By Vershika Sharma, National Law University, Jodhpur.
The recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Singapore has once again highlighted the importance of the relations between the two countries. India’s connection with Singapore is not something which has come up very recently. In fact it dates back to the Cholas who are credited with naming the island and establishing a permanent settlement. However the more modern relationship that has emerged between the two nations is attributed to Sir Stamford Raffles who, in 1819, established a trading station on the Straits of Malacca to protect, particularly from the Dutch, the East India Company ships carrying cargo between India and the region, especially China. Singapore was added to their colonial empire by the Britishers for a period starting from 1830 to 1867, as soon as they realised the strategic importance of the location of the nation especially from security perspective. India was among the first countries to set up diplomatic relations after the independence of Singapore on 24 August 1965.
The close relationship shared by India and Singapore is based on convergence of economic and political interests. A strong basis for cooperation with Singapore started with the LPG policy adopted by India in the early 1990s, opening up possibilities for significant presence in each other’s economies. Singapore has played an important role in reconnecting us to the countries of South East Asia since the inception of our Look East Policy in the early 1990s.
Framework of the Relationship
Agreements concluded between India and Singapore reflect the growing breadth of our cooperation and provide a larger framework for activities between the two Governments, the business community, and people-to-people exchanges.
Agreements between the Countries: Key agreements include the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (2005), Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (1994, Protocols signed in 2011), Bilateral Air Services Agreement (1968, revised in April 2013), the Defence Cooperation Agreement (2003), MoU on Foreign Office Consultations (1994) Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (2005) and MoU on Cooperation in the field of Vocational Education and Skills Development. The visit of the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Singapore in June 2007 witnessed the creation of a Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) headed by the Foreign Ministers, the launch of a bilateral CEO’s Forum and the announcement of a Strategic Dialogue.
Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA): Concluded in June 2005, the CECA with Singapore was the first such agreement to be signed by India with any country. It integrates agreements on trade in goods and services, investment protection, and economic cooperation in fields like education, intellectual property and science & technology. It also provides Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) that eliminates duplicative testing and certification of products in sectors where there are mandatory technical requirements. The implementation of CECA is to be periodically reviewed by the two Governments and the closure of the 1st Review was announced on 1 October 2007. The 2nd Review launched in May 2010 is underway.
Nine Indian banks operate in Singapore: Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, UCO Bank, Indian Bank, Axis Bank, State Bank of India, ICICI, EXIM Bank and Bank of Baroda.
Air connectivity: Directly connected currently to 12 Indian cities – Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Vishakhapatnam, Mumbai, Tiruchirappalli, Thiruvananthapuram, Singapore has the largest air connections to India with 9 airlines.
Cultural Relations: To promote inter-governmental cooperation in culture, a Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation in Arts, Archives and Heritage was concluded in 1993, pursuant to which Executive Programmes have been signed. ICCR and National University of Singapore (NUS) signed an MOU in March 2010 to establish a short-term Chair on Indian Studies at the South Asian Studies Programme, National University of Singapore, which has been renewed till 2017. Commemorative events are being held in India and in Singapore to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of India-Singapore diplomatic relations in 2014-15. The commemorative events were jointly inaugurated by External Affairs Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj and Singapore’s Foreign and Law Minister K Shanmugam on 16 August 2014 in Singapore. Both sides have an array of activities and events that include cultural performances, exhibitions, film festivals, food festivals, commemorative stamp, and other commemorative events to celebrate the historic milestone. Given the large and diverse Indian community in Singapore, cultural activities receive considerable support from community organizations. A number of cultural societies, namely Temple of Fine Arts, Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society, Nrityalaya, Kalamandir, among others, promote Indian classical dance and arts. Deepawali is regarded as the premier Indian cultural celebration.
Visa & Consular: India introduced a visa requirement for Singapore citizens in 1984 while Singapore introduced it in 1985. Tourists from Singapore are allowed ‘Tourist Visa-on-Arrival’ in select airports in India since 2010 on unilateral basis The Tourist Visa-on-arrival Electronic Travel Authorisation (TVOA-ETA) scheme has been introduced in November 2014. In 2014, the High Commission issued 41,947 passports and 77,879 visas.
India and Singapore signed a joint declaration envisaging a “Strategic Partnership”, which, besides broadening engagement in existing areas of cooperation, aims to catalyse new ones ranging from political, defence and security cooperation to economic, cultural and people-to-people contacts.
Besides the partnership declaration — a framework to contribute to greater regional stability and growth — the two countries signed as many as 10 bilateral agreements recently.
The agreements included defence cooperation which provided for establishment of a regular Defence Ministers’ dialogue, joint exercises between the armed forces and cooperation between defence industries to identify areas of co-production and co-development.
Memoranda of understanding were signed for curtailing drug trafficking and improving cyber security, by establishment of a broader framework for future dialogue; exchange of information on cyber- attacks; research collaboration in smart technologies; cyber security policies and best practices as well as professional exchanges.
Agreements were signed for collaboration in urban planning and wastewater management and to extend long-term loan of Indian artefacts to the Asian Civilisations Museum of Singapore and for cooperation in the fields of arts, museums, archives and monuments.
An MoU was also signed between Airports Authority of India (AAI) and Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) to facilitate mutual cooperation in a number of mutually agreed areas of civil aviation services and airport management beginning with Jaipur and Ahmedabad airports.
Another pact was signed between National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) and Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) on cooperation in the field of planning. This MoU promotes knowledge and information exchange in urban planning, waste water management, solid waste management and public-private partnerships between the two organisations.
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of India and the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) of Singapore also signed an MoU on cooperation to combat illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substance and their precursors.
A document was signed for operationalisation of the Technical Agreement on sharing white-shipping information signed by the Indian Navy and the Singapore Navy on July 21, 2015. The agreement was stated to have enhanced bilateral cooperation in the area of maritime security.
The two sides also signed an agreement on the extension of loan of artifacts to the Asian Civilisations Museum of Singapore, and an MoU between Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), the Indian IT department and Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SingCERT), Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency on security cooperation.
According to Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), 14 to 15 issues were discussed at the meetings of the Prime Minister with the Singapore President and the Prime Minister recently. “Skills development was the first major issue that figured everywhere,” he had said.
Mr. Wadhwa said India had sought Singapore’s expertise in skills development, development of tourism, particularly the Buddhist circuit and smart cities. In this connection, India was looking at the northeast for setting up a skill development institute by Singapore. He said financial issues had also come up during the discussions. Issue of rupee bonds and fund raising for infrastructure development, especially for the development of Amaravati as the capital of Andhra Pradesh, were discussed.
It was agreed upon to open up at least 100 railway stations for redevelopment. Mr. Wadhwa said there was also a possibility for allowing foreign investments to acquire a limited percentage of equity shares of Navaratna companies.
India has benefitted significantly from Singapore’s role as a leading financial centre, providing international trade finance, investment banking and a listing platform for Indian companies as well as Indian real estate investment trusts.
Both states are aware that collaboration is mutually advantageous. Consequently they have concluded various agreements in diverse areas, ranging from high to low politics, to ensure that their nascent interactions become regular, predictable, and permanent. Through such agreements, they consciously affirm their commitment to conduct their dealings within a rules-based framework, thereby allowing their interaction to become orderly and mirroring the close links they had during the colonial period, which signals a return to history.