India will help keep sea lanes free: Modi

Critical need in Asia to 'uphold rules, norms of collective behaviour based on consent of all'

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the 37th Singapore Lecture at the Shangri-La Hotel on Nov 22. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

India will lend its strength to ensure freedom of navigation in regional waters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said yesterday, as he outlined his government's Act East Policy set against a resurgent domestic economy.

The most critical need in Asia, he said, was to uphold and strengthen rules and norms of collective behaviour built not on the strength of a few but on the consent of all.

"India will work with countries in the region and beyond, including the United States and Russia, to ensure that our commons - ocean, space and cyber - remain avenues of shared prosperity, not become new theatres of contests," he said, delivering the 37th Singapore Lecture. "India will lend its strength to keep the seas safe, secure and free for the benefit of all."

Mr Modi, who arrived here in the evening after attending the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, drove straight from the airport to the Shangri-La Hotel to deliver his address. Chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the lecture was attended by a standing-room-only audience of more than 1,000 that repeatedly applauded the Indian leader, nattily turned out in a white Indian tunic, tight-fitted churidar trousers and a red kerchief in his breast pocket.

They included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his wife, Mrs Lee, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran.

DPM Tharman, who noted that India was the second nation to recognise Singapore upon independence 50 years ago, said Singapore is confident that India will remain an important stakeholder in the region. "Even as we celebrate the past 50 years, we want to build a partnership for the next 50 years. Tomorrow, the two Prime Ministers will be signing a Strategic Partnership that will not only elevate relations but also chart the way forward in the coming decades."

Following the speech, PM Lee and Mrs Lee hosted Mr Modi to a quiet vegetarian meal at the Komala Vilas Restaurant in Little India. They emerged to wave to gawking onlookers surprised to see the two leaders in an eatery that has provided comfort food to millions of less-known visitors from India .

PM Lee will host lunch for Mr Modi at the Istana today, after an official welcome ceremony that marks the start of a hectic day for the 65-year-old Indian leader. Aside from the "strategic partnership", the two sides are billed to sign a slew of agreements, including a vital one on defence before Mr Modi departs for home late tonight.

Mr Modi said he had invigorated his nation's Asia policy since taking office last year. With Asean at its core, India had engaged with Asia more than any other region. "Today, Singapore is one of our most important partners in the world. It is a relationship that is as strategic as it is wide-ranging," he said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2015, with the headline India will help keep sea lanes free: Modi. Subscribe