Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his five days, three Nations visit (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore) on June 2, 2018. During his visit to Singapore, Prime Minister has signed eight agreements along with his counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong. They reiterated the position on maritime security and agreed to deepen economic and defense ties. Let’s see how Modi’s trip will affect India-Singapore bilateral relations?
The key agreements include –
a) – An implementation agreement was signed between the Navies regarding mutual coordination, logistics and service support for visits of naval ships, submarines and naval air crafts- including shipborne aviation assets.
b) – A joint statement was delivered on the conclusion of the second review of Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which was signed in 2005
c) – A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Indian Department of Economic Affairs and the Monetary Authority of Singapore on the constitution of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on fintech. Fintech/ Financial Technology applies to the technology linked back-end of established financial institutions.
d) – The cooperation in the field of cybersecurity was extended with a MoU between the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) AND the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SINGCERT)
Agreement on mutual recognition of nursing
e) – Cooperation in combating illicit trafficking in narcotics drugs, psychotropic substance and their precursors. A MoU was signed between the Narcotics Control Bureau of India (NCB) and its counterpart.
f) – A MoU was agreed between Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, India and Public Service Division of Singapore on cooperation in personnel management and public administration.
g) – Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between NITI Aayog and Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) on cooperation in the field of planning.
India- Singapore relations could be analyzed under three broad subheadings; Strategic, Economic and Cultural relations.
Strategic and Political relations –
A Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) was signed in October 2003 and was enhanced in 2015. The DCA included the conduct of policy dialogues, exercises, training acts, exhibitions etc. In 2007, the two Nations inked a bilateral agreement on air force training and renewed in 2012 and 2017. A bilateral agreement on army cooperation was signed in 2008. The diplomatic relationship was elevated to a strategic partnership in November 2015 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the established diplomatic relations. The visit of Modi to Singapore in 2017 inked another potential agreement on naval cooperation. And the recent visit cemented the cooperation in the naval arena. Both the nations are conducting bilateral maritime exercise ‘SIMBEX’ since 1994.
The China Factor in India- Singapore Bilateral relations
The strategic relationship between India and Singapore is evolved under the pretext of the ‘China Factor’. The softcore idea of ‘Balancing Diplomacy’ is an equalizer to the Counter China policy. The two Countries act as a balancer to the ever-increasing presence of China in the Asian Continent.
Being an open and trade economy, Singapore necessitates China as a potential economic partner, The Country is the key ally to China in its ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative (OBOR). Singapore accounts for the highest percentage of investments done by OBOR partners. Singapore-China bilateral trade is nearly 13% of the global trade share of Singapore.
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Alternatively, border disputes and frequent cross-border firings curtail the peaceful coexistence of India and China. But the two Countries maintain strong trade ties amidst worsened diplomatic relations.
India-Singapore cooperation act as a balancer in the strategic front. Though Singapore is more culturally linked to China, they ought to align with India in defense cooperation. Around 76% of citizens of Singapore are ethnic Chinese. The founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew himself acknowledged that ‘ India is the proper choice to counterbalance the rise of China. It considers India as the stabilizing force in the regional security architecture.
There are two reasons for the Singapore’s overwhelming attractiveness to India in the defense field.
The aggressive foreign policy of China and its increasing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean region. Singapore is critically watching Chinese reluctance to follow International Court decisions and other common sea laws(UNCLOS). It seems that Chinese aggressive national interests surpassing International cooperation norms. India appears as the best counter maritime force in the Indian Ocean.
America First policy of Donald Trump. The rigid and conservative ideas of Trump pose caution to Singapore. Even the dismantling of NATO or the withdrawal of US from the Indian Ocean region is quite likely to happen. The US is no longer trustworthy to its allies. It is evident from the unilateral withdrawal of US from Asia Pacific Free Trade Agreement, Paris Climate deal, and the Iranian Nuclear deal. India fulfills the role of a strategic partner in the regional security mechanism.
Correspondingly India owes certain political advantages along with bilateral strategic dimensions. As the strongest member in the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) community, Singapore would act the link connecting India to other member states. The robust and potential relationship with Singapore might facilitate the ‘Act East’ policy of India. It would be the forerunner to the ambitious India- ASEAN strategic collectivity.
India and Singapore react as similar minded on the global platform. This may because of its similar democratic credentials. Singapore always supports Indian bid to United Nations Security Council (UNSC). These political advantages urge India to stick with Singapore.
India-Singapore commitment in the fields of Cybersecurity, combating terrorism, combating drug trafficking etc reiterate its strategic collaboration. Here you can read Modi’s Indonesia Visit: Revisiting Ties Under The Shadow Of An Expansionist China
India-Singapore bilateral relations mainly grounded in economic terms. The key agreements include Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) of 2005, Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement of 1994 which was signed in 2011 etc. The recent bilateral meeting successfully concluded the second review of CECA. Narendra Modi upheld the importance of CECA in his statement. He said, “we agreed to CECA not just as our target or goal but only a means to an end. Our officials will soon begin discussions on upgrading and reforming this agreement.
India is the largest trading partner of Singapore in South Asia. And Singapore is the second largest trading partner of India among the ASEAN members. The bilateral trade between the countries accounted to S$ 25.2 billion in 2017. The Indian exports include petroleum, jewellery and precious metals and the imports to India include machinery, petroleum, styrene, and gold. India receives the amicable amount of Foreign Direct Investment(FDI) from Singapore. Singapore is one of the top destinations of Indian investment. The investment sector includes real estate, information technology, construction, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals etc.
The CECA has eliminated trade barriers, double taxation, duplicate process and regulations and provided unhindered access between the financial institutions of India and Singapore. It also enhanced the collaboration in the fields of education, science, and technology, intellectual property and aviation. It has relaxed visa regulations to the Indian professionals of IT, medicine, engineering, and finance. Singapore has invested in the development of India’s seaports and airports. Also, it has associated with IT parks and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in India.
Recently concluded the second review of CECA entitles certain enhancements. The review has expanded tariff concessions for an additional 30 products and provided more flexibility for Singapore exports to India. According to the new agreement, the tariff on these products will be reduced or eliminated to the level of India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement. So the upgraded agreement would enable the Singapore companies to explore more opportunities in India.
The upgraded CECA also includes a mutual recognition agreement on nursing. It will ensure a better regulation in the training and practice of the nursing profession.
The latest negotiations also reiterate its collaboration on technology, smart cities and skill development.
Indian cultural interventions in Singapore act as the soft power diplomatic tactics. The potential diasporic Indian community in Singapore catalyses these interventions. Ethnic Indians constitute 9.1% of the total population of Singapore. Around 3.5 lakhs Indian expatriates working and studying in Singapore. A MoU for the cooperation in the fields Arts, Archives and Heritage were signed in 1993. Executive Programmes on Cultural Cooperation are continuously taken part. A short-term chair on Indian Studies was established at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2010.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted the replica of Buddhagupta stone to his counterpart during the latest visit. The stone bears the evidence of the transgression of Buddhism from India to South East Asia. It is an Indian attempt to mold the cultural linkages between the Nations.