SINGAPORE - India will lend its strength to ensure freedom of navigation in regional waters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday night at the Shangri-La hotel, 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 behavior 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 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 Madam Ho Ching, and Ministers Vivian Balakrishnan and S. Iswaran.
DPM Tharman, who noted that India was the second nation that had recognised 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 Madam Ho 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 over the decades.
PM Lee will also host lunch for Mr Modi at the Istana today, after an official welcome ceremony that marks the start of a hectic day in Singapore 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 Tuesday night.
Mr Modi said he had invigorated his nation's Asia policy since taking office in May last year. With Asean at its core, India had engaged with Asia more than any other region in the world.
"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.
Later on Tuesday, Mr Modi will learn more about Singapore's approach to vocational training and skills training during a visit to ITE College Central with PM Lee.
He will also deliver a special address at the India-Singapore Economic Convention hosted by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran and interact with Singapore business leaders.