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Amid China’s growing assertion in the maritime space, India and Singapore have concluded a crucial pact on enhancing naval cooperation. The bilateral Agreement for Navy Cooperation, signed on November 29, is aimed at expanding India-Singapore cooperation in ensuring freedom of navigation, right of passage and over-flight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources and fighting a host of other security challenges.India’s Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen held talks in New Delhi to finalise the deals.

The agreements come at an important moment when India is trying to assert its presence in the Indian Ocean amidst increasing Chinese forays in the maritime space.“The conclusion of the India-Singapore Bilateral Agreement for Navy Cooperation…will lead to increased cooperation in maritime security, joint exercises, temporary deployments from each other’s naval facilities and mutual logistics support,” India’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.

In a joint press conference after their meeting, the ministers expressed their commitment to bolstering India-Singapore defence partnership. “India and Singapore remain strongly committed to tackle the transnational security threats,” Ms Sitharaman said. “I not only support but I would also encourage the Indian Navy to visit the Changi naval base more often. The bilateral naval agreement has provision for mutual logistical support,” Dr. Ng said.

Strategic Connect

Singapore has been India’s major partner in ASEAN and has played an important role in spurring India’s engagement with Southeast Asia. Apart from the naval agreement, the two sides signed the revised Defence Cooperation Agreement relationship between the Singapore Armed Forces and the Indian Armed Forces. There was also a renewal of the air force agreement earlier this year.The talks included discussions on Singapore’s proposal to expand the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea to all ADMM (ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting)-Plus countries and to put in place the procedures of air encounters between military aircrafts.

Access to port facilities was an important aspect of the discussions. Refuelling and berthing facilities at the Singapore port will be critical in expanding the reach of Indian warships and aircraft east of the Malacca Strait, a crucial point of China’s energy supplies. The Indian Navy has a permanent deployment of a frontline warship at the mouth of the Malacca strait to keep an eye on the increasing Chinese movements in the Indian Ocean as part of its mission-based deployment.

India’s assistance to Singapore will include live firing drills in the Andaman Sea. The two countries are also expected to renew the bilateral army pact, under which facilities are provided to Singapore for exercises of mechanized forces at Babina and artillery at Deolali ranges, and the when it ends next year.These agreements will deepen strategic content of India’s Act East Policy, which seeks to enhance India’s economic and defence cooperation with ASEAN countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia to curtail Chinese influence.

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