PM Lee and Modi hold their first bilateral talks

This article was first published on Nov 13, 2014

NAYPYITAW - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi held their first bilateral talks yesterday, and discussed how to expand Singapore-India ties in areas like tourism and urban development.

Mr Modi's meeting with PM Lee came after he made his debut at the Asean-India summit earlier in the day. At that meeting, he showed just how serious India was about deepening ties with Asean, by announcing that his "Look East Policy" had been upgraded to an "Act East Policy".

Mr Lee said at the Asean-India meeting that as an emerging power, India plays an increasingly key role in shaping an open, balanced and inclusive regional order, and that moving forward on Asean- India ties will help sustain India's strategic presence in the region.

During the bilateral talks, both leaders noted the potential to expand bilateral ties by building on what has been achieved so far, Ms Chang Li Lin, Mr Lee's press secretary, said after the meeting.

Mr Modi encouraged Singapore and others to make use of new opportunities to invest in India's infrastructure. The Indian leader, who won by a landslide at the May general election, wants to build 100 smart cities in a plan to upgrade urban India. The country is working on a 3,200km highway with Myanmar and Thailand, and expects to complete it by 2016.

Mr Modi also expressed interest in learning about Singapore's development experience, said Ms Chang. A live tweet by the Indian Prime Minister's Office as the bilateral meeting was under way quoted Mr Modi as saying: "In India, when we talk about urban development, Singapore is always at the forefront of discussions."

Mr Modi, in previous talks with Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, had also raised the feasibility of India working with Singapore to clean the Ganges river.

Apart from ways to boost tourism, both prime ministers yesterday discussed how to mark the golden jubilee of Singapore-India ties next year. Ideas so far include setting up a digital maritime museum. Mr Modi wants the focus of activities to be on youth, knowledge and innovation.

While the meeting was the first between Mr Lee and Mr Modi, top officials have met in recent times.

Mr Modi met Mr Shanmugam in July and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in September.

In Singapore, visiting Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu will call on Mr Goh today.

LIM YAN LIANG