The Straits Times says

'Singapura' building on old ties

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit this week infused new dynamism in an ancient relationship (Singapore's very name after all is of Sanskrit origin) that got fresh vigour in the mid-1990s before it waned in the 2000s. It needed a booster shot in the wake of the wasted half-decade that his predecessor's second term turned out to be. The split government of Dr Manmohan Singh (leading the Cabinet) and Mrs Sonia Gandhi (leading the ruling party) not only failed to provide economic dynamism but, importantly, also missed out on key strategic opportunities.

Mr Modi is cut from a different cloth. He brooks no rivals within his party or Cabinet, has little patience with the red tape stalling India's bureaucracy, has a corruption-free record and is in a clear hurry. Eighteen months into his term after a stunning electoral victory, some results are showing: India is moving up in competitiveness and ease of doing business, and amid a flight of capital from emerging markets, the flows into India are healthy. At this moment, when many key big markets are looking wobbly, the Indian elephant looks like a paragon of economic stability.

It is against this background that Singapore, which midwifed India's entry into key regional fora such as the East Asia Summit and Asean Regional Forum, offered New Delhi the strategic partnership that was just inked. Unlike India, which has multiple "strategic" partnerships, Singapore does not use such nomenclature lightly. Hence, the vision behind the partnership is vast - spanning defence, security, aviation, finance, urban solutions, skills development and a plethora of other fields, including regional and multilateral fora.

It now is the responsibility of both sides to translate this into reality. On the Singapore side, this is less problematic. So, attention will focus on whether India will keep its side of the bargain. Given Mr Modi's prodigious energy and drive, there is reason to be optimistic about India too.

Tiny Singapore and India make an odd couple in many ways. So the merits of the embrace may not instinctively come into view. But, with its size, its accelerating growth, its hunger for goods and services and swiftly growing military sinews, India has been courted by every major power, including China. It is a key engine of Asia's growth. India also has a useful role as a regional stabiliser and this works to Asean's, and Singapore's, desire to see that no single power dominates South-east Asia. It is noteworthy that in his Singapore Lecture, Mr Modi stressed his country's ancient links with China and his desire to see that relationship advance. As a friend of all, Singapore can only be cheered by those words. By building bridges with these growing economic powerhouses, and drawing all into a framework of collaboration for mutual benefit, Singapore and Asean will gain both individually and collectively.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline ''Singapura' building on old ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe