Singapore, Indian navies to do more together under bilateral naval agreement

NEW DELHI - Singapore's air force and army regularly train with the Indian Armed Forces in India, following the signing of bilateral agreements in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

Today (Nov 29), the Singapore and Indian navies will add to these military ties with a bilateral agreement(BA), said Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, who is visiting India.

"This Navy agreement is significant. It will result in mutual logistics support and more joint, multilateral and live-firing exercises, particularly in the Andaman Sea," he said on Tuesday (Nov 28) at the Brookings India Institution Centre in New Delhi.

"This will be timely as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise next year," he added in a speech on Singapore-India relations.

The exchange of the Navy bilateral agreement will be witnessed by both Dr Ng and Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who will meet at the second Singapore-India Defence Ministers' Dialogue.

Both ministers will also discuss key security challenges, including counter-terrorism and maritime security, when they meet today. These are issues which Singapore as chair of Asean will push to the fore, Dr Ng said.

"We will flesh out the details of Minister Sitharaman's proposal for increased multilateral interactions between India and other Southeast Asian nations in the Andaman Sea. Singapore strongly welcomes this proposal and we will facilitate it as the Asean chair," he added.

In his speech, Dr Ng said Singapore believes in India's "pivotal place and role in Asia", and both countries share similar strategic perspectives and interests.

The air forces of the two countries signed a BA in 2007, followed by an agreement by the two armies in 2008.

The air force BA has been renewed twice, in 2012 and this year. Dr Ng on Tuesday witnessed the joint air force training in Kalaikunda Air Station in West Bengal state, before flying to New Delhi.

The army BA was renewed in 2013, with joint artillery training in Devlali in Maharasthra state and joint armour training in Babina, Uttar Pradesh state.

"The trinity of BAs among all services is now complete and an abiding testament to the strong and comprehensive defence ties between our armed forces," Dr Ng said.

INDIA, SINGAPORE AND ASEAN

Dr Ng also highlighted India's close ties with Singapore, noting how New Delhi was among the very first to recognise Singapore's independence on Aug 11, 1965 - "a mere two days after our declaration".

"In 2015, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Singapore-India diplomatic relations. This special bond has been reflected through successive governments in Singapore".

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signed the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership agreement in November 2015. This agreement laid a roadmap for enhanced cooperation in areas from defence and finance to smart cities and skills development.

Dr Ng noted that annual bilateral trade totalled S$22 billion last year (2016) from about S$11 billion in 2004.

Singapore was the second largest foreign direct investor in India last year, after Mauritius.

And between 2000 and 2015, the total value of India's investment stock in Singapore grew nearly hundred-fold, from S$264 million to S$26 billion.

Today, there are more than 7,000 Indian companies registered in Singapore, the largest foreign corporate contingent in Singapore.

Turning to India's regional contributions and relations, he noted that India is a member of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus, the highest-level defence forum the 10 South-east Asian nations have with their key partners.

Asean and India also celebrate 25 years of dialogue relations this year.

"Singapore believes that India's inclusion strengthens the regional security architecture, as a stabilising force within the region. India adds a wider perspective and more robust balance beyond the US-China strategic rivalry at play," Dr Ng said.

Amidst an increasingly complex regional security environment, there is value for both sides to continue developing practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest, he added.

"Singapore and India share similar strategic perspectives and interests for a peaceful and progressive future," he said. "This is why both countries strongly advocate adherence to international law and norms, and the peaceful resolution of disputes."

On Tuesday, Dr Ng was also scheduled to be hosted to dinner by India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.