Singapore looks forward to deepening the partnership between India and the ASEAN, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday as he expressed hope that New Delhi would revisit the merits of joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the future.
On November 4 last year, India walked out of the mega free trade agreement RCEP as negotiations failed to address New Delhi’s outstanding issues and concerns.
India’s “Act East” policy expresses Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intention to unlock India’s full potential through greater openness and integration with the East Asian region, Lee said.
As Singapore commences its term as coordinator of the ASEAN-India dialogue relations next year, Lee said his country looks forward to deepening the partnership between the two sides.
“We have a broad agenda, but one step we hope India will take at some time in the future, is to revisit the merits of joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP),” said Lee at the launch of a book “India on Our Minds”.
Though India did not sign the RCEP deal, the remaining 15 member countries have signed it and have stated that the pact would remain open to India.
Now the members of RCEP are 10-nation bloc ASEAN (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The 362-page book is co-authored by Singapore’s Ambassador at Large, Professor Tommy Koh and Hernaikh Singh, Senior Associate Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, a think-tank at the National University of Singapore.
“This book is a timely reminder that to Singapore, India will always remain a valued friend and partner,” said Lee.
“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi and his government to keep our relationship forward-looking and enterprising,” he underlined.
The book features a rich collection of 50 chapters, contributed by 51 Singaporeans who had been working closely with India.
In a foreword to the book, Singapore’s former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said that ties between the two countries are strong, substantive and broad-based.
“We contribute to each other’s prosperity,” he said.
“India has immense economic potential. It has a deep pool of intellectual talent and daring entrepreneurs.
“Its many world-class companies have strong technological capabilities. Its young population, with the right vocational education and skills training, will be another tremendous asset,” wrote Goh.
The former premier also called on India to play a more active role in making this the Asian century.
“India can exercise a moderating influence. It does not suffer the historic legacy and trust deficit that exists among the East Asia countries,” Goh said.
“Its democracy makes it ideologically closer to the US and the West than to China.
“It is not a strategic rival to China, at least not yet. India can be part of the ‘Voice of Moderation’ which I have been advocating,” wrote Goh.
This Voice is not a bloc or a new grouping but simply the concerted voice of concerned countries, leaders, institutions, media, business and people who want to avert a catastrophic clash between the US and China, wrote Goh.
The Voice of Moderation should be global but with a strong Asian accent. India’s participation will give it weight, he added.
“India should share its vision of its role in the region so that we can build up mutual trust and forge a common cause for peace and prosperity,” he stressed.
“It (India) needs a greater sense of urgency in politics, society and the business community,” added Singapore’s Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his essay “Achieving inclusive prosperity in India: Tackling the Fundamentals” published in the book.
“India needs much stronger and more effective interventions in the social foundation for prosperity, especially in education and healthcare,” he wrote.
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