HT Interview: India is key stakeholder for regional stability, says Singapore PM
Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong emphasized cooperation in emerging areas such as public health, cybersecurity, and digital finance.
India is a “key stakeholder” for regional stability and prosperity and Singapore will take forward cooperation in emerging areas that tap the country’s expertise in public health, cybersecurity and digital finance, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.
In an interview with HT, Lee said digitalisation has the potential to be a driver of growth for both countries and pointed to new initiatives such as the linking of UPI and PayNow and the success of the India Stack.
Q. How have stepped up engagements between the two countries, including through the new India-Singapore Ministerial Roundtable (ISMR), helped advance bilateral relations and what are the focus areas?
A: Singapore and India share historical ties that go back centuries. Since the 19th century, Singapore has been a maritime hub for India and the region. It facilitated the exchange of goods, people, ideas, and cultures between India and the wider Southeast Asian region, as it still does today. We share close people-to-people ties too – Singaporeans of Indian or South Asian ancestry form the third largest ethnic group in Singapore, about 10% of the population. This interconnected mosaic of trade, shared cultures, and people-to-people bonds provides a firm foundation upon which Singapore and India have built a strong partnership.
In a troubled international environment, our two countries must continue to work hand-in-hand to strengthen our partnership and find new future-oriented areas of growth.
That was why we launched the India-Singapore Ministerial Roundtable (ISMR). The inaugural ISMR meeting of our foreign, finance and trade ministers was held last year. The ministers exchanged views on the strategic direction of bilateral relations as well as regional and global developments and explored new areas of cooperation.
The key pillars under the ISMR reflect new growth areas and priorities in our bilateral cooperation, which include digitalisation, skills development and green energy.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I fully support the ISMR. Singapore looks forward to hosting our Indian friends in Singapore for the second ISMR this year.
Singapore and India continue to seek new frontiers for collaboration and growth. 2023 has been a busy yet fruitful year. I am confident our ties will continue to deepen and grow – in the bilateral, regional, and multilateral realms alike. I look forward to this partnership achieving greater heights.
Q. What can be new growth drivers for bilateral trade? In the digital and fintech spheres, how has the linking of India’s UPI and Singapore’s PayNow paid off?
A: Digitalisation has the potential to be a major driver of growth and innovation for both our countries. We share a commitment to a digitalised future, harnessing technology to improve people’s lives. For example, the India Stack, a unified software platform, has enabled the Indian government to provide every citizen with a unique digital identity. This has facilitated secure verification in a wide variety of transactions and boosted digital and social inclusion. In the same spirit, Singapore’s government-issued digital identity for its citizens and residents, Singpass, has become an essential authentication tool for conducting digital transactions.
We have made good progress cooperating in digitalisation. In February, Prime Minister Modi and I witnessed the launch of the linkage between India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and Singapore’s PayNow. Many individuals and small businesses will benefit from this real-time, seamless, secure and low-cost mode of payment. In 2022 alone, payments and remittances between Singapore and India amounted to US$1 billion. Recently, at the G20 trade and investment ministerial meeting, Singapore and India announced the first live cross-border trade using an interoperable electronic bill of lading (eBL) for a letter of credit transaction, under the TradeTrust framework.
However, to fully reap the benefits of digitalisation, we need a skilled workforce. Workers must have the right skills to take on jobs in new industries. This way, our economies can grow more competitive in the digital age, our workers can participate in new areas of growth, and we can uphold a social compact where no one gets left behind.
Q. What is the scope for cooperation in skill development, especially using the Singapore model to train India’s workforce?
A: Skill development is another important area of bilateral cooperation. India seeks to tap on its demographic dividend and fulfil the aspirations of its young and growing population. Singapore has long supported India’s skills development journey. Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education (ITE) has established skills centres in several Indian states, including New Delhi, Rajasthan and Assam. ITE is currently partnering the Odisha state government and the Asian Development Bank to offer graduates of the World Skills Centre in Odisha internships with companies in Singapore to round off their education with on-the-job, industry-relevant training. We will continue to work with India to develop a skilled and adaptable workforce that can meet the changing needs of industries in India, Singapore, and around the world.
Q. How can India help Singapore meet its requirements for green energy as part of its climate mitigation efforts?
A: Cooperation in green energy will help us meet our climate mitigation goals and secure a more sustainable future for our peoples. Singapore aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and India by 2070. India is an important player in international climate talks and should play a leading role in global climate mitigation efforts. Prime Minister Modi’s “One Sun, One World, One Grid” plan to connect 140 countries through a common solar power grid is one example. Singapore has recently become an observer in the Global Biofuel Alliance (GBA), one of India’s initiatives as G20 president, and ratified the International Solar Alliance (ISA) led by India and France. We will continue to work with India on problems of the global commons.
Q. How does Singapore view India’s role in the region?
A: In today’s complex and volatile world, like-minded countries must find common ground to work together and overcome challenges. We should not let differences over individual issues and tensions between major powers stymie cooperation.
At the regional level, Singapore and India cooperate closely through Asean. India is a key stakeholder for regional stability and prosperity. Singapore has consistently taken this view ever since we pushed for India to become a dialogue partner of Asean in 1995. As the country coordinator for Asean-India dialogue relations, Singapore was happy to see Asean-India ties upgraded to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership last year. The Asean-India Summit last week adopted joint statements on maritime cooperation and food security. We will continue to advance emerging areas of cooperation, tapping India’s expertise in public health, cybersecurity, and digital finance and payments connectivity.
Q. Can Singapore and Asean do more with India to address the current situation in Myanmar and to ensure a return to democracy?
A: India’s support is crucial in addressing regional challenges. On the situation in Myanmar, Asean looks forward to working with India to push for the Five Point Consensus and facilitate inclusive dialogue and national reconciliation, particularly as India is a neighbour of Myanmar.
Q. What were Singapore’s priorities as a guest country in this year’s G20, and how does Singapore see India’s push for the concerns of the Global South?
A: Singapore and India are close partners at multilateral and international fora. An open, inclusive, robust and rules-based multilateral architecture benefits both countries. The G20 agenda that India put forth was ambitious, action-oriented and decisive, reminding us that we are One Earth and One Family, sharing One Future. India took an inclusive approach, putting the voice of developing countries at its centre.
Singapore supported India’s G20 presidency as a guest country, contributing to all the G20 workstreams and India’s G20 priorities, and participating as the convenor of the Global Governance Group (3G) which comprises 30 small- and medium-sized members of the UN.
I congratulate India on the success of the New Delhi G20 Leaders’ Summit. The outcomes include accelerating progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and finding innovative ways to finance global public goods. The admission of the African Union into the G20 was also an achievement for India’s presidency.