After the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan, it’s Singapore’s turn to urge India to play an active role in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Speaking at the recent South Asian Diaspora Convention, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed on greater Indian involvement in the IOR, saying that the South Asian country should get involved “vigorously and actively” in the region beyond the Indian Ocean for trade, communications and stability. He told the audience: “You (India) have an interest in the wider region, but you have not pursued it as vigorously as the other powers have. Your foreign service is perhaps proportionally smaller than it ought to be.” India’s focus so far has been on the South Asian subcontinent affairs, added Lee.

The Singaporean premier further said: “If you pursue your interests more vigorously and actively beyond the subcontinent, in fact, beyond the Indian Ocean, you should be a great trading country.”

Lee expressed serious concern over Chinese activities in the region, saying that the lines of communication, the trade routes and the freedom of navigation in the region would become vital concerns of India. He further advised New Delhi to make a valuable contribution in the economic development of littoral countries by taking part in the regional affairs.

Prime Minister Lee believes that India’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will be a big boost to the regional development. “We would like to see these pursued ambitiously,” he said while calling on Singapore-based Indian companies to lobby for the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, Lee stressed on the need to have open skies with India and other South Asian countries, saying: “If we can have open skies, ideally, I think all the airlines will scramble to work hard. There,
business will prosper, tourism and investment will thrive.” He noted that there are around 464 weekly flights between India and Singapore running at full capacity. The PM made clear that the main purpose of
his upcoming visit to India would be to increase the connectivity between the two countries.

As far as India’s role in the region is concerned, the Singaporean premier said: “We have invited and welcomed the Indian companies to come. I think we have 6,500 Indian companies in Singapore, some of which run their Indian operations headquarters out of Singapore.” He also commended India’s young population and demographic advantage, saying: “If you educate and employ them productively, it is a
tremendous plus for the country.”

The Indian Ocean, world’s third largest body of water, has become a growing area of competition between China and India. The two Asian powers have made serious moves to exert influence in the ocean. Those
moves include deep-water port development in littoral countries and military patrols. Although experts are of the opinion that there is no possibility of a military conflict between China and India in the near future, they have admitted that the two neighbours’ escalated activities have endangered the regional stability.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]