for stability and prosperity of Asia.

With this in mind we wish to upgrade our hesitant Look east policy into a proactive Act East policy. In this we are seeking greater cooperation and partnership with the 10-member ASEAN. Singapore was singularly responsible for our full dialogue membership in the ASEAN way back in mid-90s. We are ever thankful because that has opened up great opportunities for us like joining the East Asia Summit and expanding our ties with a number of countries in the Indian Ocean region.

Today there is a new level of enthusiasm and optimism between Bharat and our ASEAN partners for a deeper partnership in the cause of peace, stability and prosperity in our region.

We share the concerns – economic and security – of the ASEAN countries and willing work together for mutual benefit and peace in the region. After all 40% of India’s trade passes through one South China Sea route. That is why our Prime Minister has unequivocally supported the concerns of the ASEAN countries during the last East Asia Summit held in Myanmar

“For peace and stability in South China Sea, everyone should follow international norms and law”, he cautioned the participating nations. He also threw his support behind the East Asia Summit declaration on the illegitimate and dangerous Islamic State, stating: “We support the East Asia Summit Declaration on the Islamic State. At the same time, comprehensive response against terrorism requires a genuinely international partnership against all terrorism. Those who believe in humanity must come together.”

We describe India and US as ‘natural allies’. In reality India and the Far East including Singapore are the real natural allies connected by millennia-old cultural, civilisational, religious and economic relations. Geography and history make us inseparable. Politics should help strengthen it, not do otherwise.

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