Regardless of season or size, Singapore-India ties remain robust at 56
August is a special month for Singapore. We celebrate two important occasions on August 8 and 9 — the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967, and the independence of modern Singapore in 1965, respectively.
August also holds special meaning for India. On August 15, 1947, India emerged from British rule to become an independent country. While nation-building is a never ending task, both Singaporeans and Indians have much to be proud of. Our two nations have built multi-racial, multi-religious societies based on equality and the rule of law.
India is a longstanding friend of Singapore and was one of the first countries to recognise our independence. The historical, literary, cultural and economic ties go back many centuries. Many Singaporeans have family ties in India. When Covid-19 first hit last year, India supported Singapore by keeping the supply chains of essential goods open. India subsequently found itself confronting the second wave, and I am glad that Singapore could reciprocate with our modest contribution of oxygen-related supplies.
Singapore and India are natural partners. We must continue with this spirit of collaboration as we navigate a pathway out of the pandemic and re-emerge stronger.
Bilaterally, we enjoy close partnership in the economic, security, and people-to-people domains, including on skills and urban development. Singapore has been India’s largest source of foreign direct investment for three consecutive years, averaging $16 billion in total equity inflows annually. We are further deepening our partnership in areas that will become even more salient in the post-pandemic world — fintech, innovation and skills, and digital connectivity.
Our bilateral efforts in these areas can also be a pathfinder for others in the region. For example, Singapore is looking into expanding our Business sans Borders (BSB) initiative beyond our pilot partners of India and the Philippines, to all 10 ASEAN member-states. When complete, the BSB initiative will enhance regional economic growth and increase financial inclusion in our local communities.
We welcome India’s continued engagement with ASEAN, anchored by India’s “Act East” policy unveiled in 2014 by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. Singapore has always been one of the earliest and strongest proponents of closer ASEAN-India ties. We believe that the growth and opening up of India will contribute greatly to peace, prosperity, and stability in our region. The evolving regional architecture will be stronger and enhanced by India’s active participation.
As PM Modi said at the 37th Singapore Lecture in November 2015, “In the flux and transition of our times, the most critical need in this region is to uphold and strengthen the rules and norms that must define our collective behaviour”. These words have proven to be prescient as our collective behaviour will determine how quickly the world emerges from the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite our obvious differences in size, our shared strategic outlook impels us to work for and uphold an open, inclusive, rules-based international system. Isolationism and protectionism will not be the solution to creating opportunities in a world undergoing radical changes in geopolitics and the ongoing digital revolution. We need to invest in our people, our infrastructure and reform our economic structures on the domestic front. We should build support for a rules-based multilateral world order.
This is also the central task for ASEAN in the years ahead. At a time of great geostrategic churn, preserving ASEAN unity and centrality and strengthening the multilateral framework will require sustained and concrete actions by both ASEAN member-states and its external partners.
With its strategic heft, India can play a unique role in buttressing ASEAN’s efforts. As Singapore commences its three-year term as country coordinator for ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations this month, we will work unremittingly to strengthen the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership. We invite India to give even fuller expression to its “Act East” policy as ASEAN and India mark 30 years of relations next year.
I am confident that Singapore and India will continue to work closely for the mutual benefit of our peoples and the region, just like what we have always done, regardless of season.
Read the op-ed in the Hindustan Times here.