India PM Narendra Modi in Singapore for 3-day official visit

He will hold talks with PM Lee, give keynote speech at dialogue

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at Hyderabad House in New Delhi during a bilateral meeting on Jan 25, 2018. Mr Modi will begin a three-day official visit to Singapore on May 31, 2018. PHOTO: ST FILE

When he reaches into his wallet to make a small purchase this weekend, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will kick into high gear a new digital era in the growing ties between Singapore and India.

Mr Modi, who begins a three-day official visit to Singapore today, is expected to use his RuPay card to buy something that takes his fancy during a trip to the Indian Heritage Centre on Saturday.

The transaction will be enabled by a handshake between Singapore's Nets and India's RuPay digital payments systems, which will be formalised during a business event today at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, where Mr Modi, together with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, will tour an exhibition of local and Indian start-ups in areas such as artificial intelligence, fintech and cyber security.

Fintech, alongside initiatives for skills development and collaboration over smart cities, is being seen as a new pillar of ties that encapsulate annual bilateral trade of about $25 billion. Mr Modi's three-year-old push to digitise India, for instance, can open up a billion-strong market for Singapore's fintech ventures. The mutual recognition of Nets and RuPay initially targets up to five million Indian visitors who transit through Singapore annually.

Mr Modi's second official visit to Singapore will see him make a courtesy call tomorrow on President Halimah Yacob at the Istana and hold discussions with PM Lee, who will host him to a lunch, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said.

Mr Modi will also visit Nanyang Technological University to interact with students and witness the signing of joint projects in education and research.

MFA said the visit reflects the close relations between Singapore and India, and will build on a strategic partnership signed in 2015 when Mr Modi was here on his first official trip.

Mr Modi is widely seen to have energised Indian diplomacy and expanded outreach to the country's eastern neighbours, but some challenges remain. Professor C. Raja Mohan, director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at National University of Singapore, said: "While the general trajectory of India's relations is on the up, Mr Modi may want to address concerns in the region about India's approach to trade liberalisation."

One big question surrounds the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. India has misgivings over what the pact might mean for its services sector and could well choose to duck the historic opportunity to be part of the world's largest trade bloc.

Another concerns a key framework to facilitate bilateral economic ties. The 2005 Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement is nearing the end of a second review but some knotty issues, like India seeking greater access in Singapore for its professionals and banks, have yet to be ironed out.

Tomorrow, Mr Modi will become the first Indian leader to deliver the keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a premier forum on security issues in the Asia-Pacific. Coming soon after his informal summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and at a testy time in Sino-US ties, his speech will be closely watched.

Prof Raja Mohan said: "I would like to see Mr Modi articulate India's concerns about... Asian geopolitics and the kind of role Delhi could play in stabilising the security of Asia and its waters."

On Saturday, Mr Modi will unveil a plaque at Clifford Pier to commemorate the immersion of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes, which were sent to various parts of India and the world, including Singapore, after his assassination in 1948.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2018, with the headline India PM Narendra Modi in Singapore for 3-day official visit. Subscribe