Singapore has cautious optimism for India's new government: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE - A CLEAR mandate for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a sea change for India after years of coalition governments that slowed decision-making, and Singapore is approaching the development with cautious optimism, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday shortly before leaving on a five-day visit to India, Mr Shanmugam said the caution arises from the complexities of the Indian system.

"Given all that, the stark difference is being one (government) with a clear majority and mandate, and one which had to operate without, and that by itself leads to a considerable degree of cautious optimism," he said.

The business-friendly Mr Modi has vowed to focus on development. Analysts said this could mean a huge focus on infrastructure, offering opportunities for investors in China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

Noting that Singapore has good relations with Mr Modi, formerly the chief minister of Gujarat, Mr Shanmugam said many local companies have invested there.

"Singapore is the partner country in this year's Vibrant Gujarat convention," he said, referring to the biennial investor summit organised by the state.

He also said Singapore wants to engage India on many other fronts.

"I hope we can discuss practical, concrete measures to upgrade whatever we have, both in economic and strategic terms," he added, but did not elaborate.

Singapore is one of India's biggest trade partners, with local investment in India topping S$ 7.5 billion last year, while bilateral trade was robust at S$ 26 billion.

During his visit, Mr Shanmugam will meet Mr Modi, Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

He will travel south to Hyderabad, which is the state capital of Andhra Pradesh, and the newly minted Telangana state, as well as Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

He will meet chief ministers' of all three states in separate meetings, as well as business leaders and senior media representatives.

rupsk@sph.com.sg

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