On Tuesday night, Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong is expected to arrive in New Delhi on a state visit.
This is his second in a decade, and marks the close attention that Singapore pays to its relations with India.
the formal agenda of his visit may cover issues like education and
economic relations, you can be sure that the political discussions
between him and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh will be around
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who visited New Delhi this week.
Even as the
United States promises a pivot to Asia, countries like Singapore, long
friendly with Washington, worry about the increasing assertiveness of
Beijing, a concern that is shared in increasing measure by New Delhi and
is the key feature of the Asean Regional Forum ministerial meeting
taking place in Phnom Penh, beginning Wednesday.
at the proverbial crossroads of Asia, this tiny city-state can give any
great power a lesson or two in geopolitics and, of course, civic
administration. India may talk about its Look East policy and then get
distracted by its numerous problems back home, but Singapore is deeply
focused on India's role in Southeast Asia and assiduously pursues its
Of all the ASEAN
nations, Singapore probably has the best relations with Beijing. One
reason, perhaps, is that unlike Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and
Brunei, it does not have a maritime dispute with China.
is ethnicity- 95 per cent of the residents of the city-state are of
Chinese origin. But the more important reason is Singapore's self-image
as a nation-state.
it may be, but it has a clear-headed idea of its national interest, and
it pursues it with great skill and determination.
all the ASEAN nations, Singapore also has the best relations with
India, but these are not a matter of ethnicity, but its geopolitical
world view. India's rediscovery of Southeast Asia began with Narasimha
Rao's Look East policy which was quickly embraced by Singapore, whose
prime minister Goh Chok Tong was invited to be the chief guest at the
Republic Day parade in New Delhi in 1994, the year in which the policy
far back as the early 1980s Singapore had seen that India and China
will be the Asian giants who it will have to get along with and it has
since then worked assiduously to woo both. It has continued to do so as
both countries have developed economic profiles that spill outside their
natural boundaries and collide in Southeast Asia.
kind of a collision, Singapore can live with, what it worries about is a
military standoff which would be a disaster for everyone, especially
the city state which is dependent on open trade and financial flows for
its First World like prosperity.
then, the city state has sought to build up connections with India in
trade and business ties, as well as through strategic investments. It is
not surprising that Singapore was the first country with which India
signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement in 2005.
importantly, it has sought to develop cultural and educational ties by
promoting projects like the Nalanda University in Bihar. Understanding
Both Singapore and the 17-member ASEAN work on two tracks-one is to
encourage India to play a greater role in the affairs of the Southeast
Asian region and institutions like the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN.
other is to hope that Indian economic and military might will be able
to offset, at least in some measure, the compelling power of Beijing.
Singapore also works along an additional third track-promoting
understanding between India and China.
role is not insignificant since there is very little civil society
interaction between New Delhi and Beijing. The Institute of Southeast
Asian Studies (ISEAS), The National University of Singapore (NUS), Lee
Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Nanyang Technological University
have formed the Singapore Consortium for Indo-China dialogue.
two of the active academics anchoring the consortium are India-born
scholars of classical China- Prasenjit Duara, Director of Humanities and
Social Sciences Research at NUS and Tansen Sen Director of the
Nalanda-Siriwijaya Centre at ISEAS.
example of their effort has been a series of symposiums that have
brought media personnel of India and China together. At a conference
last week titled "Image and Perceptions: The Role of the Media in
India-China relations", two basic questions were posed: Is the media
responsible for creating recent misperceptions between India and China
and second, whether journalists in the two countries were trained and
knowledgeable enough to cover each other.
from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Singapore and India participated
in the discussions and, at the minimum, gained some understanding of the
way the media functions in the two countries. Institutions But beyond
perceptions, New Delhi and Singapore need to evolve a common means of
dealing with Beijing.
has, in the past, tried to soothe ASEAN fears with regard to its
conduct, in recent years it has been more belligerent. The instance of
warning India off a Vietnamese oil concession is only one of many
incidents that have sent shivers down the ASEAN spine. Neither New
Delhi, nor Washington, Tokyo and the ASEAN capitals have a good idea of
how Beijing can be tackled. As of now the bets are on institutional
frameworks like the ASEAN and the East Asia Summit.
19th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministers' meeting and the 2nd East
Asia Summit foreign ministers meeting is taking place in Cambodia. The
ARF established in 1994, is the key forum for a security dialogue in
Asia involving the ASEAN, as well as China, India, EU, Japan, Russia and
the US. No doubt some of these issues will form part of the discussions
between India and Singapore on Wednesday.
with a bit of Singaporean geopolitics and some growing Indian
determination, Beijing can be nudged to play by the rules of
international conduct to its own benefit, and that of the region.
Mail Today July 11, 2012