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Committed to growing bilateral ties
ON June 19, 2007, the then Indian minister for external affairs, Pranab Mukherjee, was in Singapore at the invitation of the then foreign minister of Singapore, George Yeo.
The two ministers agreed to establish the India-Singapore Strategic Dialogue on Track 1.5, involving a mixture of officials, retired diplomats, business leaders, scholars, journalists and civil society leaders.
Purpose of dialogue
The objective of the dialogue is to create and grow a community of public intellectuals and opinion-makers in India and Singapore who are committed to the bilateral relationship. It is also the intention for the participants to acquire a deeper understanding of each other's interests, aspirations and challenges and to explore new ideas and initiatives.
After 10 years, the members of the two delegations share a high comfort level and are able to speak quite frankly to one another.
Organisation of dialogue
The annual dialogue is co-organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) of the National University of Singapore and two Indian partners, the Ananta Aspen Centre and the Confederation of India Industry. I have served as co-chairman of the dialogue since 2007. The first India co-chair was ambassador S K Lambah, the former special envoy of the Prime Minister of India, and since 2013, Jamshyd Godrej, a highly respected business leader of India.
10th dialogue in New Delhi
The 10th dialogue was held in New Delhi on March 22 and March 23, 2017. In my opening remarks, I congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his recent electoral victories in Uttar Pradesh and two other states. I remarked that with such a popular and dynamic prime minister, India should raise its ambition and target growth at between 8 and 10 per cent for the next 20 years.
The GST revolution
The success of the Modi government in introducing a federal GST is a game changer. In India, unlike the US, states are not prohibited by the constitution from taxing inter-state commerce. The result was a proliferation of state taxes on inter-state commerce. With the introduction of the GST, all such state taxes will be done away with. This is good for business as well as for the consumers.
Political and defence relationship
The bilateral relationship between India and Singapore is substantive, trouble-free, and comprehensive. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised the relationship to the strategic level.
The defence relationship is in good order. Singapore is the only country whose soldiers are allowed to train on Indian soil. There are joint exercises between our armies, navies and air forces.
At the 10th dialogue, the two sides agreed to examine the feasibility of co-development and co-production of defence technology; enhancing our cooperation on cyber security; and intensifying our cooperation in preventing and combating terrorism.
The economic relationship between India and Singapore is very strong. Singapore has become India's largest foreign investor. Singapore companies have increased their investments in real estate, logistics, airport and seaport, power, water and urban solutions.
Singapore was given the privilege to masterplan the new capital of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati. A consortium of Singapore companies has won the contract to build the new capital. This is an iconic project. We want Amaravati to be a smart city, a sustainable city and a highly liveable city.
There is a very large presence of Indian companies in Singapore. Many of them use Singapore as their regional base. I am told that, outside India, Singapore has the largest number of graduates from India's two most prestigious universities, namely the Indian Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Management.
At the 10th dialogue, our focus was on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We wanted to have a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges posed by the revolution. We also explored possible areas in which the two countries can cooperate. Several suggestions were made including the following: create a joint future's commission; establish an India-Singapore entrepreneurship incubator and hold an annual convention for venture capitalists.
At the 10th dialogue, we decided to discuss a subject which we had never discussed in the past, namely religion. Both India and Singapore are secular states. We wanted to find out whether secularism has the same meaning in the two countries.
Both India and Singapore have citizens of many different faiths. We were interested in learning from each other's experiences of how to maintain religious harmony.
We were also interested in assessing the danger of religious extremism and terrorism.
In conclusion, I would say that the India-Singapore Strategic Dialogue has been successful in achieving its vision and mission. We have grown, year by year, the community of Singaporeans and the community of Indians who are committed to promoting better mutual understanding and friendship between our two countries. We have, in the course of the past 10 years, also seeded some useful new ideas and initiatives.
- The author is the co-chair of the India-Singapore Strategic Dialogue and leader of the Singapore delegation to the Dialogue.