Thursday 12 February 2015

Singapore, India to be strategic partners

President Tony Tan says PMs of both countries will sign pact this year
By Lim Yan Liang, In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2015

AFTER five decades of friendship and a "special relationship" going back even further, Singapore and India will soon be elevating ties to the next level, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said last night.

Singapore-India relations will be elevated to a strategic partnership this year, Dr Tan said at a state banquet organised in his honour by his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee.

"Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be signing this milestone agreement later this year. There is much that both our countries can achieve by working together and much we can learn from each other," Dr Tan said.

Singapore's High Commissioner to India Lim Thuan Kuan had told reporters that the strategic partnership would enhance cooperation in areas such as promotion of investments, urban solutions, smart cities, water and waste management, and skill development. Such a partnership results in more high-level exchanges.

India was one of the first countries to recognise Singapore's sovereignty, doing so on Aug 24, 1965. This year marks the golden anniversary of bilateral relations.

Mr Mukherjee said at the banquet that in recent years, the bilateral relationship had seen "a quantitative and qualitative expansion". He said he was glad that both countries had embarked on a "5S" plank: scale up trade and investments, speed up connectivity, smart cities, skill development and state focus.

Dr Tan, too, noted that ties have grown stronger. Economic relations have grown by leaps and bounds since the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement in 2005. Singapore is now India's largest foreign direct investor, and both militaries train together regularly.

But the hallmark of close ties remains the people-to-people links, rooted in centuries of contact and reinforced today by the many visits of leaders and people.

Dr Tan noted that many of Singapore's earliest settlers were of Indian origin, among them prominent community leaders who played crucial roles in the country's development. And India remained a close friend after 1965.

"As a new nation, we looked to India as one of our models, and India generously responded by sharing its experiences with us."

Dr Tan said first Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had been inspired by India's founding father Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of a secular and multiracial India.

He also noted that then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong sparked off an "India Fever" in Singapore in 1992, shortly after India launched economic reforms.

"That fever is now back again," said Dr Tan.

The state banquet capped a day of meetings with senior Indian officials, including Mr Mukherjee and Mr Modi. Both men gave Dr Tan a ceremonial welcome, and he laid a wreath at the Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

During their meeting, Dr Tan and Mr Modi reaffirmed the warm and longstanding relations between both nations, and agreed to elevate ties to a strategic partnership, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

They agreed to achieve concrete deliverables in areas such as smart cities and skill development, and Mr Modi noted many new opportunities for further cooperation, the ministry said.

Both leaders also had fruitful discussions on enhancing aviation and maritime connectivity between Singapore and India.

S'pore books for libraries overseas
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2015

ABOUT 40 libraries around the world will soon have a selection of books on Singapore to mark the country's Golden Jubilee, and it starts with the National Library of India.

Yesterday, Mrs Mary Tan, wife of President Tony Tan Keng Yam, gave the first of 300 books on Singapore to the library's director-general, Dr Rajendra Kumar, in New Delhi, making India the first country to receive Singapore's gift of books.

The rest of the books will be shipped to the library in Kolkata.

Mrs Tan is accompanying Dr Tan on a four-day state visit to India, and the gift is a project of the National Library Board (NLB).

The books cover a range of topics, from literature to architecture, biodiversity and the arts, and include titles such as Living In A Garden: The Greening Of Singapore by Timothy Auger and Reflecting On The Merlion, an anthology of poetry edited by Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai.

By the year-end, libraries from more than 25 countries in Australasia, the Middle East and the Americas would have received the gift. In all, the NLB intends to donate 10,300 books.

Besides the gift, a member of the Singapore community in New Delhi also read to schoolchildren at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. The children received goodie bags with stationery and a book on Singapore.

The donation precedes the arrival of a delegation of 50 Singapore authors, illustrators, publishers and librarians at the New Delhi World Book Fair, India's oldest book festival. It runs from Saturday to Feb 22.

Singapore is the guest of honour country at the fair, which will feature writers such as Chow Teck Seng, Isa Kamari, K. Kanagalatha and Haresh Sharma.

President launches book and Peranakan exhibition in India
By Lim Yan Liang, In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE showcased the unique and unusual in its heritage, ranging from cultural artefacts to culinary delights, in India's capital yesterday.

Visiting President Tony Tan Keng Yam unveiled a Peranakan exhibition with heirlooms from Singapore and attended a one-day food festival where favourites such as popiah and rojak were served.

Dr Tan also launched a book on the history and future of Singapore-India relations, to commemorate 50 years of ties between the two countries.

He is on a state visit to India to mark the occasion and his counterpart, President Pranab Mukherjee, will visit Singapore later this year.

The evolution of the two nations' relationship over the years is traced in the book titled Singapore And India: Towards a Shared Future.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote forewords for the 200-page book, commissioned by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and published by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS).

Said the institute's director Tan Tai Yong: "The book basically traces (the Singapore-India relationship) from the early days of the pre-colonial period right up to the present, and is presented not in dry and terse academic format but in a way that will appeal to a range of people."

Later, at New Delhi's National Museum, Dr Tan opened the exhibition on The Peranakan World: Cross-Cultural Art From Singapore And The Malacca Straits.

It tells the story of how Chinese traditions blended with influences from the Malay world and the Indian Ocean in the late 19th and 20th centuries to produce the unique Peranakan culture.

