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India, Singapore agree to enhance scale of military interaction

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Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen (right) meeting with Indian Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar at the inaugural Singapore-India Defence Ministers' Dialogue on the sidelines of the 15th Shangri-La Dialogue. Singapore MoD photo

SINGAPORE (PTI): India and Singapore held the first dialogue between their defence ministers as they agreed to enhance the scale and complexity of existing bilateral military interaction, at a time when freedom of navigation in international waterways has emerged as a major concern.

The first Defence Ministers' Dialogue (DMD) between Manohar Parrikar and his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen on June 3 marked raising of bilateral defence cooperation to the highest level.

"We had very detailed discussions. We have agreed on expanding the interaction between the armed forces and defence R&D and industry participation under (the) 'Make in India' (initiative)," Parrikar told reporters after the dialogue.

"I am very hopeful that this association with Singapore is going to build up to a much more than the strategic partnership," said Parrikar, who also called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that morning before the DMD.

"We have agreed (that the) scope and complexity of the interaction between the armed forces would be further enhanced," he said.

Parrikar further said the two sides also agreed to collaborate between industries.

"Under (the) 'Make in India' initiative, the industry-to-industry cooperation has already begun and it is showing positive response," he said.

The agreement will also see Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) working with a Singapore research agency on research-oriented projects.

Responding to questions, Singapore Minister Ng said: "We both agreed that we will work towards renewal of agreements" for training of Singapore armed forces in India from 2017 and 2018.

Singapore and Indian armed forces interact frequently and "it is a not a new relationship", stressed Ng.

"Both countries would also want to deepen the complexity and engagement between our two militaries under the revised defence cooperation agreement," he said.

A joint statement issued after the meeting said both ministers committed to enhance the scale and complexity of existing bilateral exercises between the militaries.

The minister emphasised the importance of international cooperation in tackling transnational security threats.

In particular, both ministers strongly condemned terrorism, and renewed their commitment to cooperation in counterterrorism efforts besides emphasising the importance of safeguarding maritime security in international waterways, said the statement.

Freedom of navigation in international waterways like the disputed South China Sea has emerged as a concern for many countries including the US, which has sent warships and military planes to challenge territorial claims by China over the strategic waters. In response, China has deployed fighter jets and ships to track and warn off US ships.

Looking at the region, Parrikar also stressed India's stand on disputes in the South China Sea, saying "solutions should be found peacefully. This is our clear view about it.

"India will always be insisting that all parties should always resolve this (South China Sea) issue peacefully, based on international laws and norms.

"Do it peacefully. We are for free passage for all ships as well sea-lanes and air traffic. We feel that this should be resolved by sitting across the table," said Parrikar, who also addressed the annual Shangri-La dialogue, an inter- governmental security forum, on June 4.

The ministers commended the progress made in bilateral cooperation in defence technology, formally instituted since 2006 with several joint research projects including unmanned systems and soldier performance, said the statement.

The ministers reaffirmed India's vital role in the security of the Asia-Pacific region, in particular through ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) platforms.

Ng noted India's contribution through participation in the ADMM-Plus Maritime Security and Counter-Terrorism Exercise in May this year.

Pointing out that Singapore was now India's strategic partner, Parrikar said it was the reason for the DMD to be raised to the minister-level from secretary-bureaucrat previously.

He also underlined India's Act East policy, saying that country was now engaged with the countries in East Asia and was constantly in contacts with the countries in the region.

Singapore is a "major fulcrum centre" for India as it shifts its attention to the Asia-Pacific and boosts its presence in the region, Parrikar said.

"We consider Singapore as a major fulcrum centre for this policy to be initiated, a key component and key friend of India to ensure that peace and tranquillity remains in this region," Parrikar said.

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