Smart diplomacy: India, Singapore to focus on smart cities, skills upgrade

singapore-presidentThink smart, and Act East. This twin mantra of the Narendra Modi government will be telescoped during Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s visit to India which will focus on spurring collaboration in smart cities, skill-building and enhancing two-way investment.

50 Golden Years

Singapore president’s February 8-11 trip to India marks a milestone and is part of the ongoing celebrations of 50 years of mutually nourishing diplomatic ties between the two countries. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Singapore in August last year kicked off the golden jubilee celebrations, which was followed by a succession of visits by the chief ministers of Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, and Rajasthan.

The last presidential visit from Singapore was in 2003 when President Nathan came to India. In between, there have been a spate of high-profile visits with the prime ministers and ministers of India and Singapore travelling to each other’s country.

Betting on India Story

singapore-pmThe reform-minded India’s prime minister has created much excitement among Singapore’s political leadership and the business class. In May 2014, after the change of guard in New Delhi following the national elections, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated Mr Modi on his election victory on Twitter and Facebook. Mr Modi hailed Singapore as “a valued friend” and expressed confidence that bilateral ties will become stronger.  Singapore has sent some of its senior ministers to India in the last few months.

Business Boost

Singapore was one of the first to respond to India’s ‘Look East’ Policy of expanding economic, cultural and strategic ties with Southeast Asia countries to boost its standing as a regional power. The two nations signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in 2003, the first such pact India signed with an ASEAN country. The trade pact has proved to be a game-changer in transforming the economic relationship between India and Singapore.

singapore-sushmaSingapore is India’s major trading partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean). Bilateral trade surged to $12.51 billion in 2013-2014, which is more than India’s bilateral trade with Russia.

Over the last 14 years, Singapore has accounted for a little above 12 per cent of total FDI in India. The economic dynamism and world-class infrastructure of the city-state has acted as a magnet, with Singapore becoming India’s top destination in terms of overseas investments. Indian companies thirsting for new opportunities have ploughed in around 33 plus billion in Singapore. Around 6,000 Indian companies who are registered in Singapore.

Smart Cities & Skills

Ahead of the trip, New Delhi has struck an upbeat note on the future trajectory of India-Singapore relations.We look forward to the visit of the President of Singapore to India. It is our hope that this visit will lead to further strengthening of our bilateral relations, our economic interactions, and our cooperation with Singapore in terms of our regional and international matters in international organisations and regional organisations,” said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry.

Smart cities and skills collaboration are the twin pillars of the new phase of cooperation between India and Singapore. Prime Minister Modi sees Singapore as a key partner in his pet project of building 100 smart cities in India. The forthcoming presidential visit will see some progress in firming up the contours of smart city cooperation. Singapore is also expected to be an important partner in the new Indian government’s skill development mission.

“One is utilising Singapore’s skills in terms of skill development in India. Singapore is setting up an institute in Delhi, and we are working with Singapore Government to have a similar effort in the North-East of India,” said Akbaruddin.

– Vikas Lather contributed inputs for this article.

Also see: Smart Cities, Smart Diplomacy


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Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network ( and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.