Your Excellency, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of the Republic of India; and Your Excellency, Mrs Vijay Thakur Singh, High Commissioner of the Republic of India; Distinguished ladies and gentlemen: I thank Minister Swaraj for her kind words. I am personally honoured and happy to be here this evening to inaugurate with her the celebrations for 50 years of India-Singapore diplomatic relations.
1 India’s languages, religions, and culture have shaped all corners of Asia over a millennium. India occupies an integral part of Singapore’s history. The name “Singapura” itself is based on Sanskrit: “simha” (lion) and “pura” (city). “Lion City”.
2 For many Singaporean Indians, their forefathers came from all over India in the 19th and 20th centuries. They settled down in Singapore, and they made important contributions to Singapore’s political, economic, and cultural development.
3 They also enriched our social tapestry: the Hindu temples; the cuisine; Little India; Indian festivals; and roads with Indian names, for example Mistri Road in Tanjong Pagar which was named after Navroji Mistri, a prominent Parsi entrepreneur from Mumbai who sold soda water and donated his wealth to improve medical services.
4 India also occupies a special place in Singapore’s diplomatic history. We were in a very unique situation in August 1965. Unlike most countries which fought for their independence or struggled for independence, we had independence thrust upon us. Most people wrote us off. With only 600 square kilometres and a population of under 2 million, no natural resources and water that has got to come from another country, not many people gave us a chance of survival. Not many people thought of us as a country, and our own leadership did not think of Singapore as a social, political and economic entity on its own. So it was in those circumstances that we found ourselves independent on 9 August 1965. And India was among the first countries to recognise Singapore. We have not forgotten India’s hand of friendship.
Blossoming Seeds of Cooperation
5 Seeds of cooperation were sown, and consciously and conscientiously nurtured over the decades. Singapore has for some reason had a special place in the hearts of many Indian leaders and of course many Indians, starting from the first Indian Prime Minister Pandit Nehru. But in more recent times, starting from the 1990s, then PM Goh Chok Tong spoke about sparking an “India Fever” before it became fashionable to speak about “India Rising”. He recognised the great potential that India had.
6 Mr Goh visited India 5 times when he was PM, and developed close friendships with his counterparts, across the Indian party lines. He was close friends of then PM Narasimha Rao, PM Vajpayee and PM Dr Manmohan Singh. And he had also made it a point to visit the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.
7 In 2005, PM Lee Hsien Loong signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in New Delhi, which was India’s first free trade agreement with a foreign country. Annual bilateral trade has flourished since, from around S$11 billion in 2004 to over S$25 billion in 2013.
8 Today, Singapore and India are invested in each other’s success and economy. There are, as you heard from her Excellency, more than 6,000 Indian companies in Singapore, the largest foreign corporate contingent here. Indian investment has grown to more than S$24 billion. And the cooperation extends beyond commerce. We enjoy close defence, aviation, legal and cultural ties as well.
9 I went to India last month. Both sides shared a strong desire to elevate relations to an even higher level. There is tremendous potential. I discussed with Minister Swaraj earlier today how to expand cooperation into new areas.
Ties that Bind, Ties that Matter
10 There are two points I will emphasise. The first is that good relations don’t happen by accident. They need careful thought and they need constant nurturing. India is a large country and civilizational power, while Singapore is a small island state. We are located far from each other. Yet, there is strong mutual respect as sovereign nations. India supported Singapore during our post-independent years.
11 And Singapore strongly believes that India has a vital role to play in the international community. This was why Singapore supported India as a Full Dialogue Partner of ASEAN, as well as a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.
12 My second point is that close bilateral relations cannot be sustained simply by just government ministers, diplomats, and officials. Our citizens play a vital role to enhance mutual understanding through promoting greater appreciation of each other’s history, culture and of course economic interaction.
13 I am glad that our people-to-people interactions are stronger than ever. Singapore today is a home away from home for the substantial Indian expatriate community. And last year, Singapore welcomed nearly a million visitors from India as tourists. Many Singaporeans are travelling to India for business and holiday.
14 There are many Singapore students in the audience this evening from Raffles Girls Primary School, Methodist Girls School, Hwa Chong Institution and Bendemeer Secondary School. We welcome you. It is important for our younger generation to understand each other’s history, the nature of our ties, as well as our cultural similarities and differences.
15 Ladies and gentlemen, today marks the start of a series of very important commemorative events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Singapore-India diplomatic relations, which will definitely serve to bring our two nations and people closer.
16 We thank you for your effort and we thank Her Excellency External Affairs Minister for having come here specially to kick this off. It means a lot. Yesterday being Independence Day for India, the fact that she attended that and came here shows the importance India attaches to the relationship and we thank you specifically for that, Your Excellency. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
. . . . .