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India, Singapore vow to deepen defence ties, ensure freedom of navigation

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Union Minister for Defence, Nirmala Sitharaman receiving the Defence Minister of Singapore, Ng Eng Hen during his Guard of Honour at South Block, in New Delhi on Wednesday. A PTI Photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): India and Singapore today signed an agreement to deepen cooperation in the maritime security domain and called for ensuring freedom of navigation in critical sea lanes against the backdrop of China's increasing military manoeuvres in the Indo-Pacific region.

The two countries also resolved to boost overall defence cooperation with a particular focus on combating terrorism during wide-ranging talks between Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen.

The pact on naval cooperation provides for increased engagement in the maritime security sphere, joint exercises, temporary deployments from each other's naval facilities and logistics support.

"India and Singapore remain strongly committed to tackle the transnational security threats," Sitharaman said at a joint media interaction with Ng, noting that both sides agreed to ramp up overall defence cooperation.

The Singaporean defence minister called the talks "overwhelmingly successful and productive" and emphasised the need for concerted regional and global efforts to deal with terrorism and other challenges such as tackling chemical and biological weapons.

Referring to regional security scenario in the maritime domain, both ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and trade consistent with international law, a joint statement issued after the talks said.

Appreciating India's leading role in the Indian Ocean Region, Ng agreed to India's proposal for continuous and institutionalised naval engagements in shared maritime space of the two countries, including establishing maritime exercises with like-minded regional and ASEAN partners.

However, Ng, speaking at a think-tank on Tuesday, had expressed Singapore's reservation over the proposed quadrilateral coalition of India, the US, Japan and Australia.

Both sides also signed the revised Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) to further strengthen the longstanding defence relationship between the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Indian armed forces.

The joint statement said both ministers look forward to the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Singapore- India maritime bilateral exercise next year.

They welcomed the renewal of agreement between the air forces of the two countries earlier this year and look forward to the successful renewal of a similar pact between their armies, the statement said.

The two ministers also discussed Singapore's proposal to expand the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea to all ADMM (ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting)-Plus countries as well as to establish guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft, the statements said.

The two ministers resolved to work closely in joint development of various defence platforms.

They agreed that to facilitate greater collaboration in aerospace, electronics and other areas of mutual interest between the defence industries of both countries.

The Singaporean defence minister also expressed his appreciation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's acceptance to be the keynote speaker at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue.

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