More than 100 artefacts from Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum are on show for two months.

Said Dr Tan at the opening: "The Singapore story, much like the Peranakan story, is a fusion of cultures, some of which were strongly influenced by India."

"Not many people realise how close the historical links between Singapore and India are."

He noted that Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819 with a contingent that included Indian officials and businessmen, as well as 120 men from the Bengal Native Infantry.

Also, Singapore was governed by the British through India until 1867, and both countries share similar legal and administrative institutions to this day.

"Even before this modern recorded history, India's great influence throughout South-east Asia from the first century onwards cannot be understated," he said.

Dr Tan hoped cultural exchanges like the exhibition would continue, to enhance understanding between people on both sides.

In the evening, Dr Tan mingled with the Singapore community here over typically Singaporean fare that includes chicken curry, chicken rice and roti prata.

Food binds both countries historically, culturally and socially, he said at the gathering at the Hyatt New Delhi.

He also thanked them for playing a crucial role in strengthening ties between Singapore and India through their work and the links they have made.

He said their presence here encourages more Singapore businesses to come to India.

"Globalisation has made our world a smaller place. Singapore, as a small country, counts on our citizens to further our relations with foreign friends," he said.

PM Lee, Modi hail 50 years of close ties in book
By Lim Yan Liang, In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE and India can look back on 50 years of friendship with great satisfaction, the prime ministers of both countries wrote in a new book launched yesterday.

And they are confident this partnership will only grow closer, they wrote in forewords to the book, titled Singapore And India: Towards A Shared Future. It marks a half-century of close ties.

In their remarks, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Indian counterpart Mr Narendra Modi noted that the relationship is centuries-old, and continues to grow stronger.

"Since our independence in 1965, the ties between our two nations have continued to deepen," wrote Mr Lee.

"Our social, cultural, religious and familial links are constantly being reaffirmed by such things as the shared love for Kollywood and Bollywood films, or by the work of Indian artisans and sculptors invited (to Singapore) to build and restore local Hindu temples."

He added: "As we celebrate the first 50 years, Singapore and India are already looking ahead to the next 50, with the commitment to elevate relations to a strategic partnership in 2015."

Mr Modi said India's warm ties with Singapore have led to its greater engagement in South-east Asia. "Over the past 50 years, we have built a comprehensive relationship that has contributed to prosperity in our two countries and stability and cooperation in our region," he wrote.

"Singapore has emerged as one of the foremost partners for India's economic transformation and a springboard for India's deeper political and economic engagement with South-east Asia."

The 200-page book can be downloaded from the Institute of South Asian Studies website at:

President Tan sees role for Singapore in drive to develop India
He identifies promising areas as he wraps up state visit
By Lim Yan Liang, In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2015

A NEW momentum and drive to develop India is palpable, and visiting President Tony Tan Keng Yam wants Singapore and Singaporean businesses to ride on this renewed optimism.

Dr Tan identified at least five promising areas arising from the slew of ambitious initiatives that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced since his election last May.

These include the development of smart cities and skills training centres, improving transport links as well as encouraging Indian states to go out on their own and directly link up with countries for expertise and investments.

The President was giving Singapore reporters a wrap-up of his four-day state visit to India that ended yesterday.

India plans to build 100 smart cities, using digital technologies to reduce costs and resource consumption, and engage effectively with citizens, among others.

Singapore can play a role. As a small country, it has "accumulated considerable expertise in land planning, urban planning, transportation links and digital infrastructure", said Dr Tan.

Already, Singapore has tied up with Andhra Pradesh state to develop a master plan for its new capital city, which will be 10 times the size of Singapore.

Its first phase, which includes government and commercial buildings, will be ready in five years.

"If it goes successfully, other states and cities could be interested in some of these ideas," he said. "This state focus will liberalise a lot of energy and create direct contacts."

Four state chief ministers have visited Singapore since last May.

Mr Modi's "Make in India" project, to transform the country into a manufacturing and industrial hub, has given rise to another promising area: the setting up of skills training centres to level up the skills of Indian workers.

Singapore has already taken the step, teaming up with the New Delhi government in 2013 to establish a skills training centre modelled on Singapore's Institute of Technical Education.

It is offering courses in hospitality and retail merchandising at a temporary campus, and will offer 10 courses when its new campus is ready in two years' time.

Improving connectivity via ports and railways is yet another potential business. Mr Modi wants to modernise and extend India's railway system, an ambitious plan that will need lots of funds, Dr Tan noted. "Singapore as a financial hub may be of help."

Similarly, there are opportunities for companies in logistics and maritime.

Dr Tan also welcomed Mr Modi's Act East policy of greater engagement with the region.

Singapore can play a role, he said, noting that "Singapore has always been an interlocutor between India and Asean: We know them well, and we're a founding member of Asean".

He acknowledges that doing business in India has challenges, like the country's bureaucracy. But he is hopeful that "if we concentrate in small niche projects, like the smart city, we can make rapid progress".

He said India's 360 million young people offer Singapore companies a huge market for goods and services. "It's up to us to see, and our businesses to see, how we can come here and invest."

Reflecting on what he called a fruitful and successful visit, he said: "We should do what we can to ride on this new drive."

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