PM Lee meets Modi, says Singapore and India committed to deepening ties

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Indian PM Narendra Modi on Tuesday (Oct 4). ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

NEW DELHI - Singapore and India are committed to deepening their bilateral relationship and are keen to work together in several areas such as developing smart cities and skills training, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after meeting with his India counterpart Narendra Modi on Tuesday (Oct 4).

"Singapore remains a firm believer in India and we will continue to contribute, where we can, to India's remarkable development story," PM Lee said at a joint press conference after a closed door meeting with Mr Modi in Hyderabad House, New Delhi.

Mr Modi paid tribute to Singapore-India ties and said Mr Lee is a "friend of India". He also paid tribute to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr S R Nathan.

PM Lee is in India on a five-day working trip that comes a year after both countries elevated their ties to that of a Strategic Partnership.

In brief remarks after what he described as an in-depth and wide-ranging discussion, Mr Lee said there is a growing optimism about India's prospects due to the dynamic leadership and clear vision of Mr Modi.

"Singapore is happy to support India's efforts to transform its economy, and to give India's youth the skills they need," said Mr Lee, referring to Mr Modi's campaign to train over 400 million people by 2022.

Addressing areas of cooperation between both countries, Mr Modi said that "Singapore does today what the rest of the world will do tomorrow", and this strength of Singapore can be combined with India's scale.

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Both sides have agreed to expedite a second review of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, and welcomed the issuance of corporate rupee bonds in Singapore which will help India raise capital for its infrastructure needs, said Mr Modi.

Singapore is looking to expand its network of skills training centres in India, which dovetails with Mr Modi's national drive to raise skills levels to boost economic growth.

There are two such centres so far: one in New Delhi and another one focusing on tourism in the popular destination of Udaipur, Rajasthan, which PM Lee will launch on Thursday.

The newest centre will be in the north-eastern state of Assam. A memorandum of understanding was signed by ITE Education Services and the Assam state government before the joint press conference.

Called the North East Skills Centre, it will be located in Guwahati, Assam's largest city, and will cater to students from north-east India.

ITE Education Services and India's National Skills Development Corporation also signed a memorandum of understanding to develop advanced skills training programmes.

Singapore is also contributing towards the development of Smart Cities in India, said PM Lee. It is involved in the master plan for Andhra Pradesh's new capital city, Amaravati, and a consortium of Singapore companies including Sembcorp Development and Ascendas-Singbridge is bidding to be the master developer for the project.

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At the meeting on Tuesday, both leaders also discussed furthering Singapore and India's strong economic ties, for instance, by setting up a Finance Dialogue between the finance ministries of both countries.

Singapore was one of India's largest sources of foreign direct investment in 2015, and more than 8,000 Indian companies are present in Singapore, said Mr Lee.

He added that senior ministers on both sides will be appointed to find win-win outcomes for both countries. On the Singapore side, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be appointed for the task. India will appoint Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

PM Lee also made a push for more flights and better air connectivity, saying that liberalising air services will send a strong signal to the world that India is serious about attracting investments and businesses.

"More flights will boost our people-to-people and business links further," he said, noting that Singapore Airline's Scoot launched its maiden flight from Singapore to Jaipur on Sunday. This makes Jaipur the 15th Indian city to be connected directly to Singapore.

PM Lee and Mr Modi also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on industrial property cooperation between Singapore and India.

There was also a sombre moment on Tuesday as PM Lee expressed his condolences to the Indian government and to families of the victims killed in an attack on the Uri army base last month.

Militants attacked the Indian army brigade headquarters in the north of the troubled Kashmir region, leaving 17 soldiers dead.

"Singapore strongly condemns terrorist attacks of all forms," said PM Lee.

Mr Modi, in his remarks, also referred to security challenges and said that those who believe in peace and humanity need to stand together.

Both countries have agreed to enhance cooperation to counter threats, including in the area of cybersecurity.

Earlier, PM Lee received a call by India's Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. He will be meeting Singaporeans based in India at a dinner reception.

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