Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong led the two countries' ministers in acknowledging India's soft power while underlining the importance of its consumer-driven economy as a way forward for the Southeast Asian economies in the widely perceived global recession. Global markets were unpredictable but India after 60 years was predictable, especially its economic achievements in the last decade, India watchers said at the three-day conference and exhibition in Singapore this week.
Mr Lee stressed that India-Singapore relationships were based on mutual respect and common interests, and lauded India's ''historic transformation'' to a path of resilient and sustained growth, and economic vitality and dynamism that had created new opportunities for the world.
''South East Asia is fortunate to be neighbour to the two fast-growing economies of India and China,'' he said, reiterating that India's determination, confidence and dynamism would help it continue to progress.
The examples of Mittal Steel and Tata Motors were visible signs of how India was integrating with the world economy, he added.
India was investing outside the country more than it was attracting foreign direct investment into the country, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath stressed during his two-day stay in Singapore for the gala show--'Incredible India@60'-- held on April 4-7.
He pointed out that India had invested more and created more jobs in the US than the Americans have done in India.
India's bilateral trade with Singapore has expanded by more than 20 per cent to 23 billion dollars last year, reflecting the strength of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (CECA), signed by the two countries since 2005.
India wants to use this model to step up trade with the Assocation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) through a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which Mr Nath was sure be signed and formalised within the second quarter of this year.
India is no longer just seeking investment but plouging investment in the 10-member ASEAN, a market of more than 600 million people. The inflow of Indian investment into ASEAN is seen through some 3,000 Indian businesses operating out of Singapore, officials from both countries confirmed at the 'Incredible India@60' exhibition and conference.
Singapore-based Indian companies were not only focusing on the city state but using its regional hub status to venture into new businesses in Vietnam and Indonesia.
Delegates at the conference highlighted Tata Steel's acquisition of NatSteel of Singapore, with mill plants operation throughout Southeast Asia and China.
It was such strategic investments that made India most relevant to East Asian trade and investment opportunities, they said.
India's close cultural proximity to Singapore was also highlighted as the former is very close to the region, with the spread of Ramayana to the Indonesian archipelago and Buddhism across the region and China some centuries ago.
Using such historical links, India and Singapore are working on reviving India's Nalanda University.
The Indian highlights in the region include the Asian Civilisation Museum's recent blockbuster exhibition in Singapore, including ''The Nalanda Trail: Buddhism in India, China and Southeast Asia'' which was the 'centrepiece' of the East Asia Summit in 2007.
India lent several artefacts, including the Holy Relic of Lord Buddha from Piprahwa and the Nalanda copper plate recording the donation inscription of the Sri Vijaya King to Singapore.
Commenting on the growing strong cultural links between India and Singapore, Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni observed that Singapore's multi-culturalism, pluralism and secularism resonated with India's own ethos and helped in the growing ties between the two countries.
''The two countries are also cooperating in the revival of Nalanda University,'' she told a gathering on India and Singapore officials during the launch of a cultural festival at the fashionable Orchard Road on Friday.
Supporting India's importance to the region, Confedereation of Indian Industries (CII) President Sunil Bharti Mittal highlighted the transformation India has undergone from a nation of shortage to a nation of abundance.
''Income will rise 35 times by 2035 and India will become a country of consumers,'' he said.
India was also working hard on tourism traffic, seeking more than one million Southeast Asian visitors a year to learn more about the rich heritage of the country.
Ms Soni assured that the government would do its best to work out easier way for visas, especially issuing visas on arrivals at the Indian airports to people from friendly countries.
She outlined a wide range of programmes being undertaken to make India more tourism friendly, disclosing that 20 new destinations were being developed for tourists to visit and stay, some even for short-term weekend visits.
A network of Indian rural sector tourism trade was also being developed through cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme, she informed.
The explore rural India will not only enhance the rural economy and family-based craft trade, it will also welcome tourists to experience the humble yet culturally-rich Indian lifestyle, she added.