TOAST SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE STATE BANQUET HOSTED BY HE PRANAB MUKHERJEE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF INDIA ON 9 FEBRUARY 2015
Your Excellency Pranab Mukherjee
President of the Republic of India
Your Excellency Narendra Modi
Prime Minister of the Republic of India
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to thank Your Excellency for the warm words and kind remarks about Singapore. My wife and I and our delegation are touched by the warm welcome and gracious hospitality that has been accorded to us. My last official visit to India was more than 10 years ago as then-Deputy Prime Minister. Since then, India’s progress has been remarkable. But even as India makes “change” its new watchword, I am happy to note that some things remain the same, such as the vibrancy of India’s democracy and its determination to hold true to its values and traditions.
History of India and Singapore
This year marks both the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence and the 50th anniversary of Singapore-India relations. Fifty years is but a blink of an eye to the ancient civilisation that is India. However, Rabindranath Tagore once said that “the depth of friendship does not depend on the length of acquaintance”. Indeed, our two countries have always shared a special relationship even before we both became independent. India’s influence in our region has been felt since the first century, when trade and religious missions from India travelled throughout Southeast Asia. The history of our two countries entwine even more closely during the period when both Singapore and India were under British colonial rule. Many of Singapore’s earliest settlers were of Indian origin, and among them were several prominent community leaders who played a crucial role in the development of Singapore.
When Singapore gained independence in 1965, India was one of the first countries to recognise us and establish official diplomatic relations. As a new nation, we looked to India as one of our models, and India generously responded by sharing its experiences with us. Our first Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew had mentioned before that he was inspired by India’s founding father, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and Nehru’s vision of a secular and multiracial India. One of Mr Lee’s first official visits was to India in September 1966, a testament to the longstanding friendship between our two countries.
India-Singapore Relations Today
Over the last five decades, the ties between our countries have only grown stronger. Our economic relations have grown by leaps and bounds since we signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement in 2004. Singapore is now India’s largest foreign investor and sixth largest trading partner. Our defence forces work closely together in joint training exercises. But the hallmark of our close ties remains our people-to-people links, rooted in centuries of contact. Today, this is reinforced by the many visits and open conversations exchanged by our leaders, and the kinship that our peoples share through the Indian diaspora and tourism.
I recall that then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong sparked off an “India Fever” in Singapore in 1992. That fever is now back again. India has implemented a slew of pro-business reforms, which have galvanised the interest of Singaporean companies, who are eager to be a part of this new era. We have always believed that a strong India is good for the region, and Prime Minister Modi’s “Act East” policy gives me hope that India will indeed play an increasingly active role in creating an open and inclusive regional architecture. Singapore looks forward to helping this resurgent “India Fever” to grow.
Therefore, I am pleased that Singapore-India relations will be elevated to a Strategic Partnership this year. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be signing this milestone agreement later this year. There is much that both our countries can achieve by working together, and much that we can learn from each other. I believe that we need to ensure that our younger generations do not take for granted the friendship that we have strived so hard to build over the decades.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I hope that my visit will keep the momentum of bilateral relations going strong, and that the areas of our cooperation will continue to increase in breadth and depth for the benefit of both our peoples. I look forward to welcoming Your Excellency in Singapore soon.
May I now invite all of you to rise and join me in a toast:
- to the good health and continued success of His Excellency the President of India, Mr Pranab Mukherjee;
- to the continued progress and prosperity of the people of India; and
- to the enduring friendship between Singapore and India.