Saturday, December 4, 2021

India-Singapore Ties On The Upswing

Led by Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore Prime minister, ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) came back to power after winning the 2020 general elections last week. The voter turnout was 96 percent. PAP won 83 out of 93 seats in the parliament. Remaining 10 seats went to the opposition-Worker’s Party. This is the 15th consecutive term for PAP after they came to power for the first time in 1959. Elections in Singapore follow the first-past-the-post electoral system.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his electoral victory. Singapore election results mean further continuity and advancement in India-Singapore ties. Under Indian Prime Minister and Singapore Prime Minister Lee, the relations have seen an upward trajectory.  

Prime Minister Modi always admired late Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore and Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959-1990. His role in building a modern Singapore cannot be overstated. The Indian Prime Minister attended Mr. Yew’s funeral in March 2015. In his tributes, Mr. Modi had remarked; “A far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s life teaches valuable lessons to everyone. News of his demise is saddening.” Lee Kuan Yew was also an admirer of India and strong proponent of India’s greater role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. He was appreciative of India’s civilisational role and ancient linkages with the region and believed India has a bigger role to play in the changing Asian dynamics.

Singapore is an important partner for India. In 2018, during his keynote address at Shangri-La Dialogue, Prime Minister Modi had observed “Singapore is our springboard to ASEAN. It has been, for centuries, a gateway for India to the East”. That was the first time India officially enunciated its Indo-Pacific policy and placed ASEAN at the core of its Indo-Pacific vision.

2020 is the 55th year of the establishment of India-Singapore diplomatic relations and since the launch of the Look East Policy, India’s relations with Singapore are characterised by cordiality and sustained cooperation. India and Singapore are strategic partners since 2015. Singapore is an important defence partner of India. The two sides inked the landmark agreement- Implementing Arrangement for Mutual Coordination of Logistics and Services Support to further boost bilateral naval cooperation in 2018.

Among ASEAN countries, Singapore has always held a significant position in India’s regional and wider foreign policy. In August 2014, the then External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj had visited Singapore and agreed to focus on 5-S plank: Scale up trade and investments; Speed up connectivity; Smart Cities; State Focus; and Skill Development. With the signing of an amendment to the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) in 2005, Singapore has emerged as an important source of investment in India and the largest source of FDI for India for the financial year 2019-20. In terms of percentage share, Singapore’s contribution amounts to 30 percent of the total FDI inflow in India.

India-Singapore relations are independent of any regional rivalry and charts its own course. This reality gives the two countries the much-desired space to cooperate in several aspects. The relations are multidimensional and the sustainability in relations was achieved by the continued focus and exchange of frequent visits by Indian and Singaporean leaders. While Prime Minister Modi visited Singapore in 2015 and 2018, Prime Minister Lee paid a working visit to India in 2016 and in January 2018 for the India-ASEAN commemorative summit.

Singapore has been greatly supportive of India’s candidatures in multilateral fora such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and has endorsed India’s claim to the permanent membership of the UNSC. Singapore is an active participant of the India sponsored multilateral naval interaction Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS).

With the electoral victory of Singapore Prime Minister Lee-led PAP, India-Singapore relations are likely to witness continued growth and progress, which will further strengthen strong strategic, economic and people-to-people ties.

Script: Sana Hashmi, Strategic Analyst on East & South East Asia

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