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India inks major pact on marine security with Singapore

In an important pact to add much more depth to bilateral maritime security and defence ties, India and Singapore on Wednesday inked an agreement which acquires significance amid China’s increasing military manoeuvres in the Indo-Pacific region.

During the wide-ranging talks between defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her visiting Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen, the two countries declared an intent to ensure freedom of navigation in critical sea lanes besides boosting overall military cooperation with a particular focus on combating terrorism.

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,” Ms Sitharaman said at a joint media interaction with Mr Ng.

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

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

Both sides also signed the revised Defence Cooperation Agreement to further strengthen the longstanding defence relationship between the Singapore Armed Forces and the Indian military.

Appreciating India’s lea-ding role in the Indian Ocean Region, Mr 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, Mr 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.

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 statement said.

The pact also underscored areas like aerospace and electronics among other areas of mutual interest between the defence industries of both countries for enhanced collaboration.

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